What role should Williams College play in confronting and fighting racial and social injustice? President Mandel asked this question in her June 12, 2020, letter to campus, following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black people across the country.
As part of the answer, Williams is contributing at least $500,000 over five years to support and invest in racial justice efforts in Berkshire County and nationally. The first round of funding was allocated in Fall 2020, prioritizing efforts in our region and distributing the support among a relatively large number of groups working on different aspects of the issue.
In fall 2020, Williams is contributing $15,000 to each of these Berkshire County organizations:
- The Berkshire Immigrant Center
- The Cultural Proficiency Initiative at the Pittsfield Public Schools
- Harmony Homestead
- Multicultural BRIDGE
- The NAACP Berkshire County Branch
- Soul Fire Farm
And each of the following national or state-based organizations will receive $5,000 as an expression of the college’s support:
- The Bail Project
- The Equal Justice Initiative
- The Innocence Project
- The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
- The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
- The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
The advisory group that advised on these commitments included Adam Falk Director of the Center for Learning in Action Paula Consolini, Jeongyoon Han ’21, Vice President for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leticia Haynes ’99, Assistant to the President for Community and Government Affairs Jim Kolesar ’70 (now retired), Dominic Madera ’21, Mohammed Memfis ’21 and Shiara Pyrrhus ’23.
The Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion will partner with colleagues and students across campus again, when the time comes to consider future years’ commitments.
Defining racial justice at Williams
The United States has a long history of disparate negative treatment and discrimination of people on the basis of race—including human chattel enslavement and the forced removal of people from their ancestral homelands and colonialism. Those who have born and continue to bear the brunt of that harmful treatment are racial and ethnic minorities—particularly those who are Black or African American, Latina /o/x, Asian, South Asian or Asian American, Native American or Indigenous, Middle Eastern or North African, and Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders.
The college is committed to furthering racial justice in the United States and abroad and will develop and support racial justice fellowships, internships and related opportunities for students to learn alongside racial justice advocates and to promote racial justice initiatives. Racial justice is the systematic fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all. Racial justice initiatives address structural and systemic changes to ensure equal access to opportunities, eliminate disparities, and advance racial equity—thus ensuring that all people, regardless of their race, can prosper and reach their full potential. Racial justice and equity is not achieved by the mere absence of racial discrimination or the perceived absence of harmful racial bias, but rather through deliberate action to dismantle problematic and build positively transformational systems – action must be carried through with the conviction, commitment and dedication of advocates.
Racial justice is distinct from social justice and from the broader rubric of diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Social justice examines the distribution of wealth, privileges, and opportunity within a society and involves fighting oppression such as ableism, ageism, classism, racism, sexism and oppression of those who are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, are from different countries, or are religious.
Fellowships and Internships
The fellowships and internships with racial justice organizations and/or in support of racial justice initiatives will further access to equal opportunities and equal treatment for all races through examination and inquiry, and development of policies, practices, actions, beliefs, and attitudes that promote and advance racial equity. The fellowships will support collaboration, research, and learning with racial justice organizations that support racial and ethnic groups that have been historically oppressed, particularly in the United States, but also in other countries where racial injustice has been and continues to be stark.
The college will continue to interrogate its own history and ties to chattel slavery and Native American people and colonialism, recognizing that the College’s institutional history and present is intertwined, with the local, regional, national, and global.