How does Williams define racial justice?
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 during the 2020-2021 academic year, prioritizing efforts in our region and distributing the support among a relatively large number of groups working on different aspects of the issue. To date, the College has contributed $220,000 to the organizations and initiatives below, many of which have engaged Williams students as fellows or interns.
- Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)
- The Bail Project
- Berkshire Immigrant Center
- Clinton Church Restoration
- Cultural Proficiency Initiative at the Pittsfield Public Schools
- Equal Justice Initiative
- Harmony Homestead
- The Innocence Project
- Latino Justice|PRLDEF
- Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
- Lowlander Center
- Mashantucket Pequot Nation Museum and Research Center
- Multicultural BRIDGE
- NAACP Berkshire County Branch
- NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF)
- The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
- Rites of Passage and Empowerment (ROPE)
- Soul Fire Farm
- Stockbridge-Munsee Community (Tribal Historic Preservation Office)
Several members of the community have advised on these commitments through participation in an advisory group, including Adam Falk Director of the Center for Learning in Action Paula Consolini, Jeongyoon Han ’21, Hikaru Hayakawa ’24, 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, Devon Parfait ’22, Shiara Pyrrhus ’23, Bless Reece ’22, Kaylen Smith ’22, Bishoy Yacoub ’23, and Kevin Yang ’22.
The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will continue to partner with colleagues and students across campus 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.
Many of the organizations listed above have undergraduate and post-graduate fellowships available to students. Interested students may contact organizations directly, reach out to the Center for Learning in Action (CLiA) or the ’68 Center for Career Exploration, or email [email protected] for additional assistance.
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.