Reckoning with Our Institutional Histories: A Charge for the 2020-2021 Committee on Diversity Community

For the past few years, the Committee on Diversity and Community (CDC) has discussed ways to learn about, reflect on, and acknowledge Williams College’s histories including the roles that many members of the community, broadly understood, have played in those histories and the impacts that College actions have had on many different community members. Drawing on recommendations from the CDC and the diversity, equity, and inclusion working group’s strategic planning report, this year the CDC is charged with comprehensively engaging with Williams’s histories with the goal of imagining and crafting practices of communally accountable institutional memory that reflects the complexity and diversity of the College’s histories. Such practices will: 

  • examine how Williams’s histories have been shaped by colonialism, racism, and discrimination, with particular attention to Williams’s connections to settler colonialism and enslavement;
  • examine how the college has been and continues to be transformed by activism among diverse community members and document the impacts that such activism has had on staff, faculty, students, and alumni;
  • with awareness of how much research has already been done with institutional histories, further the expertise and interests among students, staff, faculty, and community members;
  • reach out to diverse alumni in order to trace and archive their memories;
  • develop strong collaborative relationships with the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation and other communities with deep ties to the geographic area;
  • provide for significant public-facing and institutionally archival dimensions;
  • be interdisciplinarily informed.

Drawing on these histories and historical examinations, the CDC is also charged with addressing two related issues:

  1. Where the CDC uncovers harms of the past, what restorative actions can and should Williams as an institution take so that we might construct a more inclusive community?
  2. Recognizing “the degree to which the college has been shaped by the activism of a diverse community,” what can Williams do to re-envision the “established narrative with one that more fully reflects the college’s history as complex and dynamic will help give all members of the community a stake in our shared story” 

The committee will also consider and envision appropriate institutional responses to what we know and what we learn. 

This website includes resources we have gathered and are gathering as we work to better represent some important research that has already been done, new research and memories, and suggested steps forward.

Research and Resources from the Working Groups

Williams College Timeline of Inclusion, Exclusion, and Restoration
Traditionally, timelines are linear and show one historical vantage point, often highlighting events that are part of a particular canon. At Williams, our well-known, often shared timeline highlights the foundation of Williams, beginning with Ephraim Williams’ will, and focuses on moments like the abolition of fraternities, coeducation, and the founding of buildings. Although these moments are undoubtedly important– what about the less-known stories?

Williams Institutional Memory
Before the 2020 charge given to the Committee on Diversity and Community, a charge to critically and more fully engage Williams’ institutional histories with regard to race and equity, in particular, a number of individuals, groups, offices, and units had undertaken some critical historical work. On this page, we seek to collect together resources you can follow to learn more about many of these earlier projects.

The Williams Way: Reckoning with Our Silenced Narratives
In the fall of 2020, Williams’ Committee on Diversity and Community was charged with comprehensively engaging with Williams’ histories and to imagine and craft practices of communally accountable institutional memory that reflect the complexity and diversity of the College’s histories. Examining difficult moments of history has the potential for professional opportunism. This project seeks to disavow these harmful practices; instead, we are putting this call out to preserve narratives that have been disproportionately and purposefully undocumented.

Committee on Diversity and Community, 2020-2021 Final Report
In this linked PDF document, we share our final report which summarizes the work the Committee undertook as part of the 2020-2021 charge. It also lays out our recommendations for Williams moving forward and provides resources on how some other institutions of higher education have been navigating questions around institutional histories.