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. 

  • Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History, 2016:

    This committee examined the mural in the renovated Log, and this website shares a timeline about the mural and the committee's recommendations around representation.

    The Davis Center:

    The website for the Williams College Davis Center (DC) provides a snapshot of its own history and of the Davis brothers. There is also a documentary about the history of the Multicultural Center (MCC) available through the Davis Center’s YouTube channel

    DIRE in Williamstown:

    The Diversity, Inclusion, Racial Equity Committee in Williamstown (DIRE) has teamed up with Williams faculty and students on different initiatives as well. An article in iBerkshires describes some of the work, and some of the Williams-Williamstown collaborations have been described in committee meetings. DIRE has also organized around broader memory efforts, such as efforts to recognize Ishmael Thomas, who is described further in Kunal Parker’s essay, “Making Blacks Foreigners: The Legal Construction of Former Slaves in Post-Revolutionary Massachusetts” (2001). 

    Ebony and Ivy (2013):

    Craig Steven Wilder, formerly on the History faculty at Williams (now at MIT), examined institutional involvement in enslavement of African-Americans and in dispossession of Native Americans; results published in Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities.  You can listen to a discussion of Williams on the Democracy Now radio program (2013).

    Jews at Williams (2013):

    Writer and historian Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft's Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College (2013) examines the historical presence of Jewish students at Williams and what these histories tell us about Williams' and higher education's struggles with inclusion. You can also watch a 2013 Williams panel on the book.

    Just Us (2020):

    In Just Us: An American Conversation (2020), Claudia Rankine '86 arranged essays, poetry, and images including reflections on a 1980 cross burning at Williams College that she heard rumors about as an undergraduate but only really looked into as an adult. You can listen to a 2020 interview about this incident and other facets of Rankine's work.

    The Rise and Fall of Fraternities at Williams College (2014):

    In The Rise and Fall of Fraternities at Williams College John W. Chandler, scholar of Religion and Williams President Emeritus, describes how fraternities developed and how they were banished in the 1960s with a particular focus on the efforts of Williams' former president, John Sawyer (2014).

    “Uncovering Williams” (AMST/ARTH 335, Spring 2019):

    This course, co-taught by Kevin Murphy, Senior Curator of American Art, and Dorothy Wang, Professor of American Studies and Faculty Affiliate in English, “interrogates the history of the college and its relationship to land, people, architecture, and artifacts.” This website shares information about the exhibition associated with the Spring 2019 iteration of the course.

    Untold Williams: Disoriented Hxtories:

    This disorientation guide seeks to challenge the narrative of the ‘Williams Way’ and activate the hidden histories--of those marginalized and disappeared--who constitute this imagined community's invisible threads.”

    WCMA exhibition on Williams and Hawai’i (2018):

    “The Field Is the World”: Williams, Hawai‘i, and Material Histories in the Making exhibition overview and some voices from community members who participated. 

What are we missing? If you know of a website or web-based resource about Williams’ memory we should add, please fill out this form and share the information with us.

Call for Alumni Submissions: 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.