During meetings of Williams’ College Council (CC) on April 16 and 23, 2019, CC members debated and ultimately rejected, by a 13-8 vote, a proposal to create a registered student group (RSO) called the Williams Initiative for Israel, or “WIFI.” WIFI’s constitution described its purpose as being “to support Israel and the pro-Israel campus community, as well as to educate the College on issues concerning Israel and the Middle East.” The club also planned to celebrate Jewish cultural events and Jewish and Israeli holidays.
The transcript of the debate and vote indicate that the decision was made on political grounds.
In doing so, Council departed from its own process for reviewing student groups, which at no point identifies a proposed group’s politics as a criterion for review. The decision also seems to be in tension with CC bylaws, especially Article V, Section 3: “Prohibition Against Discrimination in Student Organizations.”
We’ve always expected the Council to follow its own processes and bylaws. I’m disappointed that that didn’t happen in this instance. College leaders have communicated to the organizers of Williams Initiative for Israel that the club can continue to exist and operate without being a CC-approved RSO. This is not a special exception. It’s an option that has been open to any student group operating within the college’s code of conduct. Even without CC approval, WIFI or any other non-CC organization can still access all services available to student groups, including use of college spaces for meetings and events, and we are guaranteeing them exactly equal resources. I see the communication of this fact to WIFI as a basic matter of fairness and people’s right to express diverse views. Differences over such views are legitimate grounds for debate, but not for exercising the power to approve or reject a student group.
Williams’ strategic planning work includes attention to campus governance. I encourage CC and all students to take advantage of that opportunity to ask what kind of representation Williams students want and need within our community.