Response to Alumni Against Anti-Blackness (A3)

Dear Jallicia, Effua, Rebecca, Teal, Ashley, Suji, Mijon and Mike,

I want to thank you, as the dedicated Ephs who have organized the Alumni Against Anti-Blackness (A3) effort, and the many others who have signed on in solidarity. I share many of your specific concerns about anti-Black and other forms of racism, as well as the overarching desire to make the college a more inclusive community.

This will be a short letter, not because the issue is simple, but because I want to take you up on your offer of engagement. If you’re willing, I’d like to invite leaders or representatives of A3 to meet with me and others from campus. I and other college leaders could describe the college’s efforts and future goals. And I’d equally appreciate the chance to hear your perspectives and experiences, and to think about areas where alumni partnership could be especially effective.

As you’ve pointed out and I’ve seen clearly for myself, the Williams of today isn’t a fully welcoming home for many students, faculty and staff. One of my current concerns is the insufficiency of our framework for identifying, preventing and, when necessary, restoratively addressing the effect of racism and other forms of bias and inequality. Your letter again made me grateful that, in striving for something better, we benefit from the extraordinary partnership with our alumni.

I appreciate your acknowledgment of significant work done by the college and our people over the years, most notably in investing in financial aid in ways that have allowed us to significantly diversify the student body. We’ve often described that work in terms of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I summarized many relevant projects in a letter to the community last fall. Soon after, many alumni and students shared personal stories of struggle and hope in the fall issue of Williams Magazine, which affirmed the urgency of continuing our work.

Our Office of Institutional Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, headed by Vice President Leticia Smith-Evans Haynes ’99, has helped expand the vision of what such work entails, including a broader campus role for the Davis Center in its soon-to-be enhanced facility, and a more expansive scope that includes efforts to address anti-Black racism, institutional history and restorative work, among other topics. I’d welcome your thoughts about how alumni could contribute to these and other initiatives.

Last month, I was captivated by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s words at the Inauguration, including this passage: “And yes we are far from polished, far from pristine/but that doesn’t mean we are/striving to form a union that is perfect/We are striving to forge a union with purpose.”

I believe we’re striving to forge a “union with purpose” here at Williams, too. Not all of the elements are in place yet. But the readiness with which Williams alumni embrace your role in the project, evidenced by your letter, counts among our most precious assets in the quest.