The Grammys, the Super Bowl, and Us

To the Williams Community,

I’m pretty sure the college has never begun its second semester by welcoming home a Grammy hero, but this year we do just that in the person of Brad Wells.

The Grammys are associated more with stars than with heroes. However I’m sticking with that latter designation since Brad, and the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, which he founded and directs, earned their honor not with glitter but with deep, inventive, and challenging art. I doubt Brad will enter the next Chamber Choir concert dangling from the ceiling, à la Pink; nevertheless we couldn’t be prouder of him and his work, which exemplifies the richness of our experience of music, and of all the arts, at Williams.

We’re also proud of our students who’ve recently landed national honors. They include Brian McGrail ’14, who will begin studies next year at the University of Oxford as one of 32 U.S. Rhodes Scholars, and Jared Hallett ’14, whose selection as one of 14 Churchill Scholars will send him to the University of Cambridge. Brian intends to study comparative social policy and is particularly interested in how tax systems expand or reduce social equality, while Jared intends to study pure mathematics. Congratulations to them both.

For the second straight year, Sunday’s Super Bowl featured the return of the second-half kickoff for a touchdown. It’s getting to be like Williams, where every second half begins with something spectacular—Claiming Williams day. Once again the Claiming Williams Steering Committee has assembled a full schedule of engaging events, this time on the theme “Breaking Ground, Cultivating Change.” The response to previous Claiming Williams days has been wonderfully enthusiastic, and that it’s about issues of such importance to the college is all the more welcome. I hope to see you there tomorrow.

Another special day for Williams was January 25, the occasion of TEDxWilliamsCollege. Six faculty and two students poured themselves into thought-provoking talks before a sellout audience in the CenterStage. We’ll let you know when videos of those presentations are posted online. Note also the talks to come in this year’s Faculty Lecture Series, beginning Feb. 13. This longstanding Williams tradition provides a great way to explore the intellectual work  taking place in a range of departments.

In previous letters to campus I’ve talked about new work being done on another important issue at Williams—sexual assault. Deeply collaborative relationships have developed in recent years among staff, faculty, and students focused on this matter. This work has now led to the creation of a new professional staff position: director of sexual assault prevention and response. Reporting to Dean of the College Sarah Bolton, this person will work to realize the full potential of our expanding programs, address the areas where we fall short, and embark on new efforts that will reduce the incidence and impact of assault at Williams.

To this important role we welcome Meg Bessong ’05. Currently manager of community engagement at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, Meg has consulted effectively with a number of colleges, including Williams, and gave an inspiring talk at last year’s Daring Change event on“Intentional Community at Williams and Beyond.” She joins us just after Spring Break.

People often ask me the status of our several construction projects, so I’ll add here that Sawyer Library, Weston Field, and Kellogg House all remain on track for their anticipated openings in mid-summer (Sawyer), early fall (Weston), and late fall (Kellogg).

To coincide with the library opening, Edan Dekel, associate professor of classics, and Christopher Nugent, associate professor of Chinese, are leading a college-wide effort to mount a year-long exploration of the diverse ways in which people preserve and convey ideas, creative works, data, and other forms of meaningful information. It’s being called The Book Unbound. Christopher and Edan estimate that in 2014-15 some 30 to 40 courses will be offered on these topics throughout the curriculum, from art to economics to physics. They’ve also engaged virtually every academic and cultural center on campus in the creative development of programming, details of which will emerge over the spring.

I can’t end without highlighting another new initiative that encapsulates so much of what I love about Williams. The museum launches this month Williams Art Loan for Living Spaces (WALLS), a program that will lend students original works of art to hang in their rooms for a semester. At Williams, learning takes place not only in the classroom, but also in the dining halls, on the playing fields, and in student residences. The thought that our students will now be living with these works of art, and sharing that experience with their friends, is truly wonderful.

And on that satisfying note, let the (snowy) semester begin.


Adam Falk