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Who really is the “majority?”

         For those of you who have been off-campus for Winter Study, have graduated or have been too busy to hear, there has been much discussion about a recent op-ed written in the Williams Record, titled “Accepting the Majority.” Many were quick to react negatively to some of the remarks and the expressed sentiment of the piece, my aim is not to condemn the author’s words or feelings. Rather, I simply want to equally express my own personal issues with the talks on difference and diversity, while also addressing some of the points brought up by the author. In this piece, the student is right to note that the College has put special emphasis on recognizing and celebrating “diversity”, or as the author states, “the distinctiveness of the experiences of students who do not fit the traditional mold of a student at an elite liberal arts institution.” However, she believes that this emphasis, particularly for her during First Days was detrimental to her experience as an upper-middle class legacy student. Because of the rhetoric of difference, this author felt that her background and identity was/is undervalued and seen as not as important. As such, she advocates an examination of the ways in which we approach these conversations so as to bridge the divisive feelings in the College community, a goal that we all can agree on. However, the path to that goal differs for me and this author.

                Early in the article, the author recalls the first few assemblies for the Class of 2013 where the administration celebrated the number of people of color, international students and first-generation students that made up this class. This conversation led her to feelings of lesser self-worth, as if her experiences, the path she took to make it to Williams, was lessened and cheapened in comparison with the experiences of these select groups. However, I was also a part of those assemblies. What I also remember is the administration mentioning how many women were a part of this class, something the author conveniently overlook. My point is, we need to be aware of who this institution was made by and initially designated for, and thus who the structures of this institution inherently benefit. This college was founded primarily by and attended by upper-middle class or wealthy White men. It was not that long ago when that first class of women was admitted. My point is, there is a stereotype about who comprises the “majority” on this campus. But there is hardly anyone who exactly fits that mold. There are minority legacy students who do not pay financial aid; there are financial aid students that are White, recruited athletes, and many other combinations in between. Because of this, we all carry some quantity of privilege. All of our experiences are unique, different and special, but there we are all individuals. While we may self-identify with one group, we also fit in with many other layered identities simultaneously. Part of the college experience is being able to adapt, grow and change. With this evolution, we will all move through and amongst several “identity” groups, which is natural. If someone feels completely isolated or alienated, perhaps the issue is that they are closing themselves into a narrow and suffocating identity box.

My second main issue comes with the assertion that certain students feel as if they are unwelcome at activist’s meetings, community forums or in specific circles. More specifically, the author addressed the issue of “space.” While acknowledging that it is important to create spaces where minority students feel comfortable, the author says that these spaces should not be unwelcoming to the “majority” because these unspecified spaces are meant to be safe and welcoming to all community members. Here is what I feel. There are certain spaces that are inherently linked to certain minority groups, primarily the Morley Circle houses. While they are linked to specific minority groups, they are already public spaces, free to be used by any community member, just like most any other space on campus. That being said, the primary users of those spaces happen to be individuals of a certain “minority” status. But more importantly, these are spaces that are primarily used by “friends.” For example, the Physics Common Room is another public space, but primarily used by a certain circle. If I were to walk in there, already feeling as if I have no ownership of that space, people can sense that. Furthermore, I would be a new face into a space that is commonly used by a certain circle, no different than a new student walking into a lunchroom at a new school. Now if I were to walk in there and simply introduce myself and let it be known I am there to use the space as they use it, would I be alienated or kicked out? I highly doubt it. All it takes is the confidence to know that you have some agency and right to a space, and reach out. People naturally congregate to where friends are. That is what these spaces are meant for primarily. Now ask yourself honestly, did you walk into the space and take the initiative to bridge any preconceived bridges and find where your identities and interests overlap? Or did you see yourself as a member of the “majority” and those within that space as members of the “minority?”

                My point is simple. While there is an idea of a “majority”, there is hardly a person on this campus, or in any community who neatly fits into that category. We are all complex, multi-faceted people. There are absolutely feelings of divisiveness on this campus, and like the author I do believe that they stem from the way we think and talk about difference and diversity. As a community we absolutely must examine and rethink the ways we talk about each of those terms. At the end of the day, we are more often more alike than we are different. But if you tend to focus on the ways you are different, emphasize simply the ways that you are different; then yes you will have feelings of alienation. If you are so quick and feel comfortable subscribing to the idea of the “majority”, then perhaps a part of the issue is the way you define what and who represents the “minority.”

Link to original Williams Record article here

Holidays in the Purple Bubble

           One of the most stressful times of the year for a Williams student also happens to occur during what should be the most enjoyable and joyous. Whoever decided that finals period should happen during holiday season, I admit has a cruel sense of humor. Whether you celebrate Hanukah, Christmas or Kwanzaa, the holiday season in general normally evoke positive feelings in the best of us. At the same time, finals smother that. Have you ever seen Williams students during finals period?  I have. Let me paint a picture for most of you. Sleep cycles change, become absurd, if they sleep at all. When they do sleep, many times it’s not even in their own bed. The libraries become hideouts, with people attempting to sleep in their at times.  Not myself, but I have heard the stories. Diets change, nutrition gets thrown to the wayside and coffee consumption goes through the roof. We become swamped under the workload. Now you are faced with hungry, grouchy, overworked students. To top this all off, as if fate intends to torment us further, computers tend to want to crash more often at the times we really need them. Pair that with people who are trying to do it all, and do it all perfectly, and it’s a recipe for all kinds of unhappiness. Basically, the antithesis to what we should be feeling during the holiday season. However, there was one space that held that spirit of the holidays this time around, and you know what I am talking about if you were there. The most festive and family friendly space in all of campus; our very own Rice House.

                Inside that two-story house was the one place a group of us could balance our sanity in the midst of finals. Inside those walls, we found the holidays and found our family away from home. Can you imagine how comforting it was to walk into a house and the first thing you hear is Luther Vandross, Babyface or Whitney Houston singing about Christmas? Just to follow that sound to find a small Christmas tree with lights there to greet you? Can you imagine the second flood TV room with lights and stockings above the fireplace?  It was a small piece of home, and a reminder that there was more going on outside of papers, exams, projects and lab reports. But there is only so much that lights, music and decoration can do, beyond that were the people who consistently came to Rice together. While many others buried themselves in library basements, in carrels and the like, Rice became the home and study space for many. Just step into the second floor library anytime from 10am until past midnight the next morning. There would be laptops, slippers and books, and students scattered. Blue chairs pushed together so that some could take a study break and nap for a few hours, or until the next day in some instances.  Walk into the blue boardroom on the second floor, and there would be a few people there studying as well. Enter the TV room, and along with the lights you might see people resting on the couch watching a show, or in the back at the table equipped with headphones or perhaps engaging in a biology study session looking like the Knights of the Roundtable preparing their next plans for attack on this exam. Have you heard of the Cave on the first floor? Many have not, but a few students found that and secluded themselves back in that room with pillows and blankets to get their work done. Or there was the first room to your left when entering the house, less frequently used than the other spaces, but still a favorite place. Throughout all of this, we kept our own stash of tea and hot chocolate, to guard us all from the cold outside, making use of our mugs, cups from dining halls and of course the teapot on the stove conveniently filled throughout the day. Sometimes a group would order Chinese food to be delivered. There was even the Rice House kickback where people gathered for wings, pizza and other snacks as a Reading Period study break. Individuals from several organizations, as well as just friends spread around the living room. But the best part of it all? Perhaps you never came to Rice at night.

                Every night, no matter what, you were bound to find a group of people together to watch a movie, catch up with each other or just take a break from their work. There was the night where people gathered from around campus to play Spades.  Others, and oftentimes myself, would raid the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets for whatever snacks we could find; chips and dip or salsa, fruit bowls or whatever. Every night people would gather from around campus and bring extra snacks with them, whether that be Rice Krispy treats or pizza that they would bring from their own snack bar points to share with others. Some would bring their work into the room, to study around friends. Others would be scattered around the house in anticipation of an early exam the next morning. There was Monday’s Fighting Temptations, complete with brownies and corn muffins.  Then there was the favorite on Wednesday night, Love and Basketball. That night you can only imagine the amount of people that came in and out, the fun and laughter. Have you ever been to a Magic Johnson Theater in Harlem? Just as in there, the people you watch the movie with are just as important as what you are watching. Sometimes the funniest parts of the movie actually happen off-screen. Then there was Friday night where we watched Ted. Granted, not everyone could make it every night. I missed Thursday night myself. But no matter when you came, you were bound to find a new face, a new friend, be introduced to a new member of the Williams family. Within the walls of Rice House at nighttime you could relax in the company of great people, individuals finding solace and sanity in each other. Sometimes, there were some goodbyes as those going abroad were leaving, and there was no better place to share those goodbyes than with others, joking and talking amongst each other. Just as that night with Ted as people scattered around the couches, pulling in chairs, sitting on the floor while we brought cups of tea and hot chocolate to accompany nachos gone wrong. While the movie itself was side-splittingly funny, I assure you that it was for the company that people came. If you ever saw an especially happy person, in the midst of finals and wondered why there were so calm, it might have been that they found a piece of the holidays. Unlike Trey Songz who came to the club for the b#tches and the drinks, the two reasons people came to Rice were for the family and the friends. Yes, we were able to find a piece of home and the holidays on campus, even in the midst of finals.

November 6th: Decision 2012

It is now decision day 2012. November 6, 2012 is the day we decide as a country who will be the next president of the United States of America. It is also my first time being able to vote in a presidential election, as is the case for most of us. I remember 4 years ago the momentum and the excitement that was riding behind Barack Obama. It was almost as if the sheer excitement alone won him that election, and it truly was an amazing thing to witness, even though I was not able to place my own vote. But this election, Campaign 2012, is so far removed from 2008. There were no Boondocks episodes and songs featuring Will.I.Am and Thugnificent promoting Obama’s presidency. Neither was there the active Diddy “Vote or Die” movement. That is not to say that we are any more apathetic; which is the claim that is placed on us as a generation. But the excitement, that relentless energy, hope and optimism is not the same. Instead, we are caught in the real grind, muck that politics truly can be. It cannot and will not be as fun and entertaining as 2008. And we have come to grips with that in the nation in different ways.

Nothing can be more revealing of the actual climate that we are in than just the talk and reactions surrounding the campaign trail and especially the debates. It started with that first debate where our own Qaim Wynter, Class of ’14 stated “What seemed to be a sure fired Obama victory was put in question after his lackluster performance in the first debate, and conversely Romney’s impressive performance.” That followed with a Biden-Ryan debate that attempted to curb the Romney ticket’s momentum, and admittedly President Barack Obama did right the ship, or turn back up the heat in the campaign during the next two debates. But the mood was different in these debates than in 2008. Even the most die-hard of us could feel it. I personally heard from people who said that at times, viewing parties that were attended by those of one side would frequently turn to opposition jeering events. But even through our jeers, we could see what was happening.

This is best captured by Michella Ore ’16 who wrote concerning the third debate “Throughout the debate I couldn’t help but feel that I was watching two children bickering with each trying to prove to their mother (the moderator) that they were right and the other was wrong. While I felt Obama made some great comments, I felt they were overshadowed by his somewhat childish interjections that detracted from the importance of his message and which also could feed into the notion from the opposing side that he is not suitable for the respectable role of president.” Indeed, that has been the sentiment amongst many. But through it all, we all have made it to this day, November 6th, and we have seen the ups and downs of each candidate as they have probably revealed more to us than they have intended.

But nonetheless, we have a decision to make. Reading an article in The Economist magazine, even they are not on an emotional high entering this election. As a matter of fact, they worded it more harshly when stating they would endorse “the devil we know”, (referring to Obama) rather than “the devil we don’t” (referring to Romney) if I remember it correctly. While I strongly condemn that kind of language, the message is clear. They, along with many others are approaching this election cautiously, if not begrudgingly. But I must urge us all, not to avoid the polls. There are those that without a clear devotion for one candidate over the other, would rather abstain. But I cannot stress enough the need we have for you all to make sure that if you are registered to vote, you make your sure to go to the nearest polling center today. Even if you only like one candidate slightly more than the other. Your vote is vital, and I will not push you in any direction over the other. The only direction I’m pushing you to is to the voting booth. After that, we will all witness what our collective American voice is saying. With that I will leave you with the words of Qaim Wynter again, “In this election Americans have a choice between two men who each represent completely different worlds within America. What’s your America?”

Decision 2012

One Love,

Don Polite Jr. ‘13

Post Presidential Debate Round 2

There is a consensus agreement no matter who you ask about the aftermath of the second presidential debate, President Barack Obama came out ready to throw punches. As opposed to the first debate where Obama was accused of being too passive, constantly on the defense or disinterested, Obama was strikingly more animated and energized this time around. The result was a performance that very well could have curbed the momentum that Governor Romney had been building into this debate. With the town hall format, which allowed for audience members to pose questions directly to each candidate, the debate addressed many different issues. Most of the questions revolved around questions of the economy, which has been a familiar theme. But the most interesting exchanges came out of the attacks on Libya, how each candidate would handle pay equity for women, and also speaking of the auto industry in the United States. For example, Governor Romney criticized the President for not labeling the attacks as an act of terror, and hinting that Obama was also fundraising in the days afterward instead of helping the country deal with this tragedy. Obama not only took responsibility for the events, but also took offense to the notion that he was anything but concerned for the lives that were lost. Also, the moderator did aid President Obama by declaring that the President did say that no terrorist action would go unchecked, just a day after the Libyan attacks on the US embassy.

Onto the issue of women’s pay equity, is where Romney possibly made his
biggest blunder, if you have not caught onto the story by now. When asked what
he would do about women’s pay equity, Governor Romney spoke about when he was
attempting to fill out his cabinet, he asked for women’s groups to find him
qualified female candidates which resulted in him in having “binders full of
women”. Obama not only took the opportunity to mention how Romney has never spoken about whether he would have supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act  (first bill Obama signed into law), but also turned the debate to speak about how Romney would slash funds for planned parenthood and limit women’s freedom of choice.
The last issue was concerning the auto industry where Governor
Romney relitigated the auto bailout. His point was that he would have allowed
the auto industry go bankrupt, with the intention that it would come out
stronger such as 7-Eleven and Continental Airlines have. However, the reminder
that he would have offered no assistance to this industry is not a point that
will help him in the battle ground state of Ohio, which overwhelmingly approved
the auto bailout. Let me remind you that in modern election times, no Republican candidate has won the presidency without winning Ohio so that blunder could possibly end up hurting him down the road.
But in any case, we are faced with one last debate coming up next Monday October 22. The topic of this debate will largely revolve around foreign policy so expect Governor Romney to attack the perceived opening that Libya has allowed his campaign. But also expect Obama to reference the attack that brought about bin Laden’s death. If this debate was any indication, neither candidate will yield much ground. We hope you are able to join us in the BSU at this last debate before the election.
One Love,

Don S. Polite Jr Political Education Coordinator ’13