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Williams Political Environment?

torinn818torinn818 Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
I visited Williams this summer and really liked what I saw, and so I was super enthusiastic about applying. But in the latest edition of the Princeton Review's college guidebook, it says something like "conservative views are not welcome on campus". I'm not really that conservative, but it sounds like I might lean farther in that direction than the average student. Is there a problem with more conservative views being excluded or looked down upon at Williams?

Replies to: Williams Political Environment?

  • EphmanEphman Registered User Posts: 449 Member
    I guess the question is, in comparison to where? At every elite school, you will be decided minority as a conservative student on campus. The reality is that highly-educated young people are overwhelmingly liberal to begin with, and that is only exacerbated at the top of the educational food chain. There are probably more conservatives at Williams (among the students) than many of its peers, like say Swarthmore, or certainly Wesleyan or Oberlin, even probably Amherst. There are probably less than at some others, like Dartmourth or Davidson or Princeton.

    Now, there were a few high-profile controversies involving speaker cancellations last year, which is what the guidebook may be seizing upon. But there is some important context there. An outside group of alumni (who have chosen to remain largely anonymous) have been funding speakers on campus with the primary goal of essentially provoking the administration and student body into an embarassing response. Most notable among them was John Derbyshire (the guy who was fired by the right-wing National Review for being too racist, after suggesting that parents tell their kids not to associate with black people). Now, it's fair to agree or disagree with how that event was handled by the administration, which was really in a no-win situation (the talk, which was scheduled at the last second without college knowledge, was cancelled), but it is hardly indicative of a larger trend specific to Williams.

    In fact, I'd argue that Williams has historically been more hospitable to conservative voices than many of its peers. Williams has a slew of high-profile conservative alumni, among them Arne Carlson, Dave Kensinger, William Bennett and Mike Needham. An alum from the 1990s, Cheryl Stanton, was recently nominated for a high-profile position in the current administration. There are plenty of others. Williams recently hired, to I believe a two-year visiting term, a recently-retired Republican member of Congress: https://leadership-studies.williams.edu/profile/cpg2/. Jane Swift, a former GOP Governor of Massachusetts, regularly teaches Winter Study classes at Williams. And I think this report of a talk provided on campus a few years back by Jonah Goldberg (who I find intellectually lazy and generally repugnant, but that is neither here nor there) is pretty instructive of the type of reception even the snarkiest of far-right pundits will receive on campus, so long as they are roughly within the mainstream of conservative thought rather than an out-and-out racist like Derbyshire: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/376580/america-eats-itself-jonah-goldberg

    Again, as a conservative you will be a distinct minority among students at Williams. But again, that is true at just about every, if not every, school of Williams' academic caliber. But you most certainly won't be alone. I distinguish conservative from "loud and proud Trump supporter." I'm guessing life as such might be pretty uncomfortable for a Williams student right about now. I'll leave to others to judge whether that is a good or bad thing.
  • torinn818torinn818 Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
    Thank you for your lengthy response! This was very helpful and makes me feel a lot better.
  • EmpireappleEmpireapple Registered User Posts: 752 Member
    Its a problem in the Northeast (can not comment on other areas). Its unfortunate that many students want an education and the college experience, yet political climate (often coming in the forms of official statements from institutions of higher learning) are clouding that. My rising senior has a political viewpoint but really wants a college or university where there isn't political tension and would prefer the administration stay out of politics.
  • roycroftmomroycroftmom Registered User Posts: 1,198 Senior Member
    It has such a homogenous population base- literally hundreds from NY, NJ, Mass. And CT. Other large population states send very few. So yes, I would expect similar backgrounds, experiences and political viewpoints there.
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 33,480 Senior Member
    edited November 2017
    Williams has a nationwide draw for their student body. It does lean liberal, but as a whole so does the more educated portion of the US population. If this is really important to you and you have no interest in expanding your worldview in this area and sometimes defending your current view, you should pick a different school -- CMC, Princeton, etc.
  • TheGreyKingTheGreyKing Forum Champion Williams College Posts: 1,501 Forum Champion
    I disagree with roycroftmom about having limited geographic interactions at Williams. You would interact with people from all over the world at Williams. Entries are carefully designed to be a microcosm of the college. And among my closest 20 friends at Williams were not only east coasters but also a girl from Alaska, a boy from Kentucky who collected guns as a hobby, a daughter of recent immigrants from India, an African American on heavy financial aid, a Quaker, a Jamaican, a Latina girl whose parents worked on a California lettuce farm, etc. Beyond that, my freshman entry had a Mormon boy from Utah, my dorm the next year had a student from the former Yugoslavia, and I once went on a dinner date with a very conservative anti-abortion Republican boy (I do admit that his political views moved him into the ‘just friends, not boyfriend’ category for me, but it made for an interesting dinner conversation).

    Williams has become even more diverse since I went there. I would not worry about meeting people from only one part of the world or one viewpoint either politically or socioeconomically. However, like most top colleges, it leans left.
  • roycroftmomroycroftmom Registered User Posts: 1,198 Senior Member
    Williams is a great college. But this year, in a school of 2000, it has more than 750 students from NY, MA, and CT. If you add in the extra 129 kids from NJ, likely from the suburbs of NYC, it has a strong regional trend. Like almost all schools in the US now, one can find one student from almost anywhere on the globe enrolled, but there is a clear regional homogeneity.
  • HPTD12HPTD12 Registered User Posts: 39 Junior Member
    Last time I checked, NY, NJ, MA, and CT (and I have lived in 3 of those 4 states) have some of the most diverse populations in America, or even the world for that matter. Diversity is not a function of geography per se. The point being that Williams has many voices and gives students the opportunity to find their own.
  • roycroftmomroycroftmom Registered User Posts: 1,198 Senior Member
    Geography is one aspect of diversity. If most everyone is from a city within 350 miles, that is fine, but good to know going in. I don't think anyone would claim Mass or CT are high on the ethnic diversity scale, particularly compared to California, Florida or Texas. It is a fine school for the right person
  • roycroftmomroycroftmom Registered User Posts: 1,198 Senior Member
    Mass is 84 percent non-hispanic white. In contrast, places like Texas and California are about 35 percent non-hispanic white. I expect one's reaction to Williams may depend upon what level of ethnic diversity one is accustomed to on a daily basis.
  • TheGreyKingTheGreyKing Forum Champion Williams College Posts: 1,501 Forum Champion
    At Williams, you don’t just “see” people from a wide variety of backgrounds. You interact with them. I had so many meaningful interactions with people different from myself (in ethnicity, country of origin, wealth, family background, religion, political viewpoints, other viewpoints) while I was at Williams. The freshman entry system alone ensures this.
  • Prof_PositiveProf_Positive Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
    TheGreyKing just said it very well. Williams is a special school, like no other I have seen.

    If you would like to have a sense of the Williams community and their values.... I suggest you read a few of the editions of the student newspaper, The Williams Record. Look at the front page articles and editiorials.

    This is my two cents as a parent of a Williams student who shared some of your concerns at one point:

    --There is a strong emphasis on community and acceptance at Williams. The FY entry system ensures that students have numerous common experiences with all kinds of people in more than peripheral or passing ways.
    ---Students there can be a little quirky, but they are generally kind and brainy.
    ---Students like that their school culture is quirky, kind, and brainy (perhaps their love of their mascot, Ephelia the purple cow, communicates a little of that quality).
    --Students will often say "hello" to strangers, smile, and hold doors for them. If you look lost, it would not be unusual if a student will ask if they can help you.
    --They are more likely to be talking to each other than walking around with earbuds in.
    --There is a lot of school pride and you will always see a good number of students sporting their Williams school gear. --There is a value put on intellectual discussion of matters of disagreement which seems to be very much a part of the leadership culture there.
    --The school strongly supports their athletics, but looks for athletes are who are bright, want to be students first and tend to find the larger community culture/character appealing.
    --There is an emphasis on "doing good" as an important measure of a success.
    --There is a strong,immediateand active effort to assure Williams students are moving in successful directions right after graduation.

    In response to roycroftmom's comments.... Talking about NY, NJ, CT and MASS as if all the people who live there are the same seems to ignore that huge portions of high school students from those states live in rural and/or socioeconomically less well-off areas. I know with certainty that Williams values students who bring that background to their institution.

    Perhaps a helpful way to also consider the makeup of the Williams student population and campus culture to to look at the portion of students on financial aid, and % of pell grant receipients. Approx half of Williams students receive financial aid... and ~20% (!) are pell recipients. Both of these numbers are reflective of the active and continuing commitment by Williams to create a campus community that finds value in exposing their students to all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds.



  • jersey454jersey454 Registered User Posts: 71 Junior Member
    Hi, current student here to give my two cents. Williams does have an issue with certain opinions (generally conservative opinions) being viewed as "harmful" or shameful in some way. For example, one sports team recently had a controversial email sent around within the team that simply referenced Trump and wall-building in relation to their next game, and the whole team went crazy in condemning the email and questioning the moral compass of the person who sent it. Trump supporters, by and large, are not respected as having valid viewpoints because the person they support is deemed so morally reprehensible. In the end, this mostly manifests itself in people having a necessary censor on themselves - you always need to consider who and how your words will offend.

    This problem is not unique to Williams by any means, but it certainly has found a strong bastion here. I think it's the number one thing I would like to change about the school.
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