Williams College Releases a Statement on Free Inquiry and Inclusion

Media contact: Gregory Shook, director of media relations; tele: 413-597-3401; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., November 14, 2019—Williams College has released a statement today affirming its commitment to ensure both free inquiry and inclusion for all members of its community. Developed by the college’s Faculty Steering Committee, with input from President Maud S. Mandel and faculty, the statement underscores Williams’ conviction that freedom of expression and inquiry are essential to the health of any learning community in which everyone can live, learn, and thrive.

“The statement we’ve produced is the product of a sustained, thoughtful consideration of both general questions and the specific circumstances and commitments of Williams College,” said Amanda Wilcox, professor of classics and chair of the Faculty Steering Committee. “The whole process has been an exercise in speaking and listening to one another respectfully and openly, as members of a community whose idioms are quite various, and who have serious differences of opinion and even, sometimes, of values, but who are united in a shared mission to teach and learn from one another.”

Williams, like other schools throughout the nation, is debating how to uphold principles of open inquiry and free expression. The debate has focused on how to do so while not providing a platform for hate speech, racism, or other forces that are corrosive to a learning community. The conversation at Williams has recently focused on speaker invitations, as it has elsewhere around the country.

In an effort to address the issue, President Mandel created the Ad Hoc Committee on Inquiry and Inclusion and charged it with recommending a set of speaker invitation guidelines that would demonstrate Williams’ full commitment to both inquiry and inclusion. The committee’s work, which included extensive community outreach, and recommendations informed the Faculty Steering Committee’s statement released today.

“I’ve been gratified by the intelligence and passion that many members of the Williams community have shown in discussing, debating, and sometimes protesting this most crucial issue,” President Mandel said. “My job as president is to guide that energy into helping Williams excel: delivering the best liberal arts education imaginable, and preparing graduates to set the standard for civic virtue and engagement.”

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Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.

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