The preamble to the constitution of the Williams College Society of Alumni tells us it is “the oldest continuing college or university alumni organization in North America.” It’s almost six months into my tenure as president of our almost 200-year-old Williams society. Over this time, I’ve talked with so many of you—in person, by email and by phone—and I now understand better why it is that the almost 29,000 of us remain so connected and engaged with each other and the college. It’s because we graduated from this place with a deep sense of care, investment and ownership in the welfare of our beloved institution. It’s why so many of us volunteer and donate so generously many decades after we’ve left the Purple Valley.
Earlier this year marked the beginning of a difficult conversation for Williams alumni. Many of us were aware of the increased national attention to issues of sexual assault prevention and response, beginning with the spring 2011 U.S. Department of Education‘s “Dear Colleague” letter (available at http://1.usa.gov/1vTZraE) and continuing with the White House’s sponsorship of targeted programs and then media coverage of sexual assault on campuses around the country. As we learned more, we began to examine our own stories and experiences more closely. Because of the pride and ownership we feel about Williams, many alumni wanted to understand what programs exist regarding assault prevention and response.
I‘m fortunate to be able to travel to Williamstown frequently and talk with current students, faculty and staff. Last spring former society president Dennis O’Shea ’77 and I met with a group of student leaders about their thoughts, concerns and ideas. Since then I’ve met with members of Dean of the College’s office and several faculty members who have described the roles they play in creating a safe environment for students.
As I heard from many of you over the summer, it became clear that we have a challenge in that many alumni want to know more about what role Williams is playing to affect a culture in which this behavior is so prevalent. Not many of us can get to Williamstown to see and hear directly from the people who are involved in this work on a daily basis. Given the desire on the part of many alumni to engage and participate, the Executive Committee of the Society of Alumni has convened a group of informed and interested alumni to act as a sounding board for those at the college charged with communicating about these important matters.
As a first step, this team, partnering with the dean’s office and communications office, has launched a website to provide information and resources for interested alumni at bit.ly/Liaisoncommittee. We hope that you’ll take a look at it and then connect with us to tell us how we can do better and provide more of the kind of information you are seeking.
In the meantime, know that there is no issue of more importance to your college and Society of Alumni.
Leila Jere ’91
President, Society of Alumni