The State of the SoA

Having just completed the first of my two years as president of the Society of Alumni (SoA), I thought an “annual report” was in order.

I’m pleased to report that the state of the SoA is excellent! At Commencement I had the honor of welcoming 548 new members, including 38 graduate students. We are now more than 30,000 strong. A staggering 88.4 percent of our alumni have engaged with the college during the just-completed Teach It Forward campaign by attending a campus or regional association event, volunteering, donating, visiting and the like. That figure makes us the envy of every college and university on the planet.

This year your SoA Executive Committee (EC) set two specific goals: to engage deeply with students and faculty on campus issues and to communicate more proactively with the broader alumni body.
It was quite a year. Activism is alive and well at Williams, the campus teeming with controversies about free speech, Asian-American studies, race, religion and residential life. The EC educated itself on these issues, meeting directly with students, faculty, staff and administrators, so that we could better discuss the state of the college with you—and we launched a new “EC Newsletter” to help do just that.

We want every student and alum to feel that they belong.

We learned that these issues largely center on inclusion—who feels they are a part of the Williams experience and who feels excluded. This is an extremely important issue for our SoA as well; we want every student and alum to feel that they belong.

We were impressed with our student discussions. These are thoughtful, impassioned students, trying out time-honored activist techniques, most with great savvy, others less so, all learning and growing. I did not find them to be terribly different from earlier generations of Williams students (noting the recent 50th anniversary of the 1969 student takeover of Hopkins Hall). What is different is that today’s students live under the magnifier of social media, which can turn unfortunate moments into (non-representative) viral sensations.

In the discussions the EC had with faculty, staff and administrators, we were impressed with their keen grasp of the issues and their commitment to listen with respect, be responsive and take action—at times unpopular—when it made sense. Under President Maud S. Mandel’s leadership, they weathered every storm nimbly, with a deft touch and a sure hand.

The EC did many other things as well. With our fantastic Alumni Relations team, we created a new alumni working group that is now planning major celebrations of the SoA Bicentennial in 2021. We also undertook a substantial refresh of the Annual Meeting of the SoA (which takes place during Reunion Weekend), holding it outside, featuring plenty of great music and completing it in just about an hour.

Your EC fervently seeks to play an active role in connecting the alumni community to the campus and vice versa. We are truly grateful for your support and for the ample collective dialogue we have had over the past year. More to come!

—Tom Gardner ’79, President, Society of Alumni
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