Contextual Shifts

it is one of the great honors of my life to observe our Williams family such as we’re able from the vantage point of the Alumni Relations Office. This was true before a global pandemic and a national reckoning on racial justice, with both providing context in our lives and shaping how we live them. We’ve all looked to our communities, broadly defined, for support in these times, and our Williams circles have been activated in meaningful ways that feel deeply familiar and comforting.

The Williams connections happening thanks to alumni volunteers are inspiring. On April 1, John Gould ’66, co-secretary for his class, sent a message via the class email list server with updates on a handful of classmates. This motivated others to write in, and a daily message has been circulated among the class every day since then. Co-secretary Joe Bessey ’66 took on oversight of distribution in July. Classes from all generations are organizing programming and virtual get-togethers via videoconference, with an interesting preponderance of classes in the 1970s doing so. I asked some of the class leaders if they had any insights as to why their classes were so active in this moment. Multiple people shared a consistent sentiment: a collective self-awareness of their mortality was fueling the heightened desire for connection.

As stewards of our alumni community, we must amplify the voices that call on us to change our practices that perpetuate racial exclusion and inequality.

The newest members of our alumni community, the Great Class of 2020, were the first to tangibly understand the feeling of loss that comes from not being able to physically gather together in the name of Williams. The college is committed to providing proper closure to their time on campus with a memorable Commencement gathering in the future that will be far more about simply being with each other than about the ceremony. We’re also committed to celebrating reunion classes from the ’0s and ’5s, particularly the milestone reunion classes of 1970 and 1995, when we’re able.

Until that time arrives, formal engagement efforts will remain in the virtual realm, and we’ll continue to grapple with the central challenge of creating connection while we’re unable to physically be together. There are silver linings, as those offerings will be available to all, regardless of geography and ability to travel to Williamstown.

The Bicentennial of our Society of Alumni is the umbrella under which many of these virtual programming opportunities are being developed. The planning process began in earnest two years ago and continued apace until this past March, when the first collective contextual shift occurred in the form of Covid-19. While a vaccine may usher a return to normalcy, the second contextual evolution requires dismantling our norms to achieve racial justice as a country and a college. As stewards of our alumni community, we must amplify the voices that call on us to change our practices that perpetuate racial exclusion and inequality. Only then will we be ready to move forward into our next 200 years as an alumni community.

With best wishes from Williamstown,

—Brooks Foehl ’88, Director, Alumni Relations