Perspectives Over the (Class) Years: Claiming Williams

Photo credit:



Film Screening: Inequality for All

This documentary followed the former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich as he exposed the fog and mirrors behind America’s precarious economy and market. The film was digestible and light, which helped the audience masticate Reich’s overall goal: limit the tax breaks reserved for the top 1% and give more attention to the middle class. It was an entertaining presentation of an underrated issue facing America, yet presented more question marks in the face of economic policies that needed further clarification. Overall, the screening opened up conversation about America’s economic flaws and is worth a watch for those who are beginners to fiscal policies or those in government who have concurrently screwed it up.

Keynote speaker: Jelani Cobb on The Half Life of Freedom: Race and Justice in America Today

Jelani Cobb is a writer for the New Yorker, author of multiple books on race, and is currently a Professor of History at Uconn. His moving talk seamlessly transitioned from race to the principles of gravitational pull to historical compromises and declarations to the latest issues occurring in places like Baltimore and Ferguson. It was a well-crafted speech with a lot of promise for better days in regards to inequality and racial tensions. Cobb offered a refreshing voice in a place where many are sealed from the harsh realities of current events. Those present in Chapin Hall benefited from his words and hopefully understood that America still has a lot of catching up to do.


Evening Event: Racism and Homophobia in the Criminal Justice system: NJ Four

This year, I felt myself feeling little to no interest in going to any of the events scheduled for Claiming Williams Day. I felt that the day was great for people that are unfamiliar with or don’t engage (whether that be actively or by a matter of merely existing) with issues of race, gender, class, and equity but borderline redundant for those who do face these issues every day. Maybe it was my nearly four years here, but I felt Claiming Williams was a nice demonstration for showing how much Williams cares about the people that fill its halls but, as a movement, is rarely able to scratch the surface and get to the heart of the matter. On top of that, I strongly believe that it’s going to take more than a day, one that has a nice marketing ring to it, to adequately combat the structural problems that plague not only Williams but the greater society. 

However, I found myself attending one of the last events of the night, which centered around the NJ Four. Two of the women who made up the New Jersey Four Case (2006), Patreese Johnson and Renata Hill, spoke to a fully packed room in Griffin Hall about their experiences with incarceration, the unjust treatment of Black and queer individuals within the justice system, and how to persevere in the face of adversity. While I didn’t intend on going to any events, I am very appreciative that I did. The talk was not only empowering, but served as a reminder that if one wants to work towards a more just, inclusive world opting out is not an option. I think I had become complacent, assumed a stagnant procedure for how Williams handles issues of race, gender, and class when it comes to its students, that made me wonder why I would even bother to claim this space. So I’m glad I was reminded that I have to, because with incidents like the recent invitation (and then cancelation) of John Derbyshire as a guest speaker on campus, it is clear that opting out for even a moment threatens to weaken the thread that serves to empower and support all of the bodies that come to make up this institution.