The Williams Record is the independent student newspaper at Williams College, the private liberal arts college in northwest Massachusetts. This week, it published a report analyzing the demographic trends in college data on fall enrollment, which indicates that more students of color are opting to not return to campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. WAMC spoke with Editor-In-Chief and rising senior Jeongyoon Han about what the disparities mean for the college community.
HAN: So the Dean of the college sent over to the Williams Record the data from the Office of Institutional Research last night and it gave the data results of 2254 undergrad students at the college, about their decision of how they would enroll in the fall and academic year. The options were between: enrolling in-person, enrolling remotely, or taking a gap year, or time off. And the data didn't specify about actual numbers based on the demographic breakdown, they gave the data all in percentage numbers. But if you look at all the data, what's really jarring is the disparities between enrollment decisions that white students made and then those of students of color. The Dean of the college, Marlene Sandstrom, explicitly said in her email to the Record "that 73% in total will be coming back on campus in the fall. But within that, there's going to be less racial and ethnic diversity on campus." So that's going to be something to look into, because there are generally questions of what diversity and inclusion will look like now, especially with the national conversations around Black Lives Matter.
WAMC: Did the college provide any analysis of that disparity?
The extent to which that they gave that was just breaking down the race and ethnicity categories that they provided. They provided the breakdowns for gap-year leave, remote and on-campus, for American-Indian Alaska Native, then Asian/Asian American, Black/African-American, Hispanic/Latina, Latino, Latinx, then International, and then White. But then with that, accompanying the data, the dean of the college did say that this is going to have, this is speaking to a lot of various trends that we're seeing in higher education about the disparate impact that COVID-19 has had on communities of color and low income communities too.
What is the concern on the Williams campus about maybe not having some voices engaged in this national conversation actually present at the college in this coming year?
Williams College is a predominantly white institution. And so historically, there's been discussion about if there is meaningful representation of BIPOC, particularly Black and Brown students. And with this, given the historical trends that there isn't as much, as many POC students on campus, the fact that we're going to see even lesser proportions of these communities of color on our campus is going to have really huge implications for the social makeup of our school, what the communities of color will look like, what support systems will be there during this really difficult time of not just a pandemic, but also racial awakening, and reckoning within our national dialogue too.
From your vantage point at the Record, what's the next chapter in this story to make sure that this is continued to be interrogated as the school year continues?
So even right now, during the summer, there have been a lot of conversations about what affinity spaces there will be for communities of color and students of color in particular, and what resources can they look to, whether it be increased financial aid advice or support, or if it's through mental health resources, and one discussion that's been put forward by the junior advisors who are in charge of the first year residential system for the incoming class of 2024, is if there will be affinity pod housing spaces for first years. And so president of the college Maud Mandel actually agreed to this call for affinity pod housing for first years last Thursday. So they're currently working through and seeing what this will actually look like. And I think, for editors on the Record, we really want to make sure that this plan is well-covered and well-discussed, and we're curious to see what this will actually look like, because it's the first time that the college has agreed to affinity housing for first years in this entry system, that for many, many years, actually, many students and alums have said, is tokenizing for Black and Brown students and other people of color.
College President Maud Mandel told WAMC earlier this month that the option of returning to campus was left up to students when Williams announced its intentions to hold in person classes in the fall.
MANDEL: Part of our plan has really been to build flexibility into the plan. And so, we have, we are encouraging all students to consider if life on the campus is one, in the configuration we're describing, is one that they want to engage in. But if they don't, students have the opportunity to take a gap year, if they're incoming first years, or a leave of absence if they are ongoing students. They can also choose to take all of their courses remotely and simply not come back to campus, so the student could stay home or live somewhere else and take their entire academic program remotely. And I'm sure some of our students will consider that option as well.