Students gather in show of support for Williams' protest
By Andrea Lamberti
Close to 100 students and several faculty members gathered in front of the offices of the president and provost Wednesday in a show of support for Professor James H. Williams '67, who has been fasting there every Wednesday this month in protest of minority education policies at MIT.
"Hopefully this protest will heighten awareness. This is a celebration of his protest," Garvin H. Davis '93 said at the demonstration. Williams had called for an April 24 celebration when he announced his protest in the March issue of The MIT Faculty Newsletter.
Students and faculty organized the rally by word of mouth and telephone calls. The turnout surprised Williams, who did not expect the crowd that filled the corridor outside the offices of President Charles M. Vest and Provost Mark S. Wrighton.
Williams spoke briefly to the crowd, many of whom were clad in red. He told the group that he envisions two coalitions forming to work toward his goal of "the cultivation of the leadership potential of students in general and especially minority students." This concept forms the basis for his protest, he said.
The first coalition would con
sist of a broad cross-section of the faculty, if not all faculty members, working to "slightly change the orientation of the flagship called MIT" and examine education in general, he said.
The second coalition, Williams said, is a more limited one. This group consists of "the minority community, which I think may not be able to afford to wait until MIT has reoriented itself as a whole." This group's focus is to "address issues which are confronting the minority community in general and especially minority students," he said.
Williams' protest will soon en-
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ter a second phase, during which he plans "to engage in significant coalition building." He said, "Today ends what is the easy part" of the protest. He would not elaborate on the next phase of his protest, saying only, "You will know it when you see it."
Williams said he was deeply moved by the turnout. He said that during the initial phase of his protest this month, "all I wanted was the moral support of the community." During that time, students had asked Williams how they could support him in his protest, but Williams told them their physical support was not necessary. Wednesday, though, he said that although the protest had begun as his, "This protest is our protest."
Williams aims for the coalition to submit proposals for educational change to the faculty. He stressed that significant proposals that go before the administration should come from the minority community as a whole. "I want the minority community to feel they are a part of this protest," he said.
Williams has insisted upon not negotiating with the administration. "I do not see that as my role," he explained.
Patrick H. Jefferson '94 said he was impressed by the turnout. It "called my attention to what students would like to see, [such as] changes in the curriculum," he said. "I hope it won't stop at this."
Professor of Physics Vera Kistiakowsky, who attended the demonstration, said, "I think he [Williams] has performed a remarkable service for the community by being willing to make the problem very visible by this weekly fast. He has my complete admiration and support."
Williams, whose first day of protest April 3 attracted broad media attention, said he intentionally called off the press for Wednesday's protest. "I don't see myself as a leader or a as a hero. I simply facilitated an action which I hope the minority community can utilize or in some way benefit from."