Bicentennial Medalist and University of Hawaii law professor Maxine Burkett '98 gave the address "Climate, Complexity, and Other Devils" during Convocation


Maxine Burkett '98 Delivers Convocation Address

Bicentennial Medalist Maxine Burkett '98, a professor of law at the University of Hawaii, gave the address "Climate, Complexity, and Other Devils: James Garfield and the Seventh Generation" at Convocation.

The new library quad, in the heart of campus, is a beautiful, pedestrian-friendly green space with lots of room for the community to gather.


A New Library Quad

The new library quad, in the heart of campus, is a beautiful, pedestrian-friendly green space with lots of room for the community to gather.

Williams Embarks on Year of Inquiry to Confront Climate Change


Williams Embarks on Year of Inquiry to Confront Climate Change

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., September 8, 2016—As the fall semester at Williams College gets under way, a series of speakers, events, and programming is planned for a thematic year of inquiry called “Confronting Climate Change.” Many of the events are open to the public; details about the events and the year of inquiry can be found on the college’s Sustainability website.

Confronting Climate Change was announced last fall by President Adam Falk and the Board of Trustees as part of the college’s comprehensive response to climate change.

As part of this initiative, the Williams community is reading The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize winner and the Class of 1946 Environmental Fellow-in-Residence, as its Williams Reads selection. The Sept. 17 convocation ceremony honored five alumni with Bicentennial Medals for their achievements in fields related to sustainability and the environment.

Throughout the year, the college will host speakers who will address various aspects of climate change. The speakers include Van Jones, author and CNN contributor, who will discuss “Green Jobs, Not Jails” on September 28; alumna Maxine Burkett ’98, law professor at the University of Hawaii, who will speak on October 6 about climate justice; alumnus Mark Tercek ’79, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, who will visit October 12 to address the conservation community’s response to climate change; and Bill McKibben, founder of, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement, who is scheduled to deliver a talk in April. At the invitation of the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), Ghana ThinkTank, an international art collective, will be on campus to collect problems related to climate change to be studied by think tanks in Indonesia and Morroco. An art installation at WCMA in January is part of the response from the think tanks. Students also will be engaged with the ThinkTank to gather video footage from the community.

In addition to the speaker series, the college community will be continuing its efforts to measure and reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions, including exercises such as the Wedge Exercise, planned for Winter Study Period. Throughout the summer, students collected and analyzed data to prepare for the Wedge Exercise, which not only identifies opportunities for reducing emissions, but also requires us to confront the difficult choices regarding what we are actually willing to sacrifice in order to reduce emissions.

In his annual letter to the community at the start of the fall semester, Falk also updated the campus on progress the college has made in the past year. He pointed to two local solar projects that the college provided financial support, announced that Hollander, Schapiro, and Horn halls would be outfitted with solar panels, and said a residential annex being planned for the Center for Development Economics would be net-zero for energy. Also, he announced the college now offers retirees and employees a “low carbon” investment fund, and major gift donors can now choose to have their gift to the college’s endowment invested in a fossil fuel-free fund.

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email:


This fall, biology professor Hank Art is reviving Kite Day on Stone Hill—an annual Williams tradition from 1961 to 1975.


Kite Day—Reimagined

On a Saturday in early May, each year from 1961 to 1975, the skies above a farm field on Stone Hill would fill with student-designed, handmade kites as part of Kite Day. That tradition is being revived this fall by Rosenburg Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology Hank Art.

Art, who joined the Williams faculty in the early 1970s, has fond memories of Kite Day. The event was organized each year by H. Lee Hirsche, who was recruited to the college in 1956 to help create the studio art program. According to a website devoted to Hirsche and his work, he was an “inventive artist” who worked in a variety of media, including wood sculpture, stone construction, brass and copper fountains, and oil and acrylic paintings.

Kite Day was the culmination of Hirsche’s Art 306-Basic Design course, in which students designed, built, and launched their kites on Stone Hill.

“It was a huge community event that everyone looked forward to,” Art says. “There would be signs up all over town announcing it. It was a magnificent event that brought the college and the town together.”

Art’s re-envisioned Kite Day includes students from his Natural History of the Berkshires: Stone Hill course, along with those from Associate Professor of Physics Fred Strauch’s Quantum Physics and art lecturer Ben Benedict’s Sustainabuilding classes. It ties in with the Clark Art Institute’s Family Day on Oct. 2, celebrating the special exhibition Sensing Place: Reflecting on Stone Hill. The exhibit at the Lunder Center is co-curated by Art and Mark Taylor, professor of religion at Columbia. In addition to the students flying kites, the Williams Percussion Ensemble will also perform.

Kite Day is scheduled for 1 p.m., Oct. 2 at Stone Hill, near the Thomas Schutte sculpture “Crystal.” Everyone is welcome to come fly a kite at Kite Day, even if you haven’t made it yourself.  In the event of severe weather, the event will be cancelled. Read more details about the event or visit


Claudia Rankine '86—poet, professor, and Williams Bicentennial Medalist—has been named a 2016 MacArthur Fellow


Claudia Rankine '86 Named 2016 MacArthur Fellow

Watch a MacArthur Foundation video about Rankine and read her bio on the organization’s website. You can also read her interview with TIME magazine:

Claudia Rankine: Society Is ‘in a State of Emergency’: The poet and newly minted MacArthur genius has plans for a “Racial Imaginary Institute”

Claudia Rankine has been named to the 2016 class of MacArthur fellows—or as they’re commonly known, geniuses. It’s an award that comes with great respect and a big payout—$625,000 paid over five years. But for the author of Citizen: An American Lyric, the honor feels like it’s as much for herself as it is for her subject: race relations in America. TIME caught up with Rankine ahead of the announcement to talk about a new round of officer-involved shootings, Colin Kaepernick and the rhetoric of the 2016 election cycle.

Read More in TIME…

Assistant professor of mathematics Julie Blackwood and fellow researchers are using math to improve the health of coral reefs


The Mathematics of Coral Reef Health

A group of undergraduate researchers in Williams’ SMALL Program—which brings to campus students from colleges across the country for a residential summer program in mathematics—is helping to improve the health of coral reefs.

They worked with Assistant Professor of Mathematics Julie Blackwood, who is collaborating with a biologist and an applied mathematician from Bennington College, to determine what contributes to the deterioration of coral reefs in the Cayman Islands.

Coral reefs host thousands of species of fish and other animals and contribute to the biodiversity and health of marine ecosystems in the tropics and around the world. In 1983, a disease wiped out the sea urchin population throughout the Caribbean—and coral reefs were badly affected.

“Because sea urchins grazed on the algae that grows on top of coral reefs, when they were gone the reefs became overgrown,” Blackwood says. An applied mathematician who uses math to further research in ecology and biology, Blackwood’s role on the team is to better understand the dynamical consequences of scenarios designed to free the reefs of this overgrowth of macroalgae. She does so through mathematical modeling.

One of the questions Blackwood and her Bennington colleagues are asking is about the right conditions in which to reintroduce sea urchins. That’s where the SMALL students came in. Williams student Eliza Matt ’18 helped develop spatial models that capture sea urchin’s reproductive patterns and movement as a first step in designing sea urchin reintroductions to the region. Another question asks what other potential grazers might make a difference and under what circumstances.

In each scenario, there are interactions and processes that Blackwood’s models help illuminate. “As new information comes in from the field, we adjust and refine the models,” Blackwood says. “In turn, model analysis helps inform field research decisions. It’s a continuous cycle.”

Another of Blackwood’s SMALL students—Colin Okasaki, a senior at Harvey Mudd College—uncovered a possibility that the team hadn’t considered: “Sea sponges,” Blackwood says, “which have long been overlooked as important grazers.”

Based on the literature Okasaki reviewed, Blackwood and a group of SMALL students spent the summer learning everything they could about sponges: how they behave, what they eat, and what role they might play in the preservation of coral reefs. They started to build models—work that Blackwood will continue in the coming academic year—that help inform the work going on in the field.

Another team of SMALL students worked with Blackwood to build and analyze mathematical models of the Zika virus. Their goal was to understand the differences between sexual and vector-borne transmission of the virus.

“As an applied mathematician whose work is very interdisciplinary, I have worked with researchers in a variety of fields,” says Blackwood. “SMALL allows me to introduce undergraduates to that research, and together we draw ideas and methods from different fields to help create new approaches to complex problems.”


Teach It Forward

The Campaign for Williams


Teach It Forward

Enjoy a collection of Teach It Forward talks and videos from our first year of campaign events. The $650 million comprehensive campaign launched in fall 2015.

Varsity Sports

Arts at Williams