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:


Ghana ThinkTank will be on campus this fall to collect problems about and offer solutions to climate change


Ghana ThinkTank

Don’t be surprised when you see a trailer around campus this fall with the words “Ghana ThinkTank” emblazoned on the side. The international artist collective, invited by the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), is one of the many elements of this year’s campus-wide initiative Confronting Climate Change.

Ghana ThinkTank “‘develops the first world’ by flipping traditional power dynamics and allowing the ‘third world’ to intervene into the lives of the people living in the so-called ‘developed’ world,” the collective states on its website. The artists collect problems in communities throughout the U.S. and Europe and send them to citizen think tanks they’ve created in developing countries. The think tanks propose solutions that are then implemented by the communities.

“This innovative approach to public art reveals blind spots between otherwise disconnected cultures,” says Sonnet Coggins, associate director for academic and public engagement at WCMA, who is heading up the project. “It challenges assumptions about who is ‘needy,’ and turns the idea of expertise on its head.”

As part of Confronting Climate Change, the collective will begin its work in the fall, inviting members of the Williams community to the trailer to record their thoughts about problems associated with climate change. The problems will be sent to think tanks in Morocco and Indonesia, where solutions will be developed. Members from the think tanks will then visit campus to advise on the implementation of those solutions, which will take place in the spring.

Meanwhile, for a Winter Study course in January, students will work with members of the collective to design and implement an installation in WCMA’s Rotunda. “The installation will immerse the public in Ghana ThinkTank’s process as it unfolds,” says Coggins. “It will reveal the range of climate change-related problems submitted by members of our community and invite visitors to submit their own problems and observe the think tanks in discussion.”

And in the spring, Williams students will be engaged with another of Ghana ThinkTank’s projects, this one in Detroit. The collective visited the community there to explore how neighborhoods can remain cohesive in the face of gentrification. The solution is to transform three buildings into apartments and small businesses, and center them around a riad, or a Moroccan courtyard. During spring break, Williams students will travel to Detroit to help build the riad.

Since establishing its first think tank in Ghana in 2006, the collective has brought questions about immigration, social and economic disparity, racism, and others to the problem solvers they’ve hired in the developing world. Think tanks include a group of bike mechanics in Ghana, people who run a rural radio station in El Salvador, and Sudanese refugees seeking asylum in Israel.

“These are regular people who are paid for their work,” says WCMA director Christina Olsen. “Some of the solutions they suggest may look like an art installation or even a party, but each one brings attention to the problem in a completely new way.”

Says professor of art Michael Glier, whose Drawing 101 class will collaborate with the group, “Ghana ThinkTank provides an extraordinary reversal of assumptions about power and creativity. I appreciate their optimism about the future and that they see art as a way to have agency in a complex, confusing world.”

To learn more about Ghana ThinkTank, visit its website.

Read more about Confronting Climate Change.


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 2016.

Varsity Sports

Arts at Williams