On Feb. 2, the entire Williams community took part in Claiming Williams, a day of critical conversations and questions around the topic “Moral Courage”


Claiming Williams 2017

On Feb. 2, the entire Williams community took part in Claiming Williams, a day of critical conversations and questions around the topic “Moral Courage”

See what the community shared on social media.

Math major Ariana Ross ’17 discusses the symmetry between diving and mathematics and the importance of respect and friendship


I Am Williams Voices: Ariana Ross ’17

Math major Ariana Ross ’17 discusses the symmetry between diving and mathematics and the importance of respect and friendship

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Williams announces schedule for 2017 Faculty Lecture Series


Williams College Announces Schedule for 2017 Faculty Lecture Series

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

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., January 20, 2017—During February and March, Williams College will sponsor its annual Faculty Lecture Series. The aim of the series is to present big ideas beyond disciplinary boundaries. The lectures will be offered on Feb. 9, 16, 23, and March 2, 9, and 16. All lectures will begin at 4:15 p.m. in Wege Auditorium, Thompson Chemistry, and be followed by a reception in Schow Atrium. The lectures are free and open to the public.

The first lecture in the series is scheduled for Feb. 9. Nate Kornell, associate professor of psychology, will deliver a talk titled, “Productive Struggle: Using Cognitive Science to Enhance Learning.”

Professor of English John Kleiner will discuss “The Hydraulic Wig or What Stage Tricks Tell Us about Emotion” on Feb. 16.

On Feb. 23, Jacqueline Hidalgo, associate professor of Latina/o studies and religion, will present “Our Book of Revelation … Is Serpentine and Regenerative: Rethinking ‘Scriptures’ After the Chicano Movement.”

On March 2, Luana Maroja, associate professor of biology, will talk about “It is Just Not Cricket – Adventures at Species Boundaries.”

Professor of Art Amy Podmore will present “Finding Elsa” on March 9.

The final talk, “Testing Reality with Quantum Physics,” will be presented by Frederick Strauch, associate professor of physics, on March 16.

The Faculty Lecture Series was founded in 1911 by Catherine Mariotti Pratt, the spouse of a faculty member who wanted to “relieve the tedium of long New England winters with an opportunity to hear Williams professors talk about issues that really mattered to them.” The current chair of the series is Keith McPartland, associate professor of philosophy.


For building locations on the Williams campus, please consult the map outside the driveway entrance to the Security Office located in Hopkins Hall on Main Street (Rte. 2), next to the Thompson Memorial Chapel, or call the Office of Communications (413) 597-4277. The map can also be found on the web at www.williams.edu/map


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A new film produced by Sophie Robinson ’11 looks at climate change through the lens of U.S. national security and global stability


Age of Consequences

The new documentary Age of Consequences approaches climate change from a different angle than most films on the subject.

“The U.S. military thinks about climate change as a threat multiplier and an accelerant to instability,” says the film’s executive producer, Sophie Robinson ’11. “Our film tells the story of climate change through its perspective because we wanted people to stop thinking about the issue politically and start thinking about it as the military does—practically.”

Sophie Robinson ’11

During the years she spent as a grassroots organizer with 350 Massachusetts (a program in the Better Future Project), Robinson says she learned that “storytelling opens people up” in a way that statistics and data can’t. When she left 350, she knew she wanted to make a film about climate change. But she and the team she worked with, including director Jared P. Scott, didn’t set out to make a film about the military.

“A lot of films about climate change are targeted at people who are already active,” Robinson says. “We wanted to make a film that would open conversations and engage people who might not yet think of climate change as the major issue of our time.”

When she came across a Pentagon report describing climate change as a major factor in a web of causes and effects that impact stability around the globe, she says she and her team knew they’d found their film’s thesis.

“Take the Syrian Civil War as an example,” Robinson says, describing one of the conflicts addressed in the film. “The extreme droughts between 2006-2010, which were two to three times more likely to have occurred because of climate change, drove 1.5 million people from their farms into the cities to look for work, and the Assad regime was not willing to help them. Climate change was one of the factors that contributed to the conditions for instability that created the conflict.”

Among the interviewees in the film is Sharon Burke ’88, a senior adviser to the think tank New America and the former assistant secretary of defense for operational energy. She says that, “for the military, this is all about being a better warfighter and anticipating future threats. There can be a temptation among environmentalists to make such a nuanced story simple in order to get people fired up. Sophie didn’t try to make it simple; in fact, she deserves great credit for bringing visual and narrative creativity and clarity to a complex story.”

Other people interviewed include retired Army Gen. Gordon Russell Sullivan, retired Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Cheney and retired Navy Rear Adm. David W. Titley.

Robinson says their stories each point to climate change and renewable energy “in terms of the military’s ability to be resilient, to adapt and to understand how issues such as sea level rise, massive migrations from drought or other climactic disasters impact their missions.”

“I had no experience in filmmaking before,” says Robinson, who studied psychology and environmental science in college. “At Williams, I gained my first skills in organizing and climate change science, which was the foundation of my work as the executive producer—where my main job was to fundraise and find ways to carry out the director’s vision.”

The world premiere of Age of Consequences took place at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto in April of 2016. It has been shown at other film festivals around the world, including the Waimea Ocean Film Festival in Hawaii, where it won the Audience Choice award and the Director’s Choice award, and it was shown at a Log Lunch at Williams in November. Since the theatrical premiere on Jan. 27, the film is being shown in cities around the world and will be available online starting in April.

Learn more about Age of Consequences.

—Julia Munemo


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The Washington Post calls Professor Jim Shepard “an outrageously versatile and gifted fiction writer” in its review of his new short story collection, The World to Come


‘The World to Come,‘ Stories by Jim Shepard

Reviews are coming in for Jim Shepard’s new book of short stories, The World to Come. A review in The Washington Post calls Shepard, who is the J. Leland Miller Professor of American History, Literature and Eloquence, “an outrageously versatile and gifted fiction writer who is deeply at home in a research library.”

By Lisa Zeidner February 17 at 7:00 AM

There are slews of historical novels — hefty tomes, usually with gargantuan casts — that show off writers’ mastery of various periods. But historical short stories? Far fewer writers go there. It simply takes too long to build the past world with all of its furniture and facts. Short stories are far more likely to be snappily contemporary than to explore Cromwell’s England or the Russian Revolution.

One noteworthy exception is Jim Shepard, an outrageously versatile and gifted fiction writer who is deeply at home in a research library. His past short-story collections have included characters as diverse as Aeschylus, a 15th-century French serial killer and a Russian female astronaut in 1963. With his fifth collection, “The World to Come,” he continues his original, precise exploration of times and places long ago and far, far away. Only two of the 10 stories here concern modern folks with recognizable American dissatisfactions. Shepard’s characters are too threatened for malaise — in fact, most of them are just trying to outrun death.

Read the full Washington Post review

A term as deputy assistant secretary of microeconomics at the U.S. Department of the Treasury gave economics professor and researcher Tara Watson insight into the policy making world


Microeconomics: From Billsville to the Beltway

By Julia Munemo

What happens when someone steeped in economic research and theory spends some time in Washington D.C. developing policies? Associate Professor of Economics Tara Watson found out when she served as the deputy assistant secretary of microeconomics at the U.S. Department of the Treasury from August 2015 to November 2016.

Watson, who was on leave from Williams during that time, says her main role was to analyze and develop new microeconomic policies, or policies concerned with the determinants and effects of individual decisions relating to things like student loans, the safety net, and savings decisions. Her takeaway? Academics would serve people better if they were more willing to say what they think earlier in their research process.

“Economists tend to be obsessed with identifying whether A causes B, and that’s very important, but we can get so hung up on proving it—which can take years—that we don’t say what is probably true,” says Watson, who teaches courses in public economics and econometrics. “But out there in the world, policy makers can’t reserve judgment. Things are moving fast and you have to make your best guess.”

Watson adds that she isn’t suggesting economists in the academy pretend to know what they don’t—“We need to be clear about what we definitely know and what we’re theorizing based on research done to date”—but that doing nothing and waiting for more research to be conducted can do more harm than good.

As a case in point, she points to a student loan policy she developed. One of several she worked on during her time at the Treasury, this policy would see colleges share the risk and financial burden if a majority of their alumni failed to repay federal student loans. “A lot of the schools in this situation admit disadvantaged students, so they’re providing a service, and we don’t want to stop that,” Watson says. “But the service they’re providing can come at an unaffordable price, and so students end up in financial distress later on.”

Watson, therefore, tried to design a policy based on how she thought colleges would respond to it. “Would they stop admitting the same type of students they had in the past, or would they improve the quality of their programs—and thus their alumni’s earning power?”

There is no evidence about which outcome is more likely because such a policy has never been tried. Watson says that an academic would ask for more research to be done before landing on a decision. But policy developers don’t always have that luxury, and Watson points out that more research means sticking to the status quo. “And the status quo is harming students,” she says.

“Perhaps we’re doing more harm than picking a policy that is probably imperfect, going with it, and learning from that experience to improve the policy down the line,” Watson says. “There are situations where the best guess is probably better than doing nothing.”

Watson came to Williams in 2004 after completing a Ph.D. at Harvard and a postdoc at Princeton. Her stint with the Treasury was the first time she’s worked directly on policy development, and it’s an experience she’s thankful for. “While the student loan policy my team developed was not ultimately adopted by the administration, I learned a great deal about how policy making works, and that experience will influence my research and teaching at Williams,” she says.


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The Campaign for Williams


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