William R. Darrow, Cluett Professor of Religion

“This is a generation … newly aware of America’s relationship with the rest of the world. Our basic educational legacy had come from Europe and was concerned really with Europe and its offshoots, the Atlantic community. This generation is aware that it’s a wide world, and they’re interested in all of it.” –John E. Sawyer ’39

The past can seem like a foreign country. Listening to this conversation on the verge of a doubling of higher education seems unreal. “The Times, They Are A-Changin’” echoes in one’s head. As with a Mad Men episode, one watches the interview unfold with either 20/20 hindsight or with a cringe of recognition. But in the talk of growth, the rumbling “youth revolt” and the noticeably gender-inclusive language—the intentional use of both “men” and “women”—we can hear the rhetorical bases for making Williams co-ed that is Jack Sawyer’s major legacy.

We think of what lies ahead: the Vietnam War and the economic, technological and cultural shifts we label “globalization.” Williams’ membership in the Associated Kyoto Program, Williams in India, Georgia, Cairo and Oxford, and the diversification of the curriculum, faculty and students.

But such 20/20 hindsight might miss what’s already there. Sawyer has just returned from a tour with business leaders to Western Europe and the Soviet Union. The Center for Development Economics is three years old. The Haystack scholarship has brought a few international students each year. The basis is there already, though today the curriculum has been thoroughly internationalized, almost 50 percent of undergraduates study abroad, international presence in the faculty has grown, and this year the international student population is 144. When I arrived at Williams in 1981, I recall the international student population was about 50, with approximately half from Canada!

Still there are moments of cringing recognition. Characterizing this new mood as generational does hold the seeds for marginalization and a culture war. This is reinforced by a “West vs. the rest” assumption. Need the political saliency of the idea of an “Atlantic community” be translated into an “educational legacy?” Is all outside the same and primarily “interesting,” rather than part of a much more complicated human narrative? Finally, the conversation turns to the social revolutions already under way at home. Ransom’s rejection of the metaphor of a mosaic to envision diversity in the United States is impressive. But internal and world diversity are not the same thing, and the equation of the two may leave us with insufficient tools to understand both ourselves and the “wide world.”

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