Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College.

Author:Wechsler, Harold S.
Position:Book review
 
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Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College. by Benjamin Aides Wurgaft. Williamstown, MA.: Williams College Press, 2013. xvi + 186 pp.

This history of the Jewish encounter with Williams College addresses two major themes: the policies and practices governing admission to the college and the difficulties faced by its Jewish students on a fraternity-dominated campus. Jews at Williams is a labor of (sometimes tough) love--Benjamin Aides Wurgaft, a Williams graduate, wrote the history to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the opening of the campus Jewish Religious Center. Like Dan Oren's Joining the Club (2000) and Marcia Synnott's Student Diversity at the Big Three (2013), Jews at Williams traces a change in institutional culture, from how Jews adjusted to the social realities of a remote New England college with denominational roots to how Williams came to accommodate, even welcome, a growing Jewish clientele.

For its first century, Williams educated missionaries, and periodic revivals swept the college during the nineteenth century. Often seen as conversion targets, Jews would not have felt at home at Williams. The ratio of well off to pious students tilted towards the Brooks Brothers crowd before the turn of the twentieth century, and this majority perpetuated the hegemony of fraternities over campus social life. Their concerns heightening as more Jews found their way to Williamstown--nine in the Class of 1914--these students staged an anti-Jewish student demonstration in 1910. Harry Garfield, the college president, rebuked the protest, but private administrative concern accompanied the public reprimand. Williams confronted its Jewish "problem" at the same time that Columbia and Harvard stemmed their respective increases in Jewish enrollments. Wurgaft unearthed no smoking guns. We do not learn if Williams ever adopted a Harvard-style quota, that is, if the college limited admission of Jews to a predetermined proportion of the entering class irrespective of the attributes of specific candidates. Distinguishing between quotas (illegitimate) and a "selective admissions" policy focusing on candidate "desirability" (legitimate), Williams, Wurgaft concludes, opted for the latter path in crafting a class.

Other colleges believed Williams had adopted an enviable modus operandi for screening Jewish applicants: enlisting "representative" Jewish alumni to assess desirability. Edward S. Greenbaum...

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