This year’s annual retreat for Williams College alumni in Oak Bluffs will feature a lecture by historian Craig Steven Wilder and the screening of a new film by Thomas Allen Harris. Both events are open to the public.
The annual retreats are sponsored by Williams College’s Asian-American, black and Latino alumni networks, and by the BiGLATA (bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender alumni) network.
Mr. Wilder, head of the history department at MIT, was formerly the head of Africana Studies at Williams. His newest book, Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities, explores the role of slavery in the growth of some of the country’s oldest colleges.
“The academy never stood apart from American slavery,” he writes in the book. “In fact, it stood beside church and state as the third pillar of a civilization built on bondage.”
Mr. Harris’s new film, Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of the People, looks at how black photographers since the 1800s have used their medium as a vehicle for social change. Don Perry, one of the film’s screenwriters, is a Williams alumnus. Mr. Harris will be present to answer questions following the screening.
The alumni retreats grew out of the black alumni network’s annual gatherings on the Vineyard, which began about 20 years ago, said Sharifa Wright, director of diversity and inclusion and associate director of alumni relations at Williams.
“Oak Bluffs historically has had a very strong connection to the African American community — not only in New England but in fly-over states,” she said. (The Methodist Camp Ground out of which the town grew provided a summer refuge for many African Americans in the 1800s.) She added that a growing community of alumni of color on the Vineyard makes it an ideal place for the annual retreats.
“Williams and schools like Williams have to seriously look at the changing face of the alumni populations,” she said. “An institution that used to be all white and all male, like Williams, is looking more diverse on the alumni side.”
In addition to the two public events, alumni will have opportunities to network and to converse with staff members at Williams about the future of the college. Alumni and their families are invited to a clambake in Aquinnah on Saturday.
Craig Steven Wilder will speak at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs on Saturday, August 23, at 3 p.m., with a discussion and book signing to follow. Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of the People will screen at the Oak Bluffs Public Library on Friday, August 22, at 2:30 p.m. For information about how to register as an alumnus/a, email Sharifa Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.