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May 16, 2019 4:34 pm

Amid Outcry, Williams College Recognizes Zionist Club First Rejected by Student Council

avatar by Shiri Moshe

Thompson Memorial Chapel at Williams College. Photo: Wikimedia commons.

A Zionist club that was rejected by the student government of Williams College in Massachusetts nonetheless received recognition this week as a registered student organization (RSO), following intervention by the administration.

The Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI) was initially denied RSO status by the student-run College Council (CC) on April 23rd, in what was believed to be the first such rejection in over a decade. Students who spoke against the group, which according to its constitution seeks to “support Israel and the pro-Israel campus community,” emphasized their disagreement with its perceived political stance.

The decision was criticized by WIFI leaders, as well as President Maud Mandel, who last week said she was “disappointed” that the CC failed “to follow its own processes and bylaws.” Mandel added that WIFI could continue to operate without RSO status, and maintain access to “most services available to student groups.”

Yet some off-campus critics, among them the AMCHA Initiative, Academic Engagement Network, and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), called for more action, arguing that WIFI should receive the status and all accompanying benefits it was eligible for.

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In a statement shared on Wednesday with FIRE and confirmed by The Algemeiner, Williams spokesperson Gregory Shook said WIFI has since been granted recognition through “a parallel path to RSO status” laid out in the Student Handbook, which “involved a committee made up of administrators and CC reps.”

“Under Massachusetts state law, a college’s student handbook is a binding contract between students and the institution,” Shook explained. “Therefore, we had a legal obligation to offer that process if WIFI requested it, which they did.”

The committee gathered on Tuesday to consider WIFI’s request, “as required by law, and voted to grant RSO status to WIFI.”

“WIFI is now an RSO with the full rights, privileges and responsibilities that label entails,” he affirmed.

Shook expressed the administration’s commitment to “support students in thinking about the kind of governance they want and deserve,” and to work with the current CC on structural issues.

In a statement to The Algemeiner on Thursday, WIFI applauded the decision, as well as “Mandel and administrators for their constant support in this manner.”

“WIFI looks forward to contributing its perspective to campus dialogue and critically engaging with the campus community about Israel,” the group said.

FIRE also welcomed the announcement, expressing hope that Williams intended to adhere to its own Code of Conduct in promising “a community in which all ranges of opinion and belief can be expressed and debated.”

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