How Did We Get Through?

by Jackie Laughlin '75


My name is Jackie Laughlin. Some of you know me as Jackie Meadows. And when I came to Williams in 1971, my name was Jackie Strachan. I was born in January 1954.

I came to Williams when I was 17 years old. The books I read there were important ones selected by professors who wanted mostly to engage me and pour wisdom into my head. I am 67 now. 

I am re-reading those same books now with new eyes. Many of those books are still on my bookshelf. Some have creeped onto my nightstand. 

Those professors at Williams were learning and writing and doing research (as was I) about what information and experiences I might need for the next 50 years—and perhaps would be needed for my “people” and humanity over the next century.       

As we build and transform the Black legacy at Williams, we must reflect on how we survived, thrived, perished and endured and what it meant to integrate the highly selective liberal arts New England college? 

We all believe that what happened at Williams was important; however, it may indeed be that it is largely what happened before we arrived at Williams that set the stage—the foundation for what we might become and accomplish while there. This is about how we were seen as human and present and accounted for.

As we celebrate 200 years of Williams alumni supporting Black education with our time, talent and treasure, I reflect on my personal memories of Williams, thinking about how the college shaped my current worldview.  

My top three:

  1. I became a wife and mother at Williams. Sex, Love, & Creating Family
  2. I was a woman at Williams deeply shaped by pleasing my parents and having that foundational experience of a rigorous same-sex education at Hunter College High School in New York City entering a rural school dominated by white males and beginning the  process of coeducation
  3. I was an Am Civ Major with a concentration in Afro-Am Studies. We celebrated 50 years in 2019. Our Black faculty early in their careers were at Williams because our classmates had the bold audacity to occupy Hopkins Hall.

Other things I know: 

  • Professors Joe Harris, Robert Stepto and WIlliam Exum, all early in their careers, shaped Afro-Am studies for the academy, the world and the nation. They were teaching and learning here at the same time, just as we were as their students.
  • Being a woman may have been more significant than being of Black.
  • We are going through a period of discovery, reacquainting ourselves with one another and reclaiming parts of ourselves lost in our youth and reinterpreting our experience through a personal historical lens
  • In 1954, the same year I was born, the Supreme Court declared that separate couldn’t possibly be equal and it would be our generation that would desegregate the nation’s schools.

I have only been back to Williams twice: for Career Mentorship weekend in 2009 and again in 2019.

This third time, in 2021, has been a charm. My virtual visits with others to reflect on our experiences as Black students and to celebrate and to plan this gathering and share the history of our time there, is helping to shape the Williams narrative. 


The Class of 1975… Who are we?

Unapologetically Black, what can we share about our experience as alumni about what it takes to nurture all students. 

Williams has a long and consistent history of linkages in creating and building historically Black institutions, working to abolish slavery and to lead with a legacy of supporting Black education.  

How do we honor those that joined us that were viciously or even unintentionally harmed by their time at Williams? All lives and experiences are not the same, nor is Williams the right fit for everyone!

We are here at a unique moment in time, yet we have been here before. In the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War, Williams elevated men of high ideals who sought to serve, teach and preach as a moral imperative.  We can do the same for these times!  We were in fact made for these times. If Williams alumni led and promoted Hampton and Howard as enduring institutions for freedmen; can those same alumni work with Black alumni today on equal footing for shared goals.? 

We strive to see that the post-apocalyptic Williams College continues to fervently seek ways to serve, preach, teach and lead our efforts on what it would take to allow that our country and Black lives can fully prosper.

Our stories today shape the African American narrative. It’s not new, it’s contemporary. 

We are Williams, too! What is our legacy?

One comment on How Did We Get Through?

  1. This is such an important contribution to the Williams Alumni archive. Thank you for sharing your story, Jackie. I love the pictures especially the one of you on campus this fall. I’m glad you have continued to stay connected to Williams over the years.

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