Pendo Kamau: Okay. Today is April 18 2021 my name is Pendo Kamau, I'm class of 2024 conducting an interview as part of the documenting student life alumni oral History project and Roger, could you please briefly identify yourself and your connection to Haverford.
Roger Williams: I’m Rogelio Williams, also known as Roger. I'm the class of 69. My brother, Juan subsequently went to Haverford. He’s the class of 76 and served on the board of trustees for a while. My nephew Jonathan Jenny subsequently went to Haverford also. I think he's class of 86 and then my nephew Rafi Williams also went to Haverford, and I think, I don't remember what class he is, but I guess I started a tradition of folks going to Haverford from my family.
Pendo Kamau: Wow. How did you, oh what, where are you located? Before you attended Haverford?
Roger Williams: Where was I living at the time? Well my history is I’m from Panama, living in Colon and I came to Brooklyn when I was about 13 or 12 and then was in Brooklyn until I went to Haverford. I went to Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn.
Pendo Kamau: How did you, what was your reason for applying to Haverford?
Roger Williams: Two things. One is my sister went to Swarthmore three years before me. And she knew a fellow over at Haverford Chuck Lawrence, Charles Lawrence. And that's how when I would go to see her I met him, I saw Haverford, and when it came time to applying to schools, I applied to Haverford.
Pendo Kamau: Wow and how, why did you choose to enroll compared to the other schools you applied to?
Roger Williams: Because I like the quality of life that I saw at Swarthmore and the values
Quakers espoused were attractive. So that's basically it. I mean, I had other choices, but I like the idea of Haverford.
Pendo Kamau: What were your initial feelings about Haverford?
Roger WIlliams: My initial feelings. That's a that's a nebulous question. You know, when I arrived at Haverford I had my arm in a cast and just come through a big operation on my arm, and I was very. I wouldn't say dependent, but I wasn't my independent bouncing around self and ended up having to have another operation in April on my arm. So I'm just out of it, in a lot of ways, but I thought it was a beautiful place and the reception I got there was very nice folks were very hospitable. I think there were four folks of color in my class. It was a class of 125. And there were four of us Ray Garrett, Steve Bailey me and one other guy is an Indian guy Agarwal, Raj Agarwal. That was it. So we were real minority, and I was again coming from Brooklyn, an inner city kid. You know the other guys parents were doctors and principals and all of that and mine were just you know my father was a bookkeeper and my mother was a seamstress so there was a real contrast between even the folks of color and me.
Pendo Kamau: How did you go about choosing activities and community groups that you participated in?
Pendo Kamau: There were no real community groups then I don’t know what you mean by community groups. There was no Community then, in that sense, and no community of people of color because they were, I think, in in the class ahead of me, there were two or three folks of color and, and the class before that I don't think had two but I don't remember, but there was no Community that I was aware of of people of color.
Pendo Kamau: How did you, how did that make you feel during your time, at Haverford?
Roger Williams: How did it make me feel. I was always a bit of an outsider I lived for the first semester in Barclay but then went live in Spanish House in a single in Spanish House.
So I was a bit detached from a lot of the Community, in that sense of the general but you know we all ate founders back then and I got a job as a waiter at the dining hall and. You know the other folks of color thought it was demeaning for me to work as a waiter but I needed the job and the job was important to me and. I felt that the staff in the dining Hall, which was basically all Black, was very receptive to having me there and supportive and to some extent, that was my community. I got to know folks by virtue of that.
Pendo Kamau: Um were there any scholarships so programs that existed to bring in BIPOC students?
Roger Williams: Not that I was aware of. I got a scholarship. But I don't know that there were any specific scholarships for BIPOC folks. I would say that Bill Ambler, who was the admissions director at the time was very supportive of me and helpful and during my time there, I would also do tours with the admissions group, so I felt that they showed me off as an example of a successful person of color at Haverford. I know that some other folks have different feelings about that, but I thought Bill Ambler and others did a great job and welcoming me to the school, now that doesn't mean they did a great job of acculturating me to the school. Because they weren't programs like LIFTAR or other kinds of things to help. The high school I came from didn't require you to write a paper each week. I didn't go to a prep school, so I was in school, the same way, and there's nothing done to ease that transition, and that was that was right in the sense.
Pendo Kamau: What was the students of color relationship to administration and to student leadership? Were there, people were their students of color on the student leadership teams?
Roger WIlliams: There was one guy. He was in the class ahead of me who was very actively involved, I mean Mike Moore who's now dead, I think. The biggest influence that I would say that was there for me, is, Ira Reid, who was a sociology professor and sort of a mentor. I gave to a scholarship in his name as matter of fact, because he was that important to my time at Haverford. There were other professors who also took me under their wing and were very helpful. Paul Desjardins who was a philosophy Professor I became very friendly with. Satterthwaite, Alfred Satterthwaite was also a professor of English and he and his family were very, very nice to me and helpful and, so I mentioned, I had an operation at spring break my parents couldn't come down to see me, because we didn't have a car, it wasn’t something they could they could afford to do, but Satterthwaite took me to the hospital picked me up from the hospital, took care of me when I got back you know. They were very friendly that's sort of the key people who rallied behind, Dr. Reid was another one like that. And Professor Asensio who ran Spanish house. They, take care of me. So like there were holidays, when I couldn't afford to go home, I would eat with them, they’d give me food, so you know I know I know now that lots of colleges provide food for kids who can't afford to go home on spring break, that didn't exist back then.
Pendo Kamau: That's wonderful um can you speak more about your relationship with Ira De Reid and the impact that he had with the fellow students of color?
Roger Williams: Again there weren't that many students of color. It wasn't that, but I reached out to him because I felt an affinity towards him and when things were rough, for me, my freshman year sophomore year I would talk to him and he’d encouraged me and guided me through you know what I needed to do. You know, he. In one of his classes, I remember, he asked folks to describe him and folks in the class described him, as you know, a teacher or this or that and that. And the end he came back and said, but not one of you described me as being Black, which is my major feature. If I were to walk into this room you'd see a Black man and that lesson always stood out with me, because you realize that your defining feature is your color. Not your defining but the first impression you make is as a person of color and to negate that is just you know you're missing the point.
Pendo Kamau: Thank you. Um How did the major events happening at, during your time at Haverford and impact the campus environment, specifically the Vietnam War and Civil rights movement?
Roger Williams: The Vietnam War was a major major issue and Bill Davidon this Professor physics. And he was a leader of it, he was one of the folks who broke into the FBI headquarters in, nearby in Pennsylvania. There were a couple of student leaders who were very actively involved. Kids from all the schools, we’d call it the scum of the Main Line and communists on the Main Line. And when Martin Luther King was killed, there was a big vigil about that. Civil Rights was, was a topic, but the major topic was the Vietnam War.
Pendo Kamau: What were your feelings during that at the time, about about both the Vietnam War, civil rights movement?
Roger Williams: I was against the Vietnam War, and civil rights, you know, it was a topic close to my heart, but also being a Panamanian there's a distance between that and what American Blacks were going through you know. Because my, my, my, view of being a person of color didn't carry some of the baggage that Black Americans had, when the the the post-bacc program was started. That was an interesting and a good thing for the school for folks like me to get to know other Blacks of color and American Blacks of color who weren't as privileged as the American Blacks who were students at Haverford. So we had lots of good conversations that, they provided a community.
Pendo Kamau: You said the post-bacc program at Haverford?
Roger Williams: Yeah you don't know about that? At one point, and I guess it was either 67 or 68, Haverford started this program of taking in I think it was either 12 or 15 students from schools in the south. I think there were almost all Black, except for one guy I think, who had done well in in whatever school they had gone to. But we're not polished enough in whatever the way it was described to get into the next level of graduate school, so it was like a post-bacc program to give them some experience at Haverford with that different level of education, to then allow them to go on to other places. Al Williams who I think came back as a Dean, at some point at Haverford was one of those post-bacc students, but it was a very good program.
Pendo Kamau: Okay, thank you, I didn’t know about that.
Roger Williams: should look into that if you don't know about it, we should look into it, because those, those guys helped really open people's eyes to the breadth of experience of folks of color.
Pendo Kamau: Okay. Thank you. Um three years after you graduated, major organizing is taking place at Haverford with the protests in the, in 1972 what were your thoughts about it at the time, and how are they different or the same to your thoughts about them now?
Roger WIlliams: I really wasn't aware of them. Because there wasn't that level of communication. I was finishing up law school at the time, I got other things on my mind, I was in New York so it wasn’t like I was around and there was no communication, so I don't really you know I did participate in one of the MAAG groups discussions and found them to be insulting beyond belief. You know the way they portrayed the students of color that came before them was negative. They implied that Haverford had a different standard or a lower standard for students of color back then, which I don't think was true because everyone from my class and the classes before that are known to be successful professionals, based on their experiences at Haverford, in ways that that compared with their white counterparts in their classes, so I don't know why the younger folks at Haverford you know, wanted to characterize people from my class and the classes before me as being less qualified to be there than our White peers. Now our experiences were different. If I said to you before you know I've never written a paper in high school every week, you know I didn't have the luxury of all the books that kids had you know, coming from a public school, but you know that didn't hold me back. And I went on to have a successful career. So I, you know I thought that the leadership of the other part of the group was so stoked down so much to students that went before that it was wrong, because I think we had a different kind of experience, it was a different world then. When I came back to my 50th reunion, Roger Lee talked about the fact that, all colleges were going through this thing of you know not admitting folks of color he said I think Yale had like 10 in their entire school. You know so it wasn't like Haverford was unique in struggling with being a better place or a place that was more accepting and open and all that sort of stuff. It isn't like Haverford was unique. But the folks at Haverford were trying to do a decent job, from what I could tell, and I would say that I never had what you would call a racist experience at Haverford. You know. We would go into Ardmore for our haircuts and some good food from time to time, but Ardmore, back then, was a poor Black community, different from how it is like now, from what I see it's sort of changed a whole lot but you know the barber that cut Black people here was in Ardmore. That’s where we went. But yeah I hope that’s sort of an answer to your question, I hope.
Pendo Kamau: No, you, that was a great answer, thank you. And what was the name of the group that you mentioned? Of the Black students that were there, you were speaking about.
Roger Williams: Post-bacc. P-O-S-T-B-A-C-C. The Baccalaureate.
Pendo Kamau: The students of color that you were talking about that were being pretty demeaning to the students, that the students of color that end attended Haverford before?
Roger Williams: MAGA [likely MAAG] whatever you call it the minority student group at Haverford. You know what I mean?
Pendo Kamau: I, it sounds familiar. I don't. Was it kind of like a affinity group.
Roger Williams: Yeah it’s minority students good grief, they are the ones that organized the strike I thought or that were involved, what's his name Pabarue, Jim Pabarue was part of it. I don't know. After that interview that after after that session I sort of decided I wasn't going to be involved with them, because it was very demeaning I mean it was, a get together to talk about the strike of 72 or whatever that was, and it was bad, it was so demeaning it was you know it's like when you look back and try to judge folks on where things are today. And you say well you know those folks were really dumb. You can’t do that, you have to look at the context of each one, and you know, we did what we did, and did the best we could with what we had. Things are different now and things are being done in a different way now, and that's that's fine that's that's appropriate. And you know, perhaps, having been successful led to other changes being done, I mean if our group hadn't done well enough perhaps others would not have come, but others did come, and I wasn’t doing better so to look back at the group before and say you know you guys. It’s wrong. Chuck Lawrence is a law professor or was a law professor at San Francisco State, I mean folks have gone on to do very good things. Ray Garrett is a doctor in Houston somewhere, you know folks that we weren't as poorly equipped as that group wanted us to made us out to be a made us out to be you folks who had to be helped and that you know the school didn't really feel you're qualified. It’s not good to do that.
Pendo Kamau: Okay. Thank you. I wanted to ask about coed. The process of Haverford becoming coed. Where there conversations being had about Haverford going coed during your time at Haverford I know the school went coed much later, or not much later but in 1980.
Roger Williams: Yeah the school conversation conversations were being had about that, when I was there. Haverford was also so intermixed with Bryn Mawr that it was almost like it was coed, it's just that they were students from Bryn Mawr and people from Haverford lived in the dorms in Bryn Mawr and mean it was like vice versa, it was as close to being coed without being coed. But I, you know, back then, one of my thinkings was, that there are advantages to all male schools, because you know, guys don't always feel comfortable performing when women are there in an academic environment. Focus changes, I think Haverford changed for the better, letting in women. But there are advantages, the other way too. When you know Bryn Mawr folks were there all the time I don't think I had that many courses, where they didn't have a woman from Bryn Mawr in the course. But it was different.
Pendo Kamau: And I wanted to speak to you about your, like academic experience at Haverford particularly within your major. Is it correct that you were a Spanish language and literature major?
Roger Williams: Yeah.
Pendo Kamau: What was, what was the racial breakdown of that department in terms of professors and students?
Roger Williams: There was one Professor. Asensio. Professor Asensio and the students were. In the class? What’s that?
Pendo Kamau: I was gonna, yeah, was there, how big was the department?
Roger Williams: One Professor. Yeah. One Professor.
Pendo Kamau: Why did you choose a Spanish language and literature.
Pendo Kamau: Because I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it, a whole lot, and professor Asensio opened up lots of worlds, in terms of literature that I really enjoyed and he was a good counselor and advisor and good person to talk to. But you know. I mean. There weren't that many other people doing a major in Spanish literature and none of the students of color took Spanish besides me.
Pendo Kamau: Interesting. Did you have a favorite area of study?
Roger Williams: Besides Spanish, philosophy. Spent a lot of time with Desjardins. Paul Desjardins, who was a real mentor to me also and opened this home to me a lot, and I mean he even came and stayed in the projects with with me in Brooklyn visited my parents, but that's you know got to know us, got to know me so he was very good. Took a lot of courses with him and yeah.
Pendo Kamau: Okay, thank you. I wanted to talk a little about the social and political atmosphere at Haverford during your time, you spoke about how there were, there were politically active students during your time at Haverford, but I wanted to ask did the administration or members of student body publicly address any major social or political events? We spoke a bit about the activism that professors were involved in, but something I was just thinking about is how at Haverford we have like a lot of emails sent out that kind of address major issues that happen um nationally like even within the last week we've had some emails being sent out talking about the issue of like police brutality nationally and I wanted to inquire if there were like administration like, having spaces for people to talk about the major issues that were happening on campus or was that something that was being carried out by students within their own interpersonal relationships.
Roger Williams: The latter, it, folks spoke about it amongst themselves, I mean the dominant issue at school was the Vietnam War. Civil Rights was there too but the dominant issue was the Vietnam War. Russ Stetler was a guy who went to Haverford. And he did things to help the north Vietnamese. He did a blood drive and so he was a leader nationally, in terms of being opposed to the Vietnam War and does that built up that that happened, that I mentioned, was a leader from the faculty side there are a number of faculty Ariel Loewy. Bernstein whatever his name was, then there was Linda, don’t remember her last name. Big leaders in the anti Vietnam stuff and civil rights stuff I mean they were very socially concerned. But they're, you know we didn't have emails and the same kinds of things that you all have now so communication wasn’t instant, social media wasn't there to sort of, keep everybody in the loop, you know, you’d get something pinned up at the bulletin board at Founders about a demonstration or a group talking but it wasn't extensive the way, and the school is much smaller. Again, my graduat--, entering class was 125 and I think graduating was 105 okay. So you're talking about a school or 400 kids at the most. Wasn't that you know organized.
Pendo Kamau: Okay, thank you. And so my final questions what and what interested you in partaking in this interview?
Roger Williams: I like Haverford you know, I have good feelings about the school I don't have good feelings about the minority student group that’s there now. In terms of the way they've handled things but Haverford has been a positive experience in my life. Probably the major positive experience in my life. I learned a lot, I grew a lot, it broadened my horizons a lot. You know, and I like to give back to Haverford. When I heard about the LIFTAR program it made me really want to contribute so I've contributed to that, and when I heard about the Ira Reid scholarship I contributed to that you know, I would like to help students of color that are coming up along the way you know. What LIFTAR does is what I would have needed it when it when I was there, you know, rather than putting cardboard in my shoes, so I had shoes to walk in, I might have been able to get some help to buy a pair of shoes. You know. The things that, like help to get home for a vacation or a holiday that would have helped you know, on the other hand, guys in my class were very helpful. I will always get a ride back to New York, when possible. When I had to go into the hospital for different, to see different doctors about my arm there were always upperclassmen who had cars who’d give me a ride, you know folks were very helpful and it wasn't, it wasn't class as in, class with a big C or race, you know. Determined folks were just helpful and kind, you know I think of two guys Dod Crane and, what’s his name, I’m blanking on his name, who were just nice guys who you know knew that I had to go to the hospital to get take my arm to get it taken care of then they give me a ride and offer me a ride. They weren’t my buddies of mine, they weren’t like friends of mine, but you know they would step up and help, so a lot of folks were like that. And I I became friendly with lots of folks at Haverford. Not as many of the folks in my classes and upperclassmen you know, curiously enough, I was invited to go back to the reunion for the class of 68 because I had more friends in that class than in my class. And I went back, and I was welcomed by all of them, because we knew each other well. You know. Yeah.
Pendo Kamau: Okay.
Roger Williams: So that's why because I think it's important that folks know that the people that went to Haverford before the current crop, which puts them down, those were the people. The people who were there were good people who did good things have been successful in life. You know so for the young students to put them down the way they seem to be doing is wrong. You know there's an old quote that says, you must remember that what, you know, what happened, back then, was what was possible. And, things have changed and more things are possible now but don't don't look at those folks and say you know that they barely knew about the wheel is yeah, you know, society has changed and people have grown and for people at Haverford to only want to look at you know, the later BIPOC students as just, you know, as the cream of the crop, this, it’s unfair to those who went before and they don't seem to realize that.
Pendo Kamau: Thank you and we spoke about how Haverford has been a major positive impact for your life, can you speak more to that, how it shaped your views and how like, it was a positive impact for you?
Roger Williams: The people that I met there are all really interesting and you know I come from Panama as I told you, and came here when I was 12 and then grew up in Brooklyn, you know hadn't had but so much limited contact with white people, and these were decent white people you know. You know, and the fact that I remember folks saying hello to you and you walked by you know they weren't looking for something like in New York. You know, you know I got exposed to a different class of people who were intelligent who were socially conscious who cared and who, you could have a conversation with. You know. It meant a difference, it made a difference to be able to be in that kind of an environment to then be exposed to cultural things I mean. Through Paul Desjardins I got to be part of a group that helped put together an exhibit for the Philadelphia museum of art on the influence of African art on cubism and got to be a docent at those things those at the exhibit. That was a great exposure, you know, it exposed me to a whole other world that I really wasn't aware of and I enjoyed it, I learned a lot from it and it meant that in, the in the future, I was able to have conversations with folks about a variety of things. From classics all the way down to you know literature. So I say it gave me a broader perspective. And the exposure to the people that I met there was positive. So I, you know. I had a good experience there. I mean, it wasn't the same experience that I had at NYU law school where you know you were a number, and that was it, you know. This was a different, more intimate experience with a wider group of folk.
Pendo Kamau: Thank you. My final question is, are there any experiences, stories or information that you wanted to bring up in this interview?
Roger Williams: I think the only one, I would bring up is that one where you know I participated in this, this zoom call with Haverford students of color, and I wish I could remember the name of the group MAG, MAG something or, multicultural student alliance or something and I just couldn't believe the way they put down all the students of color that have gone before. You know I mean, to them it's almost like they were the ones who were the only ones who knew about everything and everybody else was a dummy and Haverford you know, had to amend their standards to admit them, and just a horrible experience and you know the one point I'd make is that, they’ve all been, the people who came before them were successful, so yes, I appreciate all this being done now to change things at Haverford, you know. We got them to hire more professors of color and we didn't, we didn't do it through striking or anything, but you know, we talked about the need for that and also, I think, by being examples of folks of color who are intelligent that could you know operate on your level allow them to do things. You know it was a good experience for me.
Pendo Kamau: Okay. Awesome. Let me finish the recording.
Roger Williams (Class of 1969) interviewed by Pendo Kamau (Class of 2024)
Pendo Kamau (Class of 2024) interviews Roger Williams (Class of 1969) about his experiences as a BIPOC student at Haverford. This interview was conducted as part of the Documenting Student Life Project.
Williams, Roger (interviewee)
Kamau, Pendo (interviewer)
Metadata created by Elizabeth Jones-Minsinger