Davis Center Opening

Williams College’s reimagined Davis Center celebrated its opening on Saturday, April 13, 2024, after a substantial renovation and expansion. The new complex is a dedicated space that symbolizes the college’s commitment to and progress toward a fully inclusive community. As a hub of programs and spaces supporting historically underrepresented communities within the larger Williams family, the center advances broad campus engagement with complex issues of identity, history and cultures as they affect intellectual, creative and social life. 

The $31.5 million project includes renovations to Jenness House and Rice House, plus a new building with a bridge connecting it to Rice. The entire complex, which is 8,000 square feet larger than before (for a total of 25,769 square feet), is designed with an eye toward creating inclusive, accessible and sustainable spaces that take into account the communities’ and region’s histories. 

“It was incredible to be a part of this historic project and engage a range of stakeholders as it moved from inception to reality,” says Leticia Smith-Evans Haynes ’99, vice president for institutional diversity, equity and inclusion. “The Davis Center space is ripe with history, expressed and symbolized in the structure itself and a place where all can come together, learn about identities and cultures, and dialogue across differences. The steadfast commitment to executing this project stands to further empower and encourage the members of our diverse community as they live, learn, and work.”

Developed with extensive input from the nearly two dozen student groups that call the Davis Center home, the complex retains the residential scale of Jenness and Rice while providing a variety of dynamic spaces to house academic, cultural and social programs, workshops, training, meetings and more. Jenness will house staff offices, and Rice and the new building will house the campus’ myriad multicultural student groups. 

Among the new spaces is a large multipurpose room with moveable partitions to accommodate different types of gatherings. A well-equipped double kitchen allows students to prepare and host meals. There is ample room to study, gather and relax, including a porch off Jenness and a living room in Rice—both updated from the buildings’ previous incarnations—as well as a laptop bar in the bridge between Rice and the new building. An area for spiritual practice includes furniture, prayer blankets and a room for performing ablutions. The largest lecture space can hold about 200 people (compared with a maximum occupancy of about 40 in each building prior to the renovation).

All three buildings are equipped with elevators, and paths leading to and through the complex are designed for accessibility. With entrances from both Morley Circle and Spring Street, the complex sits at a busy campus crossroads and is more welcoming, visible and inclusive than ever.

The Davis Center is the fourth building project on campus to pursue International Living Future Institute (ILFI) certification, the most advanced green building standard in the world. In addition to accessibility, considerations include using nontoxic, ecologically restorative materials, maximizing energy efficiency and indoor air quality, and a diversity of landscape plantings.

Another aspect of ILFI involves connecting the buildings to place, climate and culture. To that end, the buildings feature a charred, natural wood exterior in the Japanese tradition of “shou-sugi-ban,” as well as white oak finishes, an intentional connection to Williamstown’s White Oaks neighborhood that was once a haven for Black residents. Colorful materials and finishes—some of them repurposed from the original buildings—artworks and educational signage will forefront the histories of Williams’ underrepresented communities and situate the Davis Center in time, space and place for generations to come.

The Davis Center traces its roots to the spring of 1988, when the student-led Coalition Against Racist Education (CARE) took over Jenness House, the temporary home of the Dean of the College. Among students’ demands was a multicultural center, which opened a year later in the building students had occupied. In time the center expanded into Rice and Hardy houses, and, in 2012, the complex was renamed the Davis Center in honor of W. Allison Davis ’24 and John A. Davis ’33.

Alumni gifts helped fund a significant portion of the project cost. In particular, leaders of the Williams Asian American Alumni Network, Williams Black Alumni Network, Williams Firsts Alumni Network, Williams Latinx Alumni Network, BiGLATA and Agents of Change (class fundraisers focused on supporting the Davis Center) helped raise $14 million from 2,020 Alumni Fund donors. 

“Research tells us that students learn most effectively when they feel at home,” says Williams President Maud S. Mandel. “Over more than 50 years, many Williams people have made the Davis Center their campus home. The new facility blends the architectural features of that much-loved facility with state-of-the-art co-curricular and informal gathering spaces. I am grateful to all the staff, faculty, students, alumni and community partners whose commitment to ensuring a fully inclusive campus has brought us to this point.”

The Davis Center was designed by Leers Weinzapfel Associates, in collaboration with J. Garland Enterprises.

Published April 11, 2024