Professor Dessima Williams teaches Sociology and Caribbean Studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. The Caribbean-born Williams completed her primary and secondary education in Grenada before traveling to the U.S., where she received her B.A. in International Relations from the University of Minnesota, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in that same field from American University. With interests in international relations, global apartheid, feminism in developing countries, and the peace movement, Williams taught Political Science at Williams College in Massachusetts before joining the Brandeis faculty in 1992.
Prior to launching her academic career, Williams (from 1979 to 1983) served as Grenada's ambassador to both the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the Organization of American States. She performed this work in service of Maurice Bishop, the Grenadan Prime Minister and ally of Fidel Castro. Williams was a leader in Bishop’s New Jewel Movement, a Marxist-Leninist political movement that sought to strengthen Grenadan ties to Communist Cuba and the Soviet Union in the 1970s and early 1980s. Williams’ involvement with the ruling party of Grenada ceased when Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard viciously murdered half of his fellow cabinet members in an effort to force regime change on the embattled island nation.
Williams has been particularly critical of what she calls the “assumed dominance and assumed superiority of the analysis and experiences of the West.” An anti-Western mindset has guided Williams’ work with a number of organizations and agencies. Among these is Oxfam American, for which she served as a Board member and Vice President.
Williams currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Center for International Policy (CIP), an organization founded in 1975 by former diplomats and anti-Vietnam War activists. With the aid of Democratic U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, who supported the Sandinista dictatorship in Nicaragua, CIP’s goal is “to make sure that a government’s human rights record [is taken into consideration when] allocating [American] foreign aid.” Notwithstanding the abominable human rights record of Fidel Castro’s Cuba, however, CIP seeks to “end the counter-productive isolation of Cuba.”
Williams is the co-founder of HAITIwomen, an “initiative to support Haiti’s democracy by supporting its women.” Following the 1991 military coup in Haiti, which saw the temporary ousting of dictator Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Williams co-chaired the New England Observers’ Delegation to Haiti, where she called for the return of civilian rule. Williams also served as a member of an international tribunal on human rights violations in Haiti, led by the former Jamaican Prime Minister, the socialist Michael Manley.
Williams was a delegate to the World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995. She is co-chair of Massachusetts Action for Women, which was launched to advocate on behalf of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women. She founded the Grenada Education and Development Program, whose mission “is directed to erasing the social damage and exclusion that results from lack of education in Grenada’s changing environment.” And she is a Board of Advisors member for Grassroots International.
Williams says that she opposes America’s War on Terror for several reasons, but “one of the simplest reasons to oppose war is that war hurts people.” On March 8, 2003, she joined more than 100 peace activists as they stood in front of John Kerry’s office to protest the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq. The rally was organized jointly by Citizens for Participation in Political Action, the Greater Boston Chapter of the National Organization for Women, United for Justice with Peace (a coalition based in the Greater Boston region), and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.”
Throughout her career as a diplomat, academic, and activist, Williams has lobbied for decreases in U.S. military spending.
In 1993 Williams received the “Tribute to Women Award” from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Association of Greater Boston. In 1995 she was given the “Peace and Justice Award” at the Cambridge Peace Commission’s First Annual Peace Award Celebrations. She was the 1998 recipient of the “Massachusetts Leadership Award,” which is given by the United Nations. In 1999 she received the “Massachusetts Curry College Human Rights Award,” and in 2000 she received the YWCA’s “Women’s Leadership Award.”
In June 2001 Williams received the Debs-Thomas-Bernstein Award, which is given to honor “leaders in the fight for global and local democracy.” The award is presented by the Boston Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), in memory of Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas (two national leaders of the Socialist Party) and Julius Bernstein (a local leader in the labor, civil rights, and socialist movements).
According to a report by the Boston chapter of DSA, “Williams [at the award ceremony] delivered a moving and inspirational speech recount[ing] how a young graduate student in the U.S. came to find herself appointed UN Ambassador from Grenada’s new revolutionary government,” and lamenting “the bitterness and sorrow of seeing their promising movement collapse, leading to military coup and ultimately a U.S. invasion.” Said Williams: “Socialism without democracy cannot survive, but ultimately, neither can democracy without socialism.”