When asked to describe the location of this college, an average Williams student will more often than not come up with the word “boonies.” That cannot be disputed, for Williams is located high up in the Berkshires, far away from the big metropolises that dominate the Eastern Seaboard.
When asked to describe the socioeconomic status of a typical Eph, that same student will mostly likely respond with upper-class. Though in recent years the College has attracted a number of lower-income students, this institution is still composed primarily of those from high-income backgrounds, best demonstrated by the relatively low number (45%) of students who receive financial aid.
Because of its isolation and the relative wealth of its students, Williams has been graced with many labels, not the least of which is apathy. While some of the labels that others use to describe this college may be true, the label of apathy is one which is not.
Williams, not apathetic? At first glance, that may seem to be a misprint. After all, Williams students are fairly wealthy, and with them being so far removed from urban society, some may wonder how it is even possible for us to think about societal problems that occur far away from the purple valley we call home.
However, anyone who was at this campus last week knows how possible that is. More than 350 Williams students and community members ran a three-mile run and ended up raising $10,000 towards cancer research, prompting one sophomore to ask the question,“Who says Ephs are always apathetic?”
She was right to ask, for on the next night, hundreds of students packed Chapin for a debate on assassination.
Of course, both these events were preceded by the month of April, known on this campus as Asian Awareness Month and Queer Pride Days. Signs of the month were very visible, the most notable being a large “Queer Pride” banner hanging from the rafters of the College’s main auditorium, Chapin Hall.
We boast a multicultural center whose doors were opened only after students of color stormed the building and demanded the college pay greater attention to minority issues.
Williams students work in dozens of student-run political and community service organizations.
Students and faculty play integral roles in Williamstown politics, especially in regards to today’s override vote.
And when it comes to issues that directly affect the campus, whether it be the recent change in NCAA policy or the MassPIRG vote, Williams students champion their causes in full force.
In fact, that very sense of social awareness was ingrained into the minds of first-year students during their first two days on campus, with the SPARC workshops the first night and Katie Koestner’s speech on rape the second.
The marks of this college’s activism extend far beyond those just mentioned. From the Garfield Republican Club to the Purple Druids, from the Big Sibs program to “Justice Across Generations,” Ephs have clearly shown their willingness to learn more about the world, campaign for important causes and, most importantly, “give back” to their communities.
But perhaps the surest sign of this college’s non-apathetic nature comes from the perceived apathy itself. Despite some of the above-mentioned efforts, students at this school still believe they must do more in terms of social activism. Such a view demonstrates that students at Williams, even those who do not necessarily perform community service or attend lectures, are conscious of their “obligation” to society. Our continued cries of apathy, at the very least, reflect our willingness to do more.
Often, these feelings of campus apathy arise from our perception that other schools are more socially active than we are.
While Williams will never be known as a hotbed of activism, it ranks on par, if not higher, with other schools in terms of its social activism and awareness.
At how many schools would a large banner proclaiming “Queer Pride” hang so proudly on the steps of the main auditorium, especially when such a prominent banner would undoubtedly be noticed by many of the visiting parents and prospective students who flock to the campus during the month of April? At how many other schools could students debate the merits of NATO expansion at dinner? At how many other schools could the attendance of on-campus lectures often rival that of sporting events?
Not too many. The sad part about all of this is that Williams student buy into thinking of themselves as apathetic, when in all likelihood they are not.
Granted, more can be done in the way of community service and attendance of certain functions such as the unveiling of the AIDS Quilt.
But for the most part, we at Williams are not deserving of the apathetic label often slapped onto us by virtue of our demographics or location.
It is only because of ignorance, on the part of others and even ourselves, that we are graced with this label in spite of all our actions are to the contrary. Indeed, while we may be in the boonies when it comes to our location, it is clear that we are not in the boonies when it comes to social activism.