The scene is stunning. Three hundred people, clad in fleece and Gortex, fill Baxter north. There is an air of nervous excitement in the line that goes all the way out to the snackbar. Whenever there are this many college students in line for anything, it must be free. These people are all here to sign up for Free University classes during Winter Study.
Free University is a student organization that is independent of the College and offers extra courses for students to take during Winter Study. Richard von Bargen ’99, who has been involved in organizing Free University since his sophomore year places the birth of Free University as far back as 1988. Von Bargen said that the motivation behind the creation of the organization was “to provide the Williams community with a surfeit of things to do over Winter Study that reflects the tremendous diversity of ideas and interests here at the college.”
The courses offered by Free University range from Stock Picking and Web Page Design to Paper Making and Ballroom Dancing. In all, 35 classes are offered this year.
“The courses can be as serious or as relaxed as the instructor deems proper,” von Bargen said. Although there is interest in all the courses, those on the lighter side tend to be the favorites. The most popular ones this year are Swing Dancing, Ballroom Dancing and Wine Tasting.
Students have a variety of reasons for participating in Free University. “Well, of course, it’s free, so why would you pass that up?” said Jared Drake ’00.
Candace Marlowe ’02 is taking Ballroom Dancing because, for her, Winter Study is a time to do, “those fun, odd things that you have always wanted to do.” Bess Berg ’01 chose to sign up for Swing dancing just to improve her skills.
Some students have more serious reasons. David Walfish ’00 is taking Web Page Design not just for fun but because it is something he feels is valuable to learn about. “There is so much free time during Winter Study, so I should try to learn something that I don’t have time to during the regular semesters,” he said.
For Richard Ota ’99, a serious singer, Free University is a valuable, “different outlet.”
Taking Free University courses is not the only option available to students. “Everyone is encouraged to teach a Free University class on almost anything that they can imagine,” von Bargen said.
Todd Gamblin ’02 is co-teaching a course on anime. “I decided to teach the course because I think a lot of anime is misunderstood and I want to introduce it to people,” Gamblin said. He thinks that Free University is incredibly valuable and he appreciates the opportunity to immerse himself in his interest.
Free University has become a very valuable part of Winter Study for a lot of people here at Williams. “Free University offers such a wide range of classes that almost anyone can find something that they would like to take. We hope that the courses are taken seriously and are taken full advantage of because that is what they are there for,” said von Bargen. Hopefully students will continue to take advantage of this unique and valuable program.