Sometimes life on campus is about as exciting as the 1713 Peace Treaty of Utrecht. Instead of listening to “Walk on the Wild Side,” Williams College students, as far as I can tell, prefer “Achy Breaky Heart.” This behavioral problem has got to go. I am going to make a broad, sweeping, biased generalization. It is this: Williams students are exceedingly conservative. And I don’t mean conservative as in “Hey, Dave, I can’t shoot up with you tonight because it’s Budweiser night.” I mean conservative as in “Hey Sue, a guy called me last night. He wanted to say ‘hello.’ Do you think he’s stalking me?”
So here we are, intelligent, athletic young men and women, the majority of whom are between 18 and 22 years old, and sometimes we act like withered old nuns in a religious penitentiary. “Martha, did you see that!!? Oh dear, oh dear, she left him a book of poems in his S.U. box. And she was sober! I think I’m going to faint…”
Using the magnifying glass bequeathed to me by my old friend Sherlock Holmes, I’ve uncovered a prominent pattern of social mores here at Williams: if you are under the influence of alcohol, your behavior is condoned, and for the most part you can act as you please, for tomorrow is a brand new day. “I like sleeping with farm animals,” mumbled with beer breath, is soon forgotten. “I think we should have a wet T-shirt car wash fund raiser,” said soberly, will get you looks. Dirty looks. In fact, you might as well pack up your bags because “you’re irrevocably twisted.”
Speaking of wet T-shirt contests, it was my privilege to hear a few spring break stories where college students, some from Williams, had some, uh, er, umm, good times. “Inhibitions were non-existent,” said one student.
“Articles of clothing became ancient artifacts after the first night,” said another. So we might not be old withered nuns after all. When on campus, we just act like them. That’s a relief.
So far I’ve only used farcical sexual references as examples, but I think covert sexuality is only a small facet of the overall environment. New ideas that are considered before being dismissed as radical are rare. Students here seem to think that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
If all intelligent people subscribed to this theory, we might still be writing on papyrus scrolls instead of using much more efficient devices, like, say, pen and paper.
What’s wrong with demanding a more exciting Spring Street, or a Student Center that isn’t a more comfortable version of the library? And how about the wet t-shirt contest I mentioned earlier? I bet that if these issues were discussed with a pitcher of cold beer on everyone’s lap, things would get done.
So how is it that we’ve become infected with the Williams College version of the Black Death? The fall guy seems to be the smallness of Williams College. “I can’t move without everyone knowing where I moved to.” “See Bob, well he was with Jane, and Jane said Cristie talked to Frederick who…”
Nonsense. It’s the Williams student body that makes Williams feel smaller than it need be. There wouldn’t be a sense of smallness if people were more accepting of individuality. Conformity and criticism of those who break it is, if you think long and hard about it, quite silly. I’ve read The Age of Innocence and I don’t need to relive it, especially not during my college years. Who cares if that kid that sits across from you in class knows something about you? Isn’t it better to be the real you, than the you your peers want you to be? Isn’t Williams about Diversity, Newness, Culture, People? Why are we so quick to let go of substance and real thought in exchange for a ubiquitous, diluted, watery nothing?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting Williams turn into the next Animal House, nor that Williams College students all turn into promiscuous, profligate, sex-love-rock & roll hippies. I only mean to suggest that we should lighten up a bit, and become more accepting of variation and the unexplored. Some ideas will work; some won’t. But they are necessary to propagate a spirit of adventure, which brings with it confidence and pleasant surprise.