Williams ‘committee system’ encourages apathy

I met two people on Friday. I only know one of their names. Oddly enough, I only spoke to the other person.

First, I met President-elect Morty Schapiro, an extremely dynamic and exciting leader who should help usher in a golden age for Williams College. He gave a well-delivered, interesting, innovative (albeit mostly safe and non-threatening) and passionate speech. A sense of excitement and optimism hovered through the air of hallowed Chapin Hall.

Here, the story changes, through no fault of President Schaprio. Prior to the official reception I approached him to ask about speaking to him as a member of the student press (we get little perks like that, it’s quite nice) to write this column. I was only allowed five words before he was briskly taken away to go to the reception I took nothing from that exchange, except for a little anger that I would have to walk in the freezing wind over to Goodrich to speak to him. Of course, at Goodrich they had set up an official welcoming line that made speaking for more than five words impossible yet again. And so I left after a delicious glass of mulled cider and trekked over to my home across campus and the Route 2 wind tunnel, disappointed by the lack of communication.

But that trek had a positive outcome. I met an unknown faculty member and had a delightful discussion about the weather here. Not the most meaningful discussion, but it was actual communication, a give and take that Friday’s event’s organizers decided students did not need or even want with our soon-to-be president.

These stories led me to think about the commonplace complaint that Williams students are apathetic. It fit in well with what Schapiro said: college students in general are losing their idealism and focusing more and more on money.

But that, thankfully, does not apply to Williams. Williams has a unique problem with apathy based not in greed, but in something akin to decadence. Many would explain the apathy through the fact that we are in the perfect ivory tower, away from complaints and politics. That is definitely true, but there is something else, something more that is normally deemed a positive on the campus but which has an unexpected negative side effect on student social responsibility.

Simply put, Williams students have it all. With nearly every problem on campus (Latino Studies being a rare exception), a committee is formed and students are appeased. Our College Council can spend its time on free newspapers in common rooms (a great idea) rather than arguing constantly with a distant and uncaring administration or an antagonistic security department. Our dining services have taste test after taste test and even Island Getaway nights to improve the food here. Even the Log has been nicely renovated. Every issue that students could possibly get behind and rally support for is quickly usurped out of our idealistic young minds and fixed behind closed doors with a select few student leaders in on the discussion. These student leaders are very effective diplomats, skilled at getting results without loud and noticeable arguments. It’s the perfect government; there is no need to be interested.

We all know that this perfection only exists on campus, and many people do community service projects and care about environmental problems or educational policy issues, fighting a winning battle against their inner apathetic desires to be lazy. On the other hand, when was the last time student activists felt the need to rally the troops to ideological battle on a political level beyond saving the new Log? Traditional and positive student agitation has been squashed by the efficient behemoth of Williams College.

To compound the apathy, this perfection may, on a different level, be a form of imperfection. To use the two meetings I had today, students are allowed an introduction into problems and then are tucked away until the system rights itself and we all have a nice reception with delicious apple cider. If Williams could build a more communal approach to problems then students, faculty and administrators would come together to discuss options, we’d probably end up with the same or even maybe some worse changes, but we’d also have a much more vibrant and excited student body.

The journey towards change and perfection may actually be a more complete and rewarding form of perfection. And if that means a Log without free hot chocolate and free apple cider (which we should keep), maybe it’s better than our current, complacent perfection. Funny that I am writing against perfection, but we must admit, however painfully, that it is incomplete and obfuscating our duty as the next generation of student idealists.

Maybe there is a way to combine the perfection with an active student body, and after this column, I bet the administration will create a new committee and properly solve this problem without bothering the average student, and I’ll be content to walk down the street sipping my free hot cider, discussing the bitter cold with anybody who wants a more active student.

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