Reflections: First Year Residential Seminar

In May of our senior years of high school, Williams decided to reward our recent college decisions by burying us in mail. They gave us all sorts of information. We discovered we could order “Special Occasion Cakes” from dining services, that our parents received the tuition bill and life insurance policy at the same time, letting them know how much we were costing them just by remaining alive. We even found out all we ever wanted to know (and more) about the architectural history of the freshman dorms.

Buried amid the piles was a sheet of paper describing a program called the First Year Residential Seminar. If we wanted to, we could apply to go into a designated freshman entry that would take a challenging discussion-oriented class together in the first semester. A number applied and got into this program. I was a member of the Williams E section of FRS this year (due to high demand, two sections were created; the other lives in Fayerweather 2). We took Religion 101: an Introduction to Religion. Now that the class is over, I have had time to reflect on what it has meant for those who took it.

FRS came about a few years ago as one of the numerous admirable efforts by the Gaudino Fund to realize the former professor’s concept of “uncomfortable learning.” It was conceived of as an attempt to bring learning out of the classroom and into day-to-day personal interaction. Students would gain knowledge not simply from lectures, but by discussing classroom issues in the entry. They would be challenged by and learn from each other by sharing their own individual backgrounds, viewpoints and experiences. In theory, then, class would spill over into and impact upon entry life.

At first glance, it might not be clear that this happened. The Williams E experience has been singularly lacking in Durkheimian debates and Eiladan elegies. Words like “hierophany,” “transference,” “maya” and “immanence” have not entered our daily vocabulary. No one waxed on about the knight of faith, the sacred and the profane or the Oedipus complex. In short, one would be hard put to find traces of Religion 101 in the entry.

Yet, as I was playing a game of co-ed entry tackle football in the snow today, I couldn’t help but realize that we might have become different in some way through FRS. It was a bonding experience for us all. Religion 101 is not an easy class, and getting through it as an entry really brought us closer together. It was always comforting to be around other people who never started the reading until the night (or early morning) before it was due. In addition, we could complain to each other, knowing that whomever we talked to understood out pain.

As Jasmine Klatt put it succinctly, “we all got to [complain] in unison, and know what everyone else was talking about.” Commiseration became an entry theme right before the midterm paper and again before the final exam. We all acted like therapists, constantly visiting each other to see how they were doing, to complain about the work, or just to take a break. And when they were all over, the euphoria was even greater since everyone experienced it.

We are nothing if not tight-knit: we often dine, party and do extracurricular activities together. The entry is a visible presence at any sporting event or concert that includes any one of us. We associate with each other on intellectual, as well as social, levels. We spend hours just hanging out, sometimes having deep conversations but other times playing poker or watching movies. The members of Williams E might not discuss specific authors, but we have certainly talked about religion together while playing Mario Kart at 3 a.m.

It was certainly a bonus to have another FRS group across campus. They kept us from becoming overly insular, and the bonds we formed extended to them. Klatt underscores the ties that developed when she says: “the best thing about FRS was that it caused good bonding with all the…people in Fay to help deal with the inherent weirdness… and lack of party skills…in FRS.” The Fay 2 people granted us more diversity than we had by ourselves.

Religion 101, as good a course as it was, is probably the least notable aspect of FRS; When I told Alvaro Jarrin I was writing an article, he remarked, “please don’t talk about the class too much.” This is not to say we will not remember the class. We all thought at least parts of the class were interesting and thought provoking; a number of us will continue to take courses in the department.

But if the goal of FRS was to make us learn from each other, it definitely accomplished that. Kim Quigley captured the experience best: “My experience living in FRS has given me a much different view of freshman life than I feel I would have otherwise received. Now that our religion class is over, I can look back on the last semester and see what we have accomplished – a demanding 8:30 a.m. course.

“But more than that, we have surmounted the differences among us, and had a damn good time. And with the end of the semester came the end of some of the inter-FRS rivalry – there are some very unique people, in both FRS entries, and I’m grateful for the opportunities that I have had, and will continue to have, getting to know the people who have shared similar experience with me.” You don’t play co-ed tackle football in the snow with just anyone.