What would breakfast in the dining halls be without OJ, cereal, fruit and The New York Times? Starting last Winter Study, a group of students started the Purple Bubble, an organization that, according to its mission statement, seeks to “facilitate discussion of political, philosophical, and socials issues.”
So far, the group’s major project has been to distribute The New York Times to dining halls every weekday morning, free of charge to students. The group, which is currently led by Jonathan Pahl ’03, contacted the Times and cut a deal to get 500 copies of the paper free every day for seven weeks. The original pilot program ended just before exams in the spring and a new program that provides 125 papers will continue this year with funding from the Dean’s Office and College Council.
Why all the fuss? According to Pahl, “College students tend to have less of a reason to focus on what’s going on outside the bubble than do working people. Williamstown is also three hours from Boston and four hours from New York City. I think everyone feels some sense of isolation here. Stronger connections with the outside world improve the knowledge base and opportunity for interaction and discussion among students.”
Even with the activist work of groups such as the Feminist Alliance, the Bisexual, Gay and Transgendered Union the Black Students Union, Vista, Students for Social Justice, Amnesty International, the Purple Druids and the Lehman Community Service Council, there is a strong feeling on campus that Williams students are complacent, a phenomenon known as the “Purple Bubble syndrome”.
“A number of people believe there aren’t enough activist groups,” says Pahl. “Compare Williamstown to North Adams. Lehman does a lot of good work, but my personal belief is that a lot more students could help. That’s not to say you should devote a set number of hours per week to community service, but the more push there is to connect beyond campus, the more able we are as a student body to help people now and in the future.”
For the most part, the student body’s reaction has been positive, said Pahl. The biggest problem facing the project, the amount of paper being wasted, was dealt with by launching an awareness campaign with the Purple Druids. After students learned that they could recycle newspapers in the dorm basements, Pahl reports that about three fourths of the papers were recycled. In addition, since only 125 papers are currently delivered to campus, a quantity that reduces waste.
Still, despite the positive feedback from students, reaching the average student is not easy for the Purple Bubble group. “We’re trying to target the entire student body. . . someone who has a busy lifestyle that might not have time to go to Gaudino forums or be activists. . . It’s a leap of faith that students aren’t just picking up a paper and walking around with it, but are reading and discussing it. It’s hard to measure the effect.” Be that as it may, as long as the Purple Bubble is around, papers will be available in a dining hall near you.