First-year families treated to a weekend at Williams

This past weekend parents of first-years streamed into Williamstown from around the nation to spend time with their kids while the College acquainted them with the school and local area. Family Days event coordinators Jo Procter and Noelle Lemoine filled the weekend with tours, lectures and a variety of other events aimed at giving Williams parents an idea of their childs’ academic environment. The College began welcoming parents Friday morning, opening classes to any who were interested, and continued playing host until Sunday afternoon.

Procter, news director of the office of public affairs, explained the reasoning behind the weekend. “The first-year fall weekend is designed as a time for students to introduce their parents to their friends and the campus, and for parents to get a first-hand look at why Williams education is widely perceived as unusually successful.” To that end, parents were invited to observe selected classes with their first-years, and about 41 percent of the 776 families in attendance took advantage of this opportunity.

William Darrow, a professor of religion whose “Origins of Islam” course was one of the many open to interested parents found himself teaching an introductory class of sorts in order to engage parents, with little or no background in the subject. Though he acknowledged that the presence of parents can alter class dynamics and discussions—“In my first year here when I had parents visiting my class, I was too chicken to mention the Oedipal complex”—he felt his Friday class was still “useful for everyone.” Procter added that “the faculty here is superb and I can’t think of any event more successful than parents seeing our faculty teach.”

Parents were able to learn more about the Williams faculty and their educational philosophies at a faculty panel entitled “How We Teach at Williams” which was moderated by Robert Bell, a professor of English.

To give parents a taste of Williams College life they were treated to tours of the campus, the Chapin Rare Book Library and the Williams College Museum of Art lead by Barbara Robertson, director of education. Then on Saturday, Towne Field House played host to a first-year family luncheon. The “Recipes from Home” buffet-style lunch featured performances by the Mucho Macho Moocow marching band and the Ephlats as well as a speech by President Shapiro urging students and parents alike to get involved in planning long-term college goals.

The Williams Outing Club sponsored a number of events intended to introduce first-year families to the school’s sense of place. On Friday, they lead hikes up Stone Hill and then, early Saturday morning, bird walks in Hopkins Memorial forest.

Of course some families chose to forgo the scheduled activities and create their own weekend of fun. Carinne Prest ’04 spent most of the weekend “outlet shopping, going to dinners where I was allowed to pick whatever I wanted to eat and not just what they were serving, and observing the drama of the last day of the pumpkin game.” David Jensen ’04 said of the college sponsored events, “[they were] all fairly uninteresting, mostly aimed to interest my parents instead of me, I think.” Though he observed that a weekend of dining out with his parents afforded him, “the added bonus of dinner points all weekend evened things out.”

Parents received information regarding Family Days in early September when the College began mailing out registration forms. Hotel rooms and restaurant table space started disappearing almost immediately forcing some families to go as far as North Adams and Bennington for dinner.

Procter and Lemoine handed out questionnaires to parents in order to gage how well the weekend was received and what could be done better in the future. Though most of the questionnaires have yet to be turned in, those that have are full of positive feedback: “The bottom line: I had a great time.”