A question of community

Every once in a while, Williams students convince themselves of the righteousness of swiping priceless college keepsakes from Spring St. and its neighbors. These lapses in judgment deteriorate the student body’s relationship with Williamstown, and while street signs, college signs, banners, local merchant plaques and trespassing notices on government office buildings often look cool hung prominently in one’s room, the community as a whole suffers the consequences. Perhaps one of the reasons drunken Williams students vandalize so much is because we don’t understand the ramifications of our actions. Here are some thoughts that might make our little drunken voices of reason speak a little louder next Saturday night.

Nancy Roseman, dean of students, once said, “You’re Williams students; you’re not the average bear.” We’re the cream of the crop; we’re held to higher standards than most kids our age because we can handle that kind of responsibility. And we can. Yet, the stealing of signs is so prevalent that one Williams student even shared with us that “at some point in every person’s life, they have to steal some signs,” as if vandalism were a sort of right of passage for those people who otherwise lead fairly law-abiding lives.

That we simply should be above vandalism and drunken disrespect is not the only thing to consider before hitting Spring St. with a Leatherman. Vandalism puts an unnecessary strain on the College’s relationship with the Williamstown community — a relationship that most students try hard to maintain and that, when harmonious, all students benefit from. A walk between classes across Route 2 often produces a feeling of power when an entire line of rapidly moving cars stops just so we can cross the road. That’s just one example illustrating why Williams students might feel like we rule this town. We get into museums for free, we pay member’s rates at Images, we even get discounted tickets at the local ski resorts. It does sometimes seem like we own Williamstown.

We don’t. Even though our enrollment here grants us a seemingly regal status that we will enjoy for four years, our status arises from the enormous amount of generosity the town shows us and our College — a generosity that students should return with an equal amount of respect. There is no denying that the relationship between the town and the College exists in a constant state of tension, depending on the decisions we make and how the town reacts to those decisions. When we fail to return the town’s generosity with the respect it is due, quality of student life suffers and the repercussions do not quickly fade.

There are far too many examples of Williams students’ failure to act becomingly to the detriment to student life. Williams students frequently gripe about the dearth of late night food establishments around campus, but remember why Subway changed its closing time from 2 a.m. to 9 p.m.? It was at least in part because Subway workers could not stand the harassment they received from obnoxious Ephs streaming out of the bars. The change came over two years ago, and before Subway will give us another chance, their lease will expire.

The more obvious and well-known event that hampered student life transpired when students were caught stealing a Williamstown stop sign. These students blamed their lapse in judgment on alcohol served to them at a campus party, which incited police to arrest security guards and students after entering the party and observing underage drinking. The arrests and subsequent legal action by the town made it necessary for the College to alter the famed party policy of old, and the new one places greater restrictions on the Williams social scene.

Incidents have not stopped either. Think of the disgusting incident at the Log over Winter Study, the consequences of which are still being felt. Think too of the incident involving Williams students after a long night at Canterbury’s, in which the consequences involved the Williamstown Police Department and trips to North Adams Regional Hospital for serious injuries. Clearly, these are unnecessary problems that we could, and should, avoid.

The town itself also suffers from vandalism. Dave Boyer, associate director of security, estimates that there are over 100 signs that were, at one point or another, taken from the public domain and hung in rooms on campus. At thirty dollars or so per sign, this tab can really add up and become a major problem in communities. John Bourdon, the Williamstown postmaster, told us that replacing stolen or damaged signs from the side of his office has gotten so expensive that he has simply had to stop replacing them, and may be forced to close off the driveway to the post office to pedestrians, making our walk from Spring Street to the field house or hockey rink even longer.

All this simply goes to show that our actions do affect those around us, and decisions we make when we may not possess the utmost mental clarity can have unforeseen consequences, which can be large in their severity and duration. What can we do besides strengthen our ability to distinguish between the “good” and the “bad” idea and prevent alcohol from impairing that ability? We simply need to strive to be better. We can be archetypal Ephs, reaching for the sky, and at the same time take part in community service or pick up trash as we walk to Water St. Books.

But short of this we can leave store merchants, postmasters, police officers, and security guards to go about their jobs free of interference from those of us whose mental checks and balances may not be as foolproof as others’. These are all ways of preserving our privileged lifestyle. Please think of consequences for the student body, the College and the town. Park in designated areas. Leave signs at peace, leave desks unmarked. Replace your divots, and everyone’s play will be the better.