Even if one disregards the expertise of every professor, and pays no attention to the SAT scores of the incoming class, Williams still has two assets that create a learning environment brimming with intellectual energy.
The first asset is the diversity of the student body. Williams students arrive on campus bringing with them a wealth of different experiences and interests. One of the most valuable forms of learning occurs when two people from drastically different backgrounds share their views with one another, whether in a formal tutorial, or at three o’clock in the morning in an entry common room.
The second asset is the strong sense of community that stems from our isolated location, unparalleled athletic program and time-proven housing systems such as the first-year entries. When students feel connected to this greater Williams community, their college experience is immensely enhanced and the College as a whole becomes stronger.
The greatest enemy to an atmosphere of productive diversity and strong community is the tendency among students to slip into a comfortable routine and to seldom venture outside of their established interests and circles of friends. The College must actively seek to prevent factionalism of the student body and establish a sense of unity among all members of the Williams community. The changes implemented this year by the Deans Office to the First Days schedule are an important step in the right direction.
Do you remember the first five students from your year who you met at Williams? I am willing to bet that of those five individuals, at least one and probably more remain among your closest friends. In past years, the arrival of the first-year class was staggered. Athletes arrived before those signed up for WOOLF trips, and minority students were kept busy with separate orientations. Most of us arrived on campus eager to make new friends, but because we were at once separated into different pre-orientation programs, our new friends came from the pool of students with whom we already identified. The chance for incoming students to develop friendships with people different from themselves was difficult to capitalize upon. From day one, the College was sending the wrong message about class unity and cohesive community life on campus.
This year, administrators took a deep breath, prayed for good weather and scheduled the entire Class of 2006 to arrive on the same day. Although some minor logistical difficulties were encountered, the overall process went smoothly. The benefits of having the entire class come together at once will be felt for the next four years. Roommates met each other before their teammates, and people who had signed up for WOOLF trips and International Student Orientation sat together at entry snacks before they departed on post-orientation programs. The seeds of friendships that otherwise would never have had the chance to develop were planted.
The experience of moving in together will stay with the Class of 2006. It will contribute to their shared sense of unity, and provide an opportunity for students to reap the benefits of diversity and community that are central to the Williams experience. The administration, and Dean Lopez in particular, should be applauded for seizing the initiative to improve First Days and to protect the strength and diversity of community that makes our school so special.
Tim Patterson ’04