You’ve heard it before, no doubt. Williams students are apathetic. They don’t concern themselves with anything that doesn’t affect them directly. They are oblivious to what goes on outside the Purple Bubble. They go about their lives with tunnel vision focused on their elite institution, unaffected by the injustices and inequalities of the outside world.
These observations have been reiterated and lamented in past years frequently enough that the student body now associates itself with political apathy. Just ask around. You’ll find the general consensus seems to be that Williams students aren’t particularly politically active. It’s a bleak and pessimistic picture for a school that boasts some of the best and brightest students in the world, but it’s one you shouldn’t buy into. I question the so-called truism that Williams students are not politically active. In fact, lately I have experienced quite the opposite: a student body undergoing a promising transformation in attitude and behavior. For the first time in quite a while, Williams students are involving themselves in significant political activism.
These changes are most evident in the slew of new activism-oriented groups that have emerged on the Williams campus in the last few years. Today, there is nearly fourfold the number of activist groups on campus as there were two years ago. Posters, literature and speakers promoting the interests of such groups as Students for Social Justice, Williams for Life, Voice for Choice, the Democrats at Williams, the Student Global AIDS Campaign, the International Justice Journal and, most recently, Youth Vote, are a welcome addition to campus.
These groups join the more established ranks of Greensense and the Garfield Republicans Club, making political activism one of the largest and most active interests on campus. The proliferation of these groups reflects the new trend towards greater political activism among Williams students.
Greensense, one of the leaders of these changes on campus, is reaching out in unprecedented ways to the Williams campus and beyond. The group recently hosted a highly successful conference on environmental sustainability, which has placed Williams as a leader in this field within New England. Since the conference there has been talk of research into a proposal, drafted by a Williams student, to use wind turbine power generators to supply the College’s power. This would be an efficient and environmentally sound alternative to the coal burning plant that the College currently uses.
Another student-run group that has recently become a leader in its field among New England schools is the Williams chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign, which fights against the devastating HIV/AIDS pandemic that has swept through Sub-Saharan Africa and is beginning to spread to other parts of the world.
Last spring, the Williams chapter organized a national rally against AIDS in Boston, with the help of chapters in and around Boston. More than 500 students from New England schools attended, including more than 50 Williams students. Through dedication to their cause on campus as well as off, the chapter has managed to create a keen awareness of the severity of the HIV/AIDS problem among Williams students, as shown by the hundreds of red ribbons pinned to backpacks on campus.
Their efforts continue. From Nov. 8 through Nov. 10, the chapter is hosting a training and educational conference on campus, which will be attended by delegates from top schools across New England. Among the weekend’s conference events will be a variety of speakers and forums open to the Williams community.
Another newly formed group, Williams Youth Vote, is trying to curb apathy through a voter registration campaign. In light of the Nov. 5 elections, this group of non-partisan Williams students have joined efforts with the national Youth Vote program to register students to vote in Massachusetts and in their home states. They have been tabling in Baxter on a daily basis. Their mission is to ensure that people who are as well educated as Williams students contribute to the outcome of local, state, and national elections.
I have mentioned just a few of the many efforts that Williams students from all backgrounds and ideologies are making to influence their world in positive ways. I wish I had room to include them all because all are equally inspiring and wonderful. For the first time in recent memory, a part of the student body is accepting the responsibility for providing our share of support and stewardship to the less privileged citizens of the world, for making sure all students exercise their political rights to the fullest extent, and for doing its part to make sure the land we walk on and the air we breathe remain healthy.
Williams students all have a potential to do something that is remarkable: to make a difference. I don’t doubt that there has been a dearth of inspiration and activism on campus in years past, but I believe more can and should be done on campus. If you haven’t yet, join your fellow students in one of the many current efforts or adopt your own cause. It may be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Perhaps five or 10 years down the road, Williams will have a reputation for leadership in activism, and the clichÃ© story of the apathetic Williams student will be nothing more than a relic of the past. And when that time comes, I won’t be looking back.