Focusing sophomore year

Sophomore year at Williams places students in a precarious position. Second-years are poised in a fine balance between enjoying a comfortable hominess with college and feeling lost and nervous with all of the choices looming in the future. As a campus, we must ensure sophomores can have a positive and productive second year of college by giving the sophomore year the attention it deserves, particularly with regards to class unity and faculty support.

To begin the academic year, sophomores are hurled from the luxury of their cozy entries into the leftover rooms of somewhat anonymous, albeit spacious, upperclassmen dorms. On the one hand, the leap is great. Bonds within pick groups strengthen, and new friendships with junior and senior neighbors emerge. On the other hand, without a central sophomore meeting ground like the legendary Mission of days gone by, a general feeling of fracture pervades the second-years at Williams. With the neighborhood system dividing the campus, sophomores can no longer find a unity and source of support amongst themselves.

Academically, sophomores face a similar struggle. Classes start to get smaller and more focused, but they also become much more rigorous now that those uncannily eloquent upperclassmen replace the fresh-faced first-years around the discussion table. Furthermore, without declared majors and departmental advisors, sophomores are left academically homeless and sans advice from professors who are truly invested in and knowledgeable about their advisees’ course selections. The rare meetings with first-year academic advisors too often serve as a means to gain a quick signature of approval without much helpful advice or meaningful conversation.

And despite this gaping lack of support, sophomores face some of the most important decisions of their lives thus far. Should I major in Bio or Geo or maybe both? Do I want to study abroad? Would I go to Namibia or New York? Or do I just want to spend my junior year hanging out with frosh as a JA? As a sophomore, it is difficult even to know to whom one should pose these questions. Approaching professors for help is often extremely intimidating. Office hours inevitably overlap with other classes, so students have to find other opportunities to seemingly interrupt their profs. In addition, whenever all the other students appear to be handling the workload, asking for an extension feels like admitting defeat. For me, it took me three near all-nighters in a row to realize that asking for help is not actualizing the “sophomore slump;” seeking guidance is a means of escaping it.

In my opinion, the problem is that sophomore year is the forgotten time at Williams. By and large, advising is tailored to benefit the first-years, the juniors and the seniors, while neglecting the unique needs of the sophomores. Furthermore, current efforts to help sophomores tend to view second-years as mere juniors-in-training rather than looking at the sophomore year as a distinct and formative time. The Sophomore Symposium was a good start in actually focusing on the second year; it generated interesting conversations about sophomore issues in an informal and supportive setting with faculty and upperclassmen. But, I’d love to see these valuable non-academic conversations with faculty not just be the stuff of special occasions. With the neighborhood system scattering sophomores to the wind, we need to create more sophomore-specific events to help us reestablish a unique class identity before we all set sail for the adventures of junior year. Also, within the neighborhoods, we could create sophomore housing to foster a vibrant culture for second-years on campus.

In addition, without a strong advising system geared to second-years, Williams needs to work to involve faculty into sophomore lives. Second-years could have mandatory meetings with professors within their potential majors to discuss what the requirements entail. Or perhaps Williams could encourage students to select one of their professors from freshman year to serve as their sophomore advisor – then advisors could really understand students’ learning styles and give the best advice. Along with formal advising, professors should become more involved in the nonacademic realm of student life. For me, some of my best interactions with faculty occurred during fun events like going sledding with my geomorphology class or discussing Harry Potter over an elegant (and free!) three-course meal with my anthropology professor at the Lyceum Dinner. In addition, I see the neighborhood-faculty relations coordinators as a developing role with great potential for effectively incorporating professors into student lives outside of the classroom.

Williams needs to start treating sophomore year as a truly precious time on campus. In many ways, the sophomores are the students who define Williams. While the freshmen still have many ties to home, the juniors are out exploring the world and the seniors are looking to the future, almost all of the sophomores are here and invested in the thriving life of this campus. As a community, let’s work to make a student’s second year a truly distinguished time amongst his or her undergraduate experiences.

Elizabeth Brickley ’10 is from Latrobe, Pa.

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