Senior seeks out elusive definition of campus community

Late at night, with my editor’s deadline fast approaching, I writhed on the couch of the math library, caught in the throes of my final Record article. Before me were the testimonies of several seniors, representing over 40 teams, majors, study groups, cliques, co-ops, musical groups, dance troupes, clubs, service groups, and religious organizations, each of which may or may not constitute a community. As a liberal arts student, I’ve been trained to deconstruct these narratives and look for unifying themes. Yet as a Division III major, I know better than to draw trends from so little data. Is there a Williams community? Do all of our little subcultures have something in common? Who am I to speak for them? Fortunately, if there’s one thing writing for the Record has taught me, it’s to let my interviewees speak for themselves.

On the one hand, the Williams campus is just an interlocking mosaic of student groups and subcultures. Dave Rogawski ’08, member of the Outing Club, fire department and cross country team, insists that finding a sub-community at Williams is “crucial.” “In community are all your friends, all your memories,” he explained. “I think people who don’t find a community they identify with don’t end up enjoying Williams. Sometimes I find people who are struggling to fit in. I try to help them find a community and that gives them a boost.”

Sean McKenzie ’08 used to be one of those people. “I would have been really miserable had I not joined the cross country and track teams,” he told me. A self-described floater, McKenzie has at various times identified with his entry, Greensense, the crew team, and the Outing Club. “I tried to meld myself into what they were doing but I never felt comfortable,” he recalled. On the other hand, “These communities have helped me better define what I’m looking for in life, helped me figure out that what I thought was my scene freshman year wasn’t my scene.”

Like McKenzie, many of us seniors spent our first year of college trying to find their “scene,” and in spite of the popularity of the entry system, many seniors reported not meeting their best friends until sophomore year. “When you leave home and go to college for the first time, you don’t have the automatic communities of family and school; [as a result] you have to build community,” said Kendall Newman ‘08, who started out as a frisbee player before finding her niche in activist groups such as the Lehman Service Council. “Community is powerful because it’s people – thinking outside of themselves. You don’t get that often in our culture. In order to survive you often have to be really self-centered.”

Four years later, most of us seem to have found a niche for ourselves, whether it’s in theater, the Herring, Paresky silent study room or all of the above. Yet as we head into Senior Week, I can’t help but ask myself, is there anything that holds us all together? Or do well allow ourselves to be defined the clubs we have joined and the friends we pick in with? Each time I asked my fellow seniors whether they felt a sense of community among their class year, the answer invariably came back “not really.”

However, class vice-president Liz Hirshhorn ’08 takes a different stance. “It’s about being happy in the same things and annoyed by the same things,” she explained, adding that the shared experiences of surviving the caterpillar infestation in 2006, cluster housing and finally getting Paresky have led to a common bond. “We all lost Goodrich together,” her friend Carly Gross ’08 agreed. “I bonded with so many people running under umbrellas [to escape] the caterpillars.”

Perhaps then, we’re united not so much by the idiosyncrasy of class but by the events that have shaped our time here. In fact, many ’08s told me they do feel a sense of kinship with the campus as whole. “I think there’s a sense that people here are mostly good people who you can count on,” said Henry Burton ’08. “We don’t all know each other, we don’t all like each other, but it’s a community in the sense that if you pass somebody on the sidewalk, you try to make eye contact, like you’ve got something in common.”

For others, the feeling of being a part of a campus community is confined to special moments such as singing The Mountains on the top of Stony Ledge or chanting in unison at a Stand With Us rally.

Perhaps next year, when we’ve merged with the fabled Williams network that’s supposed to help fellow Ephs get jobs, the differences that defined us during our time here will fade away. There is a Williams community already, but most of the time it takes a back seat to the many activities, majors, jobs and co-ops we’re more deeply engaged in. There’s a certain intimacy that comes from these shared interests and memories, a mutual dependence that goes beyond the friendly smile or nod we reserve to those who are merely our classmates.

My friend Jared Oubre ’08 captured it best when describing the Xavier University students that the college took in after Hurricane Katrina. These students did impact the Williams community, but they did so through the activities and sub-communities they became a part of. “They brought curiosity to the pre-med classes, soul to Gospel Choir, funk to the JV Basketball Court, and the spice of New Orleans with the stories they shared,” Oubre wrote. “I think it was a true testament to the giving and receiving that is necessary to make community truly function anywhere.”