After spending four years on this campus, I’m amazed that I have never been blasted by a car on Route 2. Somehow, even when I have been drunkenly crossing the highway without so much as a glance – and even, I suppose, when the drivers themselves are drunkenly driving – the cars have always stopped for me. And so, in less than a month, I will graduate from the number one liberal arts school in America (barring a catastrophe on my Astronomy 102 exam) having forgotten the first human survival lesson we all learned: look both ways before you cross the street.
And it’s not just safe on the streets. Everywhere, Williams has been an excessively protected place to live. JAs frequently (and annoyingly) refer to themselves as “parents” for incoming freshman. We don’t boo at most a cappella concerts. Professors are chill about late assignments. Drinking under the age of 21 never results in legal trouble and, until recently, neither did using drugs like marijuana, heroin or crack.
This kind of security is, I submit, both Williams’ greatest strength and greatest weakness. On one hand, I’m glad I’ve never been road kill; on the other, I’m worried about what will happen when reality hits on June 1. And it goes beyond not being able to change a flat tire or a light bulb. We’ve been in a place where even the most outrageous complaints, ideologies and causes are respected and heard. Now we have to exist in an America where sensitivity is equated with weakness or, worse, liberalism.
Now, I suppose many of you have already disagreed with me about Williams’ safety. I am, after all, a white, straight, male humanities major who went to a great boarding school; Williams has been pretty much a cakewalk. I spend a lot of time playing volleyball and hanging out on my balcony, thinking about thinking and talking about girls. It’s a good life. For a lot of you (I hear) it hasn’t been this easy.
Williams, you might tell me, is not particularly safe or easy for black people. Or women. Or queer people. Or, heaven forbid, black lesbians.
And yet, compared to America (much less the world) as a whole, Williams is remarkably safe for these minority groups. In a country where presidents and congressmen get elected on gay-bashing, we have a bash that celebrates homosexuality. In a country where men make lucrative careers out of misogyny and bigotry, our campus routinely excoriates such ideas.
Our problem is that because we’re a small school, there is simply not enough diversity in raw numbers; white people, unfortunately, will always be awkward and ignorant around black people until they actually get to know them. Likewise, adding more gay students is the only remedy for the rampant homophobia on campus.
Of course, there is a rather vicious cycle to this problem: minority students want to go to college with large numbers of minorities, and so they don’t come to Williams. Williams, then, has fewer minorities, so it’s harder to attract more, and on and on.
So if you’re looking for a scapegoat for indifference, don’t blame the ignorant douche bags who draw dicks when they’re drunk; blame admissions, tradition and our less-than-urban setting.
Given how great my time has been here, though, it frustrates me when I hear nothing but bumptious criticism for the way we treat each other. In fact, I think we treat each other pretty freaking well, thank you very much. But then, another part of the safety of Williams is that students feel completely justified in airing complaints in a dogmatic, activist fashion.
Not that this activism, whether it is against racism, global warming or cluster housing, makes any difference whatsoever. The College, it seems, doesn’t care at all about what you or I think. Sure, the administration will listen to complaints, but ultimately it will act completely independently of student input. Just ask the people stuck living in Lehman.
Luckily for us, the College has generally made enough good decisions to outweigh its oversights. But now, as we make our way outside these paternalistic confines, we’re going to have to figure out how to live without the purple safety net. Many of us will forsake social idealism and basic human decency on the battlegrounds of Wall Street. Others will probably continue to whine about injustices.
It is my hope that a third group emerges that can confront ideas without resorting to self-righteousness, and that can work through problems through communication, not dogmatism. In an era where we are constantly asked to define ourselves as either bleeding heart NPR liberals or hard-ass Fox News conservatives, as jocks or nerds, I would hope that many of us would resist boxing ourselves in.
So while we may not be able to cross a city street safely, Williams has given us the potentially more valuable gift of thinking. As long as we figure out the survival thing the way that everyone else our age in America has, we’ll be okay.
Matt Roach ’08 is an English and history major from Middletown, Del.