Unsung campus heroes

For over thirty years, WOOLF has been a well-established Williams institution. When Mike Tcheyan ’10 and Liz Kantack ’09 took over last year, they took it upon themselves to affect positive change and dedicated themselves to diversifying the program. They started with the trip leaders.

“It was envisioned as a top-down process,” Mike said. “The more diverse the leadership the more diverse the program. I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if I opened my eyes in a few years and found that WOOLF leaders were as diverse as the rest of campus?’”

Having taken a number of steps to make their idea a reality, including approaching the Black Student Union and other minority organizations on campus for input, Mike and Liz have put in the necessary effort to plant the seeds of an important, but often overlooked, effort to break down the boundaries many don’t even notice.

Mike and Liz are two of the many students on campus who are making a difference in their own unique way. Some of them choose to change the campus by pushing an existing organization to be better. Others do so by forming an entirely new one or working outside of the traditional organization structure. One of the things that we as College Council presidents don’t often enough appreciate is the fact that though CC is a great way to bring about change, it is not the only way. As the school year begins we thought it would be useful to remind ourselves – and the rest of campus – that all methods used by students on campus are important and can be effective.

Take for instance Rachel Ko ’09 and the rest of the Story Time board. Many students talk about problems on campus. These students went beyond their conversation and founded an organization designed to help correct the problems they discussed. They now consistently draw dozens of students to the second floor of Paresky to listen to a weekly speaker talk about a formative experience in his or her life.

“We always hear about how little Williams students know about what it going on in the world,” Rachel said. “I thought more pressing was the fact that a lot of us don’t know about what is going on in each other’s lives.”

A similar impulse inspired Aroop Mukharki ’09 to try and bring back “student initiated courses” or classes that are proposed by a member of the student body and added to the course catalogue. What started as an effort of five students – Eric Kang ’09, Harris Paseltiner ’09, Claire Rindlaub ’09, Sam Kapala’ 09 and Aroop – to add an “advanced, semester long component to the Winter Study class on singer/songwriting” morphed into a movement to empower students to have a greater hand in the courses offered each semester at Williams.

“At the moment there is no legitimate platform allowing students to propose addendums to regular semester course offerings,” Aroop said in a proposal for a system to allow for student initiated coursework.

In fighting the uphill battle of getting the project approved, Aroop started with the English department and eventually took his fight to the music department, the Dean’s office, the Gargoyle Society, the Director of Experiential Learning and the Committee on Educational Policy. These five students epitomize the necessary ingredient for change on campus: a willingness to work for your ideas and a refusal to give up – despite the number of roadblocks thrown in your way.
Now under the leadership of Lauren Bloch ’09 and Jeff Kaplan ’09, The Williams College Jewish Association (WCJA) continues to branch out and improve campus life for a broader group than just the Jewish students. Among many other things done by the organization, they throw an annual event called the Latka-Humentashen debate which pairs up faculty in a mock debate which usually devolves into good-natured character attacks on the other side. “It is welcoming to all those who attend and there are no strings attached – all you have to do to successfully participate is laugh,” Jeff said.

Last but surely not least, Shawn Woo ’09 of the Williams Christian Fellowship is working to foster an inclusive environment and working to share the College’s resources with the surrounding community.

“Williams in general is often such an insular society,” Shawn said. “Local churches are in desperate need of the numbers, talents, energy, and resources that Williams students have such abundance of.”

All of these students are working – in their own way – to make our campus better. The work they do probably won’t be featured on the front page of the Record, but it is just as important as the work done by the biggest organizations on campus and is one of the many things that make Williams great. As we begin the year, we hope you will keep these students in mind and follow their example. They have already been an inspiration to us.

Jeremy Goldstein ’09 is a history and political science major from Palo Alto, Calif. Peter Nurnberg ’09 is a math and economics major from New York, N.Y. Goldstein and Nurnberg are co-presidents of College Council.