The problem with Williams students,” remarked a professor recently “is that they’re incredibly nice.” While niceness, in its general definition, is agreed upon to be a “good” quality, the supposed niceness of Williams’ students can be better defined as relying on their ability to conform to pre-existing ideas and the general culture on campus that existed before matriculation. Whether these changes are characteristically an innate quality in the students that end up at Williams or acquired during their stay here, students are interested more in the concept of receiving an education and using it to propel themselves into successful careers, rather than learning for the sake of applying this knowledge within more daily interactions. Many students I’ve spoken to would quickly give up the actual Williams education for a high-paying, secure job.
I came to Williams expecting a general sense of intellectualism, an expectation that was perhaps formed from what I heard college was supposed to be like and based on the intellectual atmosphere that existed at my high school. Throughout my college application process, I came across many student articles and online forums that relayed an inanity exhibited by students at our college: that students aren’t genuinely involved in matters of the outside world that they are studious during the day but are generally uninterested in their subjects outside the classroom. I must have discarded these subtleties because I ended up matriculating, but as I reflect upon the past month I’ve spent here, I cannot help but try to figure out why I don’t feel that there exists a genuine intellectual curiosity among most students.
Dishearteningly, there is great discrepancy between what students learn in the classroom and the way in which they manage themselves elsewhere. At Williams, the knowledge available is extraordinary, and all students have virtually unlimited access to a great range of resources. In the classroom, we read Plato and Descartes, argue for environmental sustainability and discuss foreign affairs with complete seriousness. Yet, at night and on weekends, there exists a drinking scene that, in its execution, blatantly contradicts the knowledge that is learned in class. Students reach various levels of intoxication that cause them to act in ways that they would strongly disapprove of in a sober state. It also seems the idea of “fun” is to lose oneself in such substances, wasting time doing and saying things that one regrets, as opposed to using the knowledge that was learned to help the world in some way or, at least more realistically, to help oneself. Many students who came to college without certain pre-conceived ideas about how they ought to behave are simply conforming to this “work hard; play hard” ideal that, in essence, completely abrogates the value of knowledge.
If one is to study philosophy (or truly begin to understand any subject), one cannot take lightly what has been learned. I’ve often discussed material with students after they’ve just studied, and they don’t seem able to contextualize this knowledge in their lives and make it useful. Studying the various theories for human interaction should make one able to better understand and analyze the individuals around one’s self, but this type of analysis isn’t used outside the classroom. Whatever “force” holds a college together for hundreds of years cannot rely on superficial understanding of material and studying for the sake of getting higher grades.
What I have described, however, is in no way an unchanging imprint of a student at Williams; there are some individuals who’ve realized the extent of this inanity and are forming unique solutions. Though they discuss these issues with each other and express their ideas creatively and intellectually through more personal mediums, these students remain a minority on campus.
This article may seem to judge too harshly. Perhaps it isn’t very “nice.” What I’m trying to understand is how this new definition of “niceness” creates students incapable of forming strong opinions and who ultimately end up conforming to preset and largely defective ideals.
I’m hoping the people who should really contemplate what I’ve written will accidentally pick up a copy of the Record and refrain from saying that this article is “nice” without reflecting upon it or at least experiencing some sort of dissonance. It is saddening to see students in such privilege who are unable to make positive use of their resources. As I sit writing these last few words, a friend asks, “Are you getting paid for writing?” I say that I am not. Disappointed, he replies, “Then why do you do it?”
Abdullah Awad ’13 is from Amman, Jordan. He lives in Williams Hall.