Beyond the purple noise

Walking down Spring Street, you might as well say you are still on campus. At the top of the street, Goff’s sports everything purple and gold from baby socks to shot glasses. Stop by Tunnel City and you will find the place buzzing with students and professors. Take a trip up Route 2 and you will see the last visible remnants of the College’s union with the town at the new Gulf gas station: a Williams College banner hanging on a window inside. As many strips along the official College boundaries brush up directly against residential housing, the scope of the Purple Bubble is a unique and inclusive one, rendering the idea of fences ridiculous. And so when the senior class officers organize a tent party housing mega-speakers, or let’s say a student invites Afroman to campus, coupled with the clamor of a few hundred students, the decibels of volume spike inside the Purple Bubble. Unfortunately, venues as these have been inevitably producing socially paralyzing noise complaints from town residents. Such situations, however, can be avoided. By improving overall communication and better informing town residents and local authorities of an outdoor party, the College will steer clear of early shutdowns in the future.

Currently, this very literal intersection between the town and the College’s students creates problems for both parties on these occasions: Residents, and particularly those who live within earshot of the College, are kept awake by noise. For students, authorities rein in the mob’s fun, which often cuts short the night itself – abruptly and, in the case of First Chance, without refund. The conversations that follow as the dance floor thins are all more or less the same, filled with frustration and a desperate “Why?”

Though the relationship between the College and residents is a close one, the distinction between the two sharpens after dark. During the daytime, things seem peaceful and pleasant. Some Williamstown residents choose to audit classes, do some research and reading at the libraries or check out the newest exhibit at the College’s art museum. Residents speckle themselves in the crowds at home games, cheering on their Ephs. Throughout the year, students, faculty and staff spend their dime around town, sending a welcomed jolt to the local economy. The relationship appears positive, even harmonious, and definitely not abrasive or disruptive. Last Saturday, however, the noise complaint that placed  a premature end to First Chance, a senior event that also doubles as a fundraising opportunity for other senior social events, exposed a split between what College students and the town’s residents deem as suitable and tolerable noise levels for certain social functions.

At the Afroman concert two years ago, students distributed flyers around the surrounding neighborhood in the days leading up to the event to alert the community that noise would be heard from the College’s campus – a gesture that initiated but did not finish the necessary dialogue between these two parties. The concert concluded much earlier than anticipated after several residents called the police.

Based off the events that took place last weekend, it is clear that the dialogue remains incomplete. This is a college campus where, naturally, parties occur on weekends with exacting regularity; therefore, selecting to live adjacent to the College will inevitably mean that residents will live with the light noise fallout from regular social events on campus. Special events like First Chance or a concert, however, take place irregularly, usually only a few times a year, making it reasonable to crank up the volume for these few occasions.

The confusion revolves around why residents would be consistently bothered to this point, given the supposedly open relationship between the town and the College. It would seem that an issue such as this should have already been addressed and an agreeable solution found. For students to offer advanced and proper notice about these events is only one step to solving this recurring problem altogether. When the Office of Campus Life authorizes events as these, it must give organizers sufficient and realistic information as to what exactly will fly in Williamstown, what will bring the police and what will not bring them. For Campus Life to do this at all, students and the town’s residents must first establish a lucid threshold for noise that balances students’ social wants with the town’s tolerance. Otherwise, this problem will continue to arise in the future, therein digging an unnecessary gap of distrust between the two parties.

The College and other communities akin to Williamstown have and do successfully host outdoor social events. Quite simply, these venues present themselves as events of great appeal and a high potential for fun, making it that much more disappointing when this potential is not reached. Additionally, the senior class student officers and Office of Campus Life prepared too much and worked too hard for a noise complaint to bring a sour end to an event such as this one. Improved communication can bring out the best from these events, however, and foster a stronger trust between the College and the town’s residents.

Henry Montalbano ’10 is a political science major from Washington, D.C.

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