As a current junior, I’ve come to learn to appreciate various aspects of life here at Williams. When I arrived as a first-year, I was given the opportunity to live in Mission Park. Although it is a dorm that is far away from the center of campus, I found the set-up to be ideal for student interactions. Williams prides itself in family, community and diversity, and these are things that seemed to be more prominent in Mission, in my opinion, due to the way it is organized. However, Williams has several residential halls that do not promote this type of atmosphere.
Mission is filled with common spaces, as are the Frosh Quad dorms, but as one becomes an upperclassman, these living options change. Rather than maintaining many common areas so that people can socialize together, the administration is removing common spaces by transforming them into dorm rooms. Many of the upperclassmen housing options have only one or two common areas for an entire house.
The neighborhood review is trying to create a sense of community and diversity because as of now, rather than fulfilling this goal, the neighborhood system has created segregation within the student body. The residential community has been divided into four housing groups, making it difficult for friends to live together. The fact that the school has had to sacrifice common spaces to accommodate a student body that has grown, in part due to the economic decline, only makes matters worse.
The removal of common spaces has not only dampened the community and diversity within dorm buildings, but it has also impinged on student interactions. Essentially, it has made it difficult to meet new people unless you live with them and has made friendships difficult to maintain because of the lack of common area in which to interact. The College is proud to be the number one liberal arts school in the country in the country but it has failed in the community-building department. With the difficult and busy schedules most Williams students have, there needs to be a space for students to gather and socialize in their dorms. Being a residential campus, Williams requires students to live on campus for the first three years, and for that reason the institution needs to maintain conditions that promote emotional stability. The academics here can be quite demanding, and requiring large time commitments and loading of stress as examination periods near. By having communal areas, students are provided places of relaxation where they can gather with their peers and watch a late-night movie or just kick back, reminisce and laugh about the awkward first-year moments.
It is easy for the location of our institution to affect the happiness and community structure of the students. Williams tries to be a very green campus, and many students like to participate in events like Mountain Day, hiking and rock climbing, and truly enjoy the beautiful “purple valley” that we live in over the course of our time at Williams. However, the wonderful seasons of fall and spring exist minimally during the academic year at Williams – the longest season we encounter is winter. During the winter months students tend to stay inside for the larger part of the day, unless they participate in a winter sport, go to class or to a dining hall. This can get depressing when there isn’t a real common space for a few friends to gather and socialize in because most dorm rooms on this campus aren’t big enough to have extra seating. When there isn’t a real social place for students to hang out, there arises the desire to go out – which also isn’t really an option here unless you have a car. However, having a car isn’t usually beneficial because the most “social” thing that we have close to campus is bowling at Mount Greylock or going to the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough, Mass. The community that Williams advertises is something that needs to be reassessed in order to make students happier and decrease the desire for students to transfer. Having more common space will facilitate interactions between students and, therefore, make them more content with their social life.
A possible solution to this problem would be to create more housing or to stop the removal of common places. There simply needs to be a place or common space for students to be able to interact with one another beyond chatting at snack bar, on sports teams, in the library, or in the gym. Winter is upon us and students want to stay inside, but with a limited number of residential common spaces, Williams students must endure the cold outdoors or limit their community interaction. Although remodeling all the housing would be impossible, new residential housing with a community building atmosphere would be beneficial to the happiness of Williams students.
Katrina Tulla ’11 is a chemistry and history major from New Canaan, Conn.