As a college, we are in a very significant position. With a revised residential system coming forth next year, the Williams we have all known for our own tenure will cease to exist. Sure, we may see many of the same students and faculty we have known and loved, but the channels in which we interact with our fellow residents here will be altered. A greater emphasis is going to be put on house-level interaction and programming, working towards the original aim of tight-knit community that the neighborhood system promised. Coupled with the fact that we now have a new president and will shortly have a new dean, the chance to reform the College into what the Williams students want will never be greater than it is in this moment for us. It is imperative that this opportunity be seized.
Much discussion has been had over the last year as to what it is that the neighborhoods do, what they attempt to do and what they often fail at. Not much of that discussion in the student body has focused on who it is that has actually undertaken the tasks that help the College’s social and residential scenes function. That is a problem. The neighborhood system, and by extension the greater social life of Williams, has survived due to the work of a few underappreciated students who have given up their time and energy for something they were passionate about in the face of strong dissent from much of the student body. I can speak to the efforts of some great students on this campus that not only realized the strengths of the neighborhood system but also identified weaknesses and attempted to rectify them. I will be the first to attest that the neighborhood system has not been perfect by any means, but without the efforts of these individuals, student-initiated programming at Williams would certainly have crumbled.
The past is but a foundation to build upon, and it is now time to look forward. This month is not simply a time for my class and me to pass the torch of student governance and leadership at Williams to the new generation. The system I have spent four years growing up in and attempting to foster will be no longer, and it is simply not in my power to shape what it will be in the future. The power belongs to the underclassmen.
Having seen Williams from the numerous perspectives of governance board member, Junior Advisor and Office of Campus Life intern, I honestly believe a major problem with the Williams student body is a sense of complacency about making this campus your own. We obviously excel in the classroom and in athletic venues, but when it comes time to be the first person on the dance floor at a party, to take on the role of creating a cohesive house community or to run for an elected office in an institution you feel needs to be changed, Williams students have failed. People at Williams will complain that things need to be changed, but have failed to do so in the arenas that shape campus life the most. This needs to end now.
This is a challenge. News flash: The neighborhoods and the Baxter Fellow system are going to be here next year. If you think things can be improved, don’t just tell your friends or troll on Williams Students Online (WSO), but actually apply yourself to the grunt work of making a better Williams community. Social life at Williams is shaped by the work of dedicated students. The excuse that you are “too busy” does not apply. You probably were not complaining that you were “too busy” when you enjoyed one of All-Campus Entertainment’s First Fridays, a Dodd Neighborhood poker night, Wood Neighborhood’s keg kickball or a 10-til-2 party hosted by Currier or Spencer Neighborhoods.
All signs point to one thing: The men and women of Williams College need to be advocates for their college experience. Do you want to meet new people, especially people who are in completely different social circles than your own? Do you prefer something else on a Saturday night to being holed up in either your room or a dark room with sweaty strangers? Do you want the sense of accomplishment that comes with successfully running a program, and the personal growth that comes when your expectations were not met? Do you want to actually challenge yourself?
If you think programs at Williams can be better, apply for a position. Run for a neighborhood governance board in whatever fashion it is going to take next year. Apply to be a Baxter Fellow so you can enrich the living experience for yourself and your closest neighbors. Attend an ACE meeting to influence how social programming at Williams takes place. Run for or sit in on a College Council meeting to hear every nuanced decision those students make that influences your day-to-day life here. Even write for the Record and hold people accountable. This is your college experience. Take some leadership over it and shape not just your time here, but the time of everyone else in the Williams community.