Tense times

Last Wednesday, as I was lingering in Paresky around lunchtime, I was handed a stress-relieving package by a friendly member of the campus group Active Minds. The well-intended package contained some quite useful things, such as a packet of Oreos, which I promptly consumed, and some others which I am still not quite sure what to do with, such as a pebble or a color-changing dot. Nonetheless, it was a nice gesture.

The whole incident, however, reminded me of the tremendous effort that the College and multiple student organizations put into reducing our stress levels, especially around exam periods. I am sure people have noticed the e-mails from the Dean’s Office with a long list of all the services available to us just so that we don’t fall into the trap of desperation over the unmanageable loads of work. There are also the buckets of candy and chocolate given away by any legitimate organization on campus in any possible location where students might be laboring over their textbooks. Last semester we even got a little note in our mailboxes r

eminding us of the small things that we could do for each other during finals. All this effort channeled in a single direction: to reduce stress.
Yet I can’t help but ask myself whether any of these actions are very effective when there is another huge factor producing additional stress during finals period, especially during spring semester. We are inevitably required to move out of our rooms by 10 a.m. on the morning after the last day of exams. I will never forget how this has almost reduced me to tears on the floor of my room, covered in clothes and books. As someone taking a large variety of classes, including language classes, I have always had exams on the last day of finals. I have always reached an absurd level of stress over the impossibility of getting completely ready to move out while studying for my exams.

The end of my sophomore year was particularly stressful, when I was preparing for study abroad. I was leaving Williams for over a year and needed to plan very carefully what to leave in storage, what to throw away/donate and what to take with me, all while keeping in mind that I was going to three different climates in four different seasons. In addition, I had to arrange a time to place my boxes in the storage that Williams is so generous to provide to international students on financial aid. Now, I have to clarify that I am about five feet tall and cannot possibly carry two big boxes from Dodd to the Center for Developmental Economics by myself, and I don’t have a car either. I had to find somebody willing to abandon their own exam preparation in order to help me move my belongings at a particular time arranged by Facilities. All this was happening while I was struggling with finals and saying good-bye to my friends whom I was not going to see for quite some time. I am sorry I have to say this, but the candy did not help much. I am not the only one. I have heard many people complain about this situation, but, believing that nothing could be done, they kept it to themselves.

I keep wondering if this process is really necessary. If the College really wants to reduce our stress levels, it should address this enormous factor instead of throwing candy and “useful” advice at us. I completely understand that our dorm rooms are being used over the summer almost immediately after we vacate them, and that they need to be cleaned, but there must be a way to give us a day or two after the end of exams to put ourselves and our stuff together without feeling like screaming. For example, the College could use the candy money to pay the custodians to work over time or hire some additional help. It could even postpone the beginning of events by one or two days without any significant damage being done. It is also possible to work out a plan in which dorm rooms are being cleaned as they are vacated. Whatever the details of the solution, this problem needs to be solved for the sake of our sanity. At this point, the existing rule has been in place for many years and has already been accepted as a given, despite the fact that questions have been raised about it multiple times every now and again. Hopefully, with the new College president and College Council initiatives like the Great Ideas campaign, there will be a bigger chance for a resolution of issues like this one. The impact on students will be significant.