Sitting in Whitmans’ I often overhear students’ profound knowledge on the erosion of our shores and the extinction of the polar bears. Yet rarely do I hear about other societal ills, like the erosion of our civil liberties or the extinction of America’s democratic ideals.
I am elated to attend an institution where students discuss the foolishness behind government subsidies for hydrocarbons versus doing the same for renewable energies. You get it: “Green” is the future.
However, my humble advice is that being Williams students makes us future leaders, and we must not overlook that upcoming issues are more complex and numerous than Williams students currently make them out to be. “Tomorrow” will include dealing with human rights, nuclear weapon nonproliferation and removal, education and many other challenges. So what will it take to hear students discussing how government officials have taken a red pen to the Constitution like a Williams professor would to a less than proficient essay?
The formula consists of an increased interest in leadership and activism both on and off campus. Williams students work hard to make sure their bodies have the proportions of a Greco-Roman statue. How about downsizing from an eight- to a six-pack set of abs in exchange for giving our time to something bigger than ourselves? Our actions don’t have to be big or bold to change the world. Read to the elderly, run for student governance board, tutor a kid or simply branch out of your social niche and gain a new friend. Greater concern for the issues abroad and oncoming begins with opening our eyes to the reality of our own milieu.
Two summers ago, as a political science research assistant on campus, I saw firsthand how not far outside of our beautiful Purple Bubble our neighbors are dealing with issues that many in the Williams student body have no actual familiarity with, and all of us have the unfortunate luxury to be able to avoid. I am not advocating that students go out and perform community service to develop an “Oh, look at how your life sucks! I should shut up about mine, now don’t I feel better?” perspective. My message is a little larger.
Williams students are doers. We are scholars, actors, athletes, singers, dancers and debaters. Everyone wants to be big, bold and bada–. The same impulse that drives the football team to deliver an internationally-viewed whooping to Amherst, the impulse to be first, is an impulse that can be applied to service as well. Williams is a place full of people who were the queens and kings of the anthills they came from. Once here, students engage in different forms of competition: Some join the debate, rugby, soccer or swimming teams. Williams students are all about pushing themselves farther and faster to become the best people they can be. One way to accomplish the three aforementioned goals is to give our time to someone else. To someone without, kind acts make his or her world.
Our record on leadership could be better. The elections for student government leadership I have observed were usually abysmal, not because of the candidates, but because of the lack thereof. Too many influential positions on this campus are unopposed. To get admitted to Williams, I know students had to be much more active in their communities and schools than the current level that exists on this campus. The Berkshire Food Project, Mount Greylock tutoring, Students for Social Justice and many other organizations’ memberships should be just as large as the rugby teams’. Their activities should be hailed like touchdowns. The indifference (possibly hostility?) to public service is a creation of our community, and it can be reversed by our community.
A friend of mine at the University of Arkansas, Rob, took a class where he was to spend five hours a week of his own time in service, not counting service with organizations like his fraternity. Let’s just say that this frat boy was quite upset at first. He decided to volunteer with Meals on Wheels. By the end of the semester, Rob had tremendously helped out people in his community that he never would have met who now play a role in his life that he never would have imagined. Rob has continued serving. Engage in public service, and results may vary, but not by much.
If necessity is the needed precursor for Williams to rise to the occasion, in my eyes, we have plenty of it. It doesn’t take much to recall the devastation and tragedy in the past several years of our national history. It seems that in the near future we just might be about to finally get double for our trouble. The idealism, hope and activism that in the past have been led by people our age are resurging again in our national consciousness. The public service train is about to leave. Will Williams be on it? Let’s bring public service’s sexy back to Williams.