During the summer our minds drift away from northwestern Massachusetts as we experience different countries, warm weather and having to tuck our shirts into our khakis for work. However, even though we weren’t there, Williams College didn’t die over the summer; rather it was in a constant state of flux as it prepared to surprise the student body with a whole range of academic, administrative and dining changes. As I returned to campus this September, the changes that greeted my eyes were first and foremost the school’s continued and borderline obsessive support for a more environmentally friendly campus. Unfortunately, this maniacal dedication to environmentally amicable options doesn’t always seem to be most effective or cost efficient. Worst of all, these environmental changes at times seem to run counter to the average student’s best interests.
One significant green-age evolution that I’ve been told about (seeing as I’ve always been too lazy/manly to go there) is the newly exercise- powered estrogym. Essentially, a good amount of the cardio machines transfer the energy that a determined Williams student puts in his or her calorie-menacing workout into heating and lighting the place. At a superficial glance this system sounds brilliant, kind of like those flashlights with cranks. However, unlike those ingenious flashlights which ultimately save you money since you don’t ever need to purchase new batteries, I’m quite certain that it can’t have been cheap to install the technology that transfers a Williams student’s 45-minute blitz on a stationary bike to the lighting of the workout compound. While it’s a rewarding feeling knowing that your carbon footprint is being minimized as you push your physical limits on the elliptical, at what cost has this sensation come? Although I don’t know how much money was spent on this new system, I do know that two dining halls were closed in the name of budget cuts, and I hope I’m not being too presumptuous by speaking for the student body, but I get the impression that the closing of Dodd and Greylock affect the student body infinitely more than the estrogym’s new environmentally friendly features.
Along these same lines of potentially ineffective and certainly not-cost effective environment initiatives pushed by Williams this year is the sudden rejection of the classic brown paper bags for Grab ’n Go. Though the new bags are larger, more wholesome and, frankly, more pleasing to the eye, I’ve already lost two of them (even though I’m certainly not indicative of the entire student body), and if only a quarter of the students on campus are even half as absentminded as I am, I easily foresee a bigger hit to the budget and not to mention much more waste overall seeing as these new bags are much more costly to replace. While this particular environmental program hardly affects each student’s particular utility, the removal of [disposable] to-go boxes is problematic. Even though it’s almost always preferable to enjoy a prolonged dinner or lunch at Paresky with friends, often homework and other time commitments prevent us from enjoying that luxury and the option of being able to take a meal on the run [and not worry about the container] was an added benefit.
Not only do budget cuts and new environmentally friendly options cheapen the Williams experience in the dining hall, but they also do so in the classroom. As I look back to my college tours some three or four years ago, I remember leaving every school with a course catalog. I would study this book in the car and determine how appealing the classes offered were. As I continued my studies at Williams I turned to my trusty purple catalog with great frequency and would jot down notes in the margins next to classes I was considering. After having endless conversations with friends I realized that I was far from the only one who valued the tangibility of an actual course catalog, which has since gone extinct. I understand that trees are being saved and the catalog is a couple clicks away, but reading up on classes on the Internet rather than on actual paper is more frustrating (having to switch between so many different windows) and, honestly, less exciting.
Ultimately, I don’t want to come across as forest fire-starting madman whose worst fear is Al Gore with a video camera, and I absolutely appreciate a greener campus and respect those students who are passionate about the environment greatly. However, when I stroll back to my dorm room at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night and see both Hollander and Schapiro Hall radiating four floors of light (and presumably some heat) I question where the emphasis of all these environmental initiatives is being placed. Maybe I’m just prematurely a bitter old man who’s resistant to change, but when I come back to campus and see small new changes that detract from my overall experience here at Williams and don’t seem to be overwhelmingly beneficial for the environment I get a little grumpier. I know there has to be a balance between saving money in a wise way, moving Williams into a greener age and maintaining the same Williams experience, and I’m more than confident that the students here will discover it.