Crissy Ihara ’12 often feels out of place on campus. Frequently, she’ll catch disdainful glances, sometimes glares, from her classmates. At times people even cover their noses in her presence. Such alienating actions are hardly demonstrative of the close-knit community the College prides itself on, but for many students on campus it is a fact of life, a reality they suffer because they smoke.
“There is definitely a divide on campus between those who smoke and those who don’t,” Ihara said. “I try to make it a point to be courteous to those around me who don’t smoke – I’ll stand a little away and downwind – but that still doesn’t prevent people from giving me dirty looks and covering their noses around me. It’s very clear that people judge us smokers on campus.”
Such feelings of alienation are also something that Jordan Freking ’12 is accustomed to at the College. “I definitely feel ostracized at points. A lot of people try to make me feel like smoking is something that I should hide or should feel bad about for doing,” he said.
For Leaf Elliott ’13, the tendency of many students to chastise smokers has resulted in an environment that has suppressed the smoking culture to near non-existence: “I wouldn’t even say that there are enough smokers on campus for there to be a divide. It’s certainly not something that is done socially for most students. There just isn’t the same smoking culture here as I am used to at home.”
Though Robby Finley ’11 recognizes that the large majority of campus is less than accepting of his regular pastime, he is no longer bothered by the reactions of his classmates. “It was a lot worse my freshman and sophomore year here. I don’t get it as much this year, but I’m also just smoking at Doughty by myself most of the time now. People definitely give you dirty looks for smoking, but that happens anyway. I feel like for some of us there is now even a rebel mentality when we smoke,” he said.
Despite frequently citing feelings of estrangement from the rest of the student body, student smokers have been able to use their common pastime to create their own smoking community on campus.
“There are probably about 10 people on campus who smoke regularly, and we all see each other and hang out,” Freking said. “Smoking is like an automatic way for us to bond, and sometimes I feel like I automatically like someone more when I see them smoking. It’s just nice to know that the person won’t judge you for smoking because they smoke too.”
In fact, smoking has even helped facilitate numerous friendships at the College. “I think smoking is very social for me,” Ihara said. “I’ve met a lot of friends from just bumming cigarettes. It’s also helped bring me and my friends closer. Sometimes it’s three in the morning and I’ll get a call from someone needing help and we’ll just talk about it while smoking.”
For Finley, on the other hand, smoking is a more solitary activity. “I don’t really smoke with other people during the week. I pretty much just smoke when I am at the library or in between my long seminar classes,” Finley said. “For me, it’s just a good way to take a break and get outside for a few minutes.”
The excuse to go outside for a smoke during long nights at the library is also appealing to Ihara, who says that her smoking habit is often driven by the stressful environment she finds herself in at the College.
“Some people have Snack Bar for when they are stressed out and want to socialize. I have smoking,” she said. “The stressful environment at Williams is really conducive to smoking for me. I feel stressed out a lot of the time, and it’s just nice to know that I can go outside for five minutes, smoke a cigarette and go back up and be fine.”
Similarly, Elliot finds smoking a relaxing activity, particularly when dealing with pressing deadlines and his heavy workload. “Sometimes when I’m working on a paper late at night and I’m feeling really stressed, I’ll go and sit on the [Hopkins] Observatory and smoke. It’s a nice way to relax because it’s a very involved process. I use a pipe, so it’s almost like a mechanical form of meditation for me.”
For Freking, smoking has even come to represent his independence. Though he recognizes that many question his choice to smoke, he asserts that, in the end, the decision is ultimately still his and his alone.
“A lot of people chastise me for smoking like I don’t know that smoking is bad me for. I just want them to realize that I am 20 and educated, and I know what smoking entails. They should respect my ability to make my own decisions in my life,” he said.
For smokers on campus, the dangers of smoking are hardly overlooked or disregarded. These students are not trying to convince others at the College that smoking isn’t without its risks, they’re just looking for a little more understanding and respect from those who don’t share their daily habit.