A shared academic experience

Coming to Williams as an athlete, I was pretty insecure about what my place here was academically. I knew this was a bit unfounded, but looking around at all the other students, I couldn’t help but think that everyone seemed way more prepared than I was. My first two years at Williams were a blur of training, traveling and paper writing.

After I stopped ski racing my sophomore year, I quickly realized that the extra time on my hands wasn’t going to automatically make my academic life any easier. Rather, my courses got more challenging and my time became divided among other activities. I felt like I was always behind, treading with my head barely above the water. Each semester I was convinced I would have to drop a course, but I pushed on, often feeling like maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be a student here.

Socially awkward and intimidated by the idea of talking to a professor, I waited several semesters before finally reaching out to my professors outside the classroom. For similar reasons I drifted along a scattered course selection, frustrated with the academic advising system that made little sense to me at the time. It was difficult for me to find continuity within my courses and to be able to focus on disparate topics simultaneously.

In the meantime, my classmates seemed to fit the bill easily. They were confident in class, knew professors on a first-name basis and disappeared into the library for days at a time. They seemed to be perfectly okay with doing everything, it seemed, to keep up and excel at Williams. As time passed, I realized this perception I had of other students was unrealistic. Over late night study sessions I got to know other students and learned the well-worn mantra: “B” and be done.

I gradually became more assertive with my needs as a student and was fortunate to have several amazing professors who doubled as mentors outside class. I began to sporadically take advantage of the academic resources and psychological services, but the unread books on my bookshelf still reminded me that I couldn’t keep up.

As students at Williams, we all at least have academics in common. We’ve been through midterms and finals together as well as stressful Sunday nights. If we’re looking to build community here at Williams, then we should be pursuing more ways to come together as students – outside the classroom – to support and collaborate in each other’s learning processes, not just on problem sets or lab reports but on reading and writing assignments as well.

I’m concerned how all-campus forums rarely seem to focus on the classroom experience and that course evaluations are insufficient modes for these discussions. Many academic resources seem to be offered to the individual without opportunity for larger discussion. Especially prevalent is the effect of stress on mental health and the common use and dependence on (prescribed and un-prescribed) medications such as Adderall and Ritalin.

Earlier this month at Claiming Williams, one speaker mentioned how he wished for us students to thrive at Williams, not just live. I have certainly thrived here, but mostly outside the classroom in campus organizations, group discussions and at lectures and performances. I recognize that education is meant to extend beyond four courses a semester, but I just wish there was a greater openness on campus regarding our specific academic experiences and needs.