Extracurriculars are a prominent part of student life on campus. When prospective students visit the College, the number and variety of activities – between clubs, publications, sports, volunteer opportunities and more – are advertised as one of the best features of student life. There is so much to choose from; there is something for everyone.
In many ways, this idealistic portrayal has truth. However, the plethora of possibilities can have a darker side, too: It creates the expectation that students should be in perpetual motion, to take advantage of as many opportunities as they can to “achieve” and “grow.” Some students get caught up in this frenzy and join clubs because they feel like they need to, whether to meet people or to build a resume. Some students, of course, engage in activities simply because they enjoy them. Perhaps for most, the choice is some combination of the two. Whichever is the cause, students at the College who commit a substantial amount of their free time to these clubs and activities – as many do – can find themselves spread thin and even more stressed than before.
Two years ago, Newton Davis ’12 found himself in this position. He came into college excited to participate in student government, and accordingly got involved in pretty much every aspect of student government at the College: He was Sage Hall representative as a first-year, class representative twice as a sophomore and treasurer for both ACE and Spencer Neighborhood. That’s not even counting added committee assignments and his involvement with the Griffin Society and Ritmo Latino.
“[Student government] was something I always wanted to do – that really wasn’t an issue. But as you get more involved, you get more responsibilities,” Davis said. “Slowly but surely other people started to ask me to do more.”
During his sophomore year, trying to decide whether and how long to study abroad, Davis had to confront his ballooning list of activities. With all his meetings on top of five classes, he was wearing thin. “I was really not getting any sleep. I was waking up a lot of times and really dreading my day,” Davis said. “It was crazy. I thought, this isn’t sustainable. I was starting to question, was I doing it because I wanted to, or was it the expectation that that was the path that I was on?” Though Davis had initially chosen to get involved in student government, he felt as though he was being propelled forward.
Davis ultimately made the decision to “get away from it” and challenge himself to take a break by going abroad. Since he has come back to the school, he has scaled back his commitments to focus on Ritmo Latino and Claiming Williams. “I really took a step back to think about what it is that I really want to do. And I want to have time to be with my friends and have a great time in college,” he said. “I think Williams often doesn’t provide the space for people to step back, or at least not until people break down … people get there, but it’s oftentimes too late.”
A select group of students, however, have been ahead of the game, able to find social, academic and personal fulfillment without making their lives resemble the Purple Key Fair in miniature.
Sarah Gottesman ’14 chooses not to engage in formal activities here at the College. A potential biology and psychology double-major, her high school experience led her to choose a college where she could explore her interests. She attended a Jewish day school that began at 8 a.m. and ended at a 4:45 p.m. “People who did sports got home at nine,” she said. Anyone who did other groups or clubs would get home at a similar time, leaving little room for schoolwork. Gottesman herself was involved in several clubs, including student council.
“I came to a liberal arts school [because] I have no clue what I’m doing,” Gottesman said. “I’m spread out with interests, but thin enough that I don’t want to get over-involved,” she said. She also agrees that the College as a whole has an “expectation” to participate to some degree in extracurriculars. “I feel the pressure to get involved. I think it’s a big thing about Williams,” she added. “I’m hoping there’s other ways to contribute to the community without being, in such a formal way, part of a club,” she said.
Another student who similarly steers clear of school activities is Henry Drewyer ’14. “I choose not to partake simply because I don’t have a striking interest in any of the many activities Williams offers,” he said. Drewyer spends most of his weekends watching football and spending time with his friends, but the idea of an organized club just doesn’t appeal to him.
Drewyer mostly divides his time between academics (he’s a potential economics major), and relaxing with friends in what he feels is a balanced lifestyle. “Looking at it from a utility standpoint, I’m more interested in watching what I love and hanging with friends than I am in joining a club that does not strike my fancy,” he said. While some people use clubs as an escape from academic work, Drewyer finds his own respite through friends and following college football. “I also feel as if it does an adequate job of taking my mind away from the books and schoolwork, which is something that we all need,” he adds. In this way, he manages to find a good balance between classes and personal life without the added stress of taking on an extracurricular activity.
Many students find fulfillment by contributing to clubs and activities on campus, but that is not the only way to engage in the community. Gottesman adds that she is an avid supporter of the clubs on campus and believes that to be a form of contribution in itself.
While Drewyer doesn’t take part in campus activities, he understands that many other people are genuinely passionate about theirs. “That’s not to say I’m opposed to joining any clubs or partaking in extracurriculars,” Drewyer said. “The other day I filled in for a friend at CC [College Council], which I thought was a great experience, for example. It’s just at this point I’m satisfied with my way of life as it is.”
Trying to find happiness in our daily life may seem like an obvious goal, but with all the pressures of college life, this simple idea can sometimes become obscured. “We come from schools and environments in which we’re told being successful and being busy are somehow equivalent,” Davis said. Among all the learning we do at the College, one of the most important lessons we can learn is that it’s good to have time to breathe.
Additional reporting by Sarah Rosenberg, features editor.