On Monday evening, College Council (CC) and the Minority Coalition (MinCo) hosted a forum on the myth of “effortless perfection” on campus.
The forum, which took place in Henze Lounge, welcomed roughly 75 students.
Discussion was directed towards two aims. The first half involved a students pinpointing situations that prompt stress on campus, identifying how this problem presents itself. After this, CC and MinCo members, along with the student audience, sought to find long-term solutions to help dispel the misconception of effortless perfection.
“The idea that everyone is strolling through Williams stress-free and singing” is wrong, said Zach Evans ’12, CC community and diversity representative. The forum served to show that, contrary to popular belief, every aspect of campus can at times be a source of stress.
Stress stems from a myriad of sources around campus, whether it is the anxiety of contributing in class or the chaos of finding a lunch mate. The pressure of having an intimate classroom setting is daunting, as having few peers and one professor in a classroom perpetually puts one on the spot. “Conversation was completely dominated by three or four people,” said a sophomore, referring to the environment within a 100-level political science course. One student mentioned the stress of Paresky around 12:15 p.m. and the daily pressure of finding a lunch-mate. On the other hand, one student admitted sitting alone was her way of de-stressing.
One of the most prominent sources of stress, according to students, comes from the pressure of finding a job after college, and almost more importantly, one that pays well. The pressure of having to find a job builds up from one year to the next. “I need an internship this summer, so I can get an internship next summer, so I can get a job the year after that,” said Scott Pelton-Stroud ’14. Students said there appears to be a need to prove that getting into the College was worth all the work put in during high school, but the notion that finding a high-paying position is the only reward is both false and reductive.
Another student brought up that Forbes’s ranking of the College as No. 1 on its list of “Colleges that Will Make You Rich” didn’t help to alleviate the intimidation associated with this looming idea of life after graduation. One declared economics major at the forum said she had no desire to pursue a career in financial consulting or banking. “My parents won’t pay for school unless I major in either science, economics or math,” another student said. “I really wanted to major in history, go on to grad school and eventually teach, but I can’t do that.”
Students said they wished the College would put more effort into addressing the benefits of less lucrative routes that students can take after graduation. Suggestions included bringing in alumni to speak to the student body and validate some students’ desire to pursue a passion outside of the conventionally-accepted professions that promise high salaries within the first few years after graduation.
At the forum, it also became evident that there are different sources of stress associated with each class year. Some first-years come into the College not knowing what to expect but at the same time accustomed to receiving good grades while balancing numerous extracurricular activities in high school. Although the entry system is an integral part of making first-years feel welcome on campus, it can also be a breeding ground for intimidation. One first-year at the forum commented that in a conversation within her entry about choosing a major, one student said to another, “Just one [major]? You’re coming to Williams and you’re just going to major in one thing?” One JA posited that her frosh were already beginning to classify themselves as Div. I, II or III majors already.
Sophomores are faced with the stress of deciding whether to apply to study abroad or become a JA. Even the decision to not apply for either can be stressful because of the societal pressure to choose.
One junior commented on the number of responsibilities JAs have and the fact that for their first-years, JAs are often thought of unrealistically as heroes.
Other roots of anxiety come from the accepted hook-up culture at the College, the divide between drinkers and non-drinkers and the idea of having to maintain a certain body image. It seems that it’s either “marriage or bust,” said CC co-president Francesca Barrett ’12. Jenna Adams ’14 said “There is a constant pressure to define one’s relationship with other people, and often it’s “either you’re hooking up, you’re dating or you’re not.”
One sophomore claimed the most stressful place on campus was the “estrogym” because it encourages unwanted or involuntary comparisons to other people, whether through the amount of time one works out or the level of difficulty on the machine. The estrogym is a place where students are “adopting other people’s standards that may not be fitting for themselves,” and “everybody is visually assessing each other,” said students at the forum.
Possible solutions to combat this idea of effortless perfection around campus were also proposed. For example, one student advocated that Williams After Dark events should go later into the evening in order to accomodate more students in order to alleviate drinker and non-drinker tension. Another suggestion was that more emphasis should be put on explaining to first-years early in the first semester that grading at the College will be on a higher caliber than grading at the high school level. Additionally, a student proposed that tour guides should inform prospective students and their parents that students may not do as well at the College as they did in high school.
Another student said there should be web tutorials on how to utilize the College’s software, as the many facets of PeopleSoft and WSO can be frustrating and obscure to new users. According to another student, the grading policy of each class should be better explained by professors as she felt that the avoidance of talking about grades adds more stress. It was also suggested that final exams and papers be made available for student review after grading is completed. Others suggested that more professors should create Glow discussion forums as a way to generate participation in a low-stress atmosphere outside of the classroom. Calls for the re-examination and re-structuring of the academic advising system also surfaced.
“I think as a society we don’t dream enough,” Fogel said. “When you ask kids about their dream jobs, they say they want to be astronauts, police officers, famous athletes and actors, and a few still probably even want to run for president. As a senior going through the job process, I met with career counselors, alumni and recruiters. They told me about jobs, they didn’t talk about dreams. It’s easy to lose sight of why we bother to work so hard, of what really matters to us, of what impact we want to make on the world. If we all took a little more time to dream and encourage our friends to dream too, it would be easier to find meaning at Williams and enjoy our time here.”