From the moment I saw Briar McQuilkin ’16 in my “Aspects of Western Art” conference, I knew we would be friends. She’s chic, confident and knows how to brighten even the cloudiest Williamstown day. I sat down with my future roommate in her bedroom to discuss where she came from and how she got here.
So, not everyone on campus is lucky enough to know you as well as I do. Can you give the College your five second life story?
Okay, I’m from New York. I’ve lived in Queens all my life, but I went to school on the Upper East Side. I have two older siblings, but they’re much older than me – my brother is 40 and my sister is 38. I’m actually an aunt! My niece is nine years old. She makes fun of me and is obsessed with my mom and tries to destroy our relationship. It’s hilarious. But I’ve lived alone with my mom for forever and we’re really close, so that will never happen.
We can’t get away with not talking about your name. It’s pronounced Bree-uh, but spelled with an “r” at the end. I feel like that must confuse people a lot.
Well, when I was younger it really bothered me. I would ask my mom all the time if I could change my name, but she would just tell me that that would never happen. Basically, her reasoning for naming me Briar with an “r” at the end was like, “Yeah, I just thought it would be more interesting.” That’s it! But now it’s too late to take the “r” off, even though professors still get confused. One of my professors still pronounces it wrong, I swear.
I’ll admit, I still pronounce it wrong sometimes…
[Laughs.] Yeah, I definitely still haven’t accepted it at this point, but it’s not like I have little boys making fun of me on the playground either. It’s just a hassle to correct people. It’s actually funny at this point because I think my mom straight up thinks she made my name up, but at the same time I’ve met tons of other Briars, even if none of them spell it the same way. Actually, my dad wanted me to be called “Dorkus.” Apparently my grandmother’s name was Dorkus – I think it might come from a character in a book. The funny thing is, my mom refused, but not because Dorkus is the ugliest name ever, she just doesn’t believe in naming children after family members. So it could have still happened. I don’t think I would have any friends if my name was Dorkus.
I know you have Trinidadian ancestry. Do you go back to Trinidad often? What’s that like?
I go almost every year, I really like it. My mom is one of nine children, so I have tons of uncles and aunts and cousins. My grandparents have a huge farm and they live in a really rural area, so when we go we stay there, it’s actually the biggest culture shock. It’s just like going to the country from the city, but then it’s even more different since it’s in another country. But it is so beautiful. You can literally eat the fruit off the trees as you walk by. I love it there.
I’ve heard that your uncle is a little bit of a celebrity. Can you tell me more about that?
[Laughs.] He’s definitely not a celebrity. My uncle is a songwriter and producer. He wrote a very popular Shaggy song called “It Wasn’t Me.” It’s just really weird to think of your uncle writing those lyrics, a little disturbing. He’s married and they have a ton of kids … I wonder why …
So how does a Trinidadian city girl end up in Williamstown? What was your path in getting here?
When I was looking at schools, none of the schools that I liked were in cities. To be honest, I’m kind of a New York snob. No, I am a New York snob. I figured that no other city could match up with my home, so it didn’t really matter if I was in a small town. Williams was really different from all the other schools I was looking at, but I ended up applying Early Decision. Much more athletic, and I don’t play a sport. Much more out of my comfort zone.
But there’s definitely a huge arts scene that you’re very involved in. What do you do here?
I want to major in art history, and obviously the department here is amazing. That was a huge reason I wanted to come here. I’m a museum associate at WCMA [the Williams College Museum of Art], which is really fun because I can give tours to little children. I’m also a member of Nothing But Cuties, which is the hip-hop dance group here. I love it so much. It’s weird because I did ballet and some modern dance my whole life. I went to a very strict dance school six days a week and it was a huge part of my life. When I came here, I really wasn’t expecting to continue with that. But Caroline Friedman [’13], who went to my high school, really encouraged me to try out. It’s hard just because it’s so different from everything else I’ve done, but it’s genuinely fun. As much as I enjoyed performing ballet, at a certain point it just wasn’t fun on a day-to-day basis. I love all the people on NBC, and partying with them is definitely a highlight of my life here.
Your life here is definitely different than it was in the city. How has that translated to your social life?
Yeah, I mean, it’s hilarious. At home, I was always the goody-two-shoes of my friend group. They were so much cooler than me, I was always the one who wanted to stay in and do my homework. But here, I am not that! Somehow, I’m not seen as this lame weirdo. It’s also funny because every person that I’m living with next year is Hispanic. I didn’t have any Hispanic friends living in New York City, yet I found them here in Western Mass. My friends are straight up crazy, and I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. I always tell my friends from home how different I am here, that they wouldn’t believe it if they saw me.
Let’s be real. You’re kind of known on this campus for your hot body. It’s pretty clear. What do you do to maintain that, nutritionally?
[Laughs.] I live off of essentially mashed potatoes and cheeseburgers. I am obsessed with mashed potatoes. And chocolate. The last meal I had before coming to the College was a cheeseburger, and I was at this restaurant, and I asked them for mashed potatoes instead of fries! And they did it! I called it “my last supper.” But luckily, they’re really good here. My friends always know that if mashed potatoes are an option at any dining hall, that’s where we’re going. I ate my first vegetable in 10 years about a month ago, so I’m making strides. I’m growing up.
So grown up. Do you have any advice for the pre-frosh who are making their final college decisions?
That’s a tough question. You can’t be shocked by how much your life changes in college. Different does not mean worse. Making a solid group of friends is everything. Over the break, it was so weird to really miss my friends from the College for the first time, but I did. I really hope that everyone finds that.