Community support allows resourceful Ephs to broaden horizons

It is well known that students at the College have access to a number of unique opportunities. We have a gamut of resources: the prestigious faculty, the extensive help centers, but we also have each other, a community of students that is willing to fund its peers’ ambitious ventures when the College itself cannot directly help.

This summer, Joseph Baca ’15 experienced first-hand the value of his peers as a resource. With the help of the Williams community, he studied puppetry abroad – an art that has been a locus of intrigue for Baca since his teenage years.

“When I was 17, I visited the mall I used to go to as a kid … on a random Tuesday evening and there was a man there who puppeted for a small group of children,” Baca said. “And I haven’t been able to get him out of my head. It was just so beautiful. And so that was the start of the spark.” This unique form of theatre so deeply resonated with Baca that during his sophomore year at Williams he searched for a way to study the art – specifically Bunraku puppetry in Japan.

Baca turned to the College for help in funding. He needed $5500 for the 10-week long program wherein he would be taking puppetry lessons from Bunraku virtuosos and then perform a final show at the Iida Summer Puppet Festival – a venue where thousands of people gather from across the globe. Unfortunately, Williams could not fully cover the finances. While Baca did receive a Linen Grant from the Japanese department, he was still significantly short in funding. Although the College does offer summer travel fellowships, it only funds programs that meet certain criteria, which Baca’s program did not meet.

With the encouragement of close friends, Baca turned to Indiegogo, a crowd funding website that allows individuals to campaign for donations for their specific projects and ventures. It requires no membership fee, although the site charges a fee of 4 percent of the funds if one does not meet one’s goal and 9 percent if one does. The creator of the campaign also has the ability to offer various “perks” that contributors would receive.

Baca launched his campaign. In a two-minute YouTube clip, Baca described his passion for puppetry, the doubts of others, his steadfast attachment to his venture and a simple plea for help. He explained that any donation would be welcome, even if it were just a dollar. Ending the video with a hopeful smile, he stated that he had two weeks to raise $5,500. (The extra $500 would go to Indiegogo’s platform fee requirement).

The College community pulled through with support. Many students publicized his campaign through social media. His efforts attracted the support of a College professor and theatre faculty member, as well as an anonymous alum who donated a significant amount of cash.

“It was extremely stressful and worrisome, and I checked the site like every five minutes to see if people donated,” Baca said. “And they did, which was cool! A very awesome person donated everything I didn’t have at the last minute, which was horrible because I was so anxious! But also, it was the best.”

With the funds raised, Baca’s trip was officially set in motion.He loved studying abroad so much, that he’s doing it again this semester – in Italy, to study commedia dell’arte, a mask and clown performance.

Sato Matsui ’14 and Eugene Song ’16 encountered problems similar to Baca’s in their own endeavors to find summer travel opportunities.

Although Matsui was accepted to a prestigious summer program called the European American Musical Alliance (EAMA), she did not receive financial aid from the College to attend. “I looked through the list of summer scholarships, but I found none offered that suited the description of my program,” Matsui said. “I called the Fellowship Office for advice and information but was informed that there were no resources or funds set aside for a music program of this nature.”

Song, on the other hand, was interested in an internship sponsored by the student-led organization Global Brigade. “The internship … was a month long, focused on global health and [worked to] empower volunteers and under-resourced communities in Ghana,” Song said of the program. There was only one problem: The internship was in Ghana, and Song did not have enough funds for the trip.

Like Baca, Matsui and Song also used online fundraising platforms to turn to their communities for support. “After receiving short replies of sympathy and regrets, I finally gave up the idea of getting support from Williams and embarked on a online fundraising campaign to somehow make my way to France,” Matsui said.

Song used a website called empowered.com. “The student can either submit funds themselves or ask other people to donate money into their account on the website … I publicized my campaign through Facebook messages, posts and personalized emails to people that I’m pretty close to, meaning friends from school and home, entrymates, relatives and anybody else that I thought would contribute.”

While Matsui and Baca both reported tremendous support from the College community, Song found that the majority of his resources came from elsewhere. “In relation to the total, not a significant amount of money came from the Williams community,” he said. However, he recognizes that while the student financial donations were not large, the support was still there: “It was still useful in cutting some slack on me financially,” Song said.

These three trailblazing students were put to the test in seeking out alternative funding methods to solve their shared problem. “The whole process was a bit nerve-wracking because I wasn’t always sure whether I’d meet the total that I had to work towards,” Song said. Yet the students would likely agree with Song in that the process “was worth it because [the result] was a great experience.”