Expanding horizons

When I received my big purple envelope from Williams as a senior in high school, I was incredibly excited. But it wasn’t the college experience I had originally envisioned. I wanted to be in a more urban environment, and I was concerned that I would feel isolated in such a rural area. But since pretty much everything else about Williams appealed to me, I accepted my offer of admission with some trepidation and arrived in August 2011, as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as all the other first-years.

I grew to love the College very quickly. I immediately appreciated the intellectual challenges, the amazing people, the beauty of the Purple Valley and everything else that makes this community so valuable. But my concern about isolation wasn’t alleviated. The stereotype of the “purple bubble” seemed pretty accurate – we live in an idyllic little valley for four years, cut off from the surrounding world, and then are thrust into “the real world,” which many of us feel unprepared to join.

For the first two years of my time at the College, I simply accepted that the purple bubble was an unfortunate aspect of Williams that I would just have to put up with. But my recent internship has made me challenge my assumptions about the College’s supposed isolation.

I spent the summer writing for Berkshires Week Magazine, a weekly arts and lifestyle magazine published by The Berkshire Eagle, a Pittsfield newspaper. Over the course of my internship, I went to see Bridges of Madison County at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, listened to Esperanza Spalding play at Tanglewood, visited the Norman Rockwell Museum and Hancock Shaker Village and did some hiking and swimming as well. The Berkshires are both a cultural and natural haven, especially in the summer. North Adams, Pittsfield, Lee, Stockbridge, Great Barrington – all of these towns have strong communities, full of interesting people and fun things to do.

Lack of transportation and cost are often cited as reasons preventing students from leaving the purple bubble. I will admit that having a car on campus made visiting neighboring towns much easier, but the BRTA bus system and the Zipcars are good alternatives. Some events in the Berkshires do cost money, but many are free or available at discounted rates for students. There are plenty of calendars, like the Berkshires Week online calendar, that list many of these events by week.

I believe that the purple bubble is a self-perpetuating myth. We tell ourselves that we are isolated, and therefore we isolate ourselves. Students could benefit from a stronger relationship with the community in the Berkshires. The theaters and museums in the area offer entertainment that the College can’t always provide, and the restaurants in neighboring towns provide a nice change of pace from Sushi Thai Garden and Spice Root. The various communities in the Berkshires would also benefit from participation by Williams students. Volunteering at local schools and libraries, buying fresh produce from local farms or going on a tour of a small museum would help Williams students seem less like scholars in an ivory tower on the hill and more like members of the community with a passion for the area. Individual efforts to attend Berkshire community events would definitely be a great start.

But I believe we could also benefit from a club or program like “Where Am I?” that runs throughout the year, rather than just during First Days. It could organize trips to attend plays, to pick apples or blueberries, or to do some local community service. Having financial support from College Council and access to the College vans would enable students, who might not otherwise be able to participate, to attend events in the Berkshires.

I fell in love with the Berkshires over the summer, and I regret not having explored the area sooner. We live in a beautiful place full of history and culture, and it’s a shame to graduate from Williams without having experienced at least a little bit of it.

Lauren Bender ’15 is a political science and art double major from San Diego, Calif. She is studying abroad in Istanbul.

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