If there is one thing that I hope I can convince you of in this op-ed, it is this: Asking someone for help is not being a burden. In fact, it is giving them a compliment. Think about it. When you’re struggling with something, you don’t just approach any stranger you bump into walking on Spring Street and immediately ask for assistance. Rather, you talk to a friend. Someone you know is kind, caring and has your best interest at heart. Someone you think will give you sound advice and empathize with your situation. Someone you trust. Approaching someone with an issue is one of the most fundamental ways of showing confidence in your friendship.
I hope this piece can contribute to shifting the way we talk about sharing our problems on campus. It’s especially important because at Williams we are fortunate to have an extraordinarily considerate and empathetic student body. While that is fantastic and something that I hope never changes about us as Ephs, it also means that we sometimes worry too much about sharing our struggles. Because we care so much about our friends, we don’t wish to add anything to their overfilled plates. Yet what I hope we can all realize is that asking someone for help isn’t like adding an extra helping of quinoa. It’s adding something that tells your friend just how much you value and trust them.
I think we’ve made real progress with this at the College over the past few years. To me, nothing exemplifies the steps we’ve taken in our journey to encourage the sharing of struggles as well as You Are Not Alone, a biannual night of support and solidarity for students where we share our struggles with mental, emotional, psychological or social well-being. In my opinion, nothing says “I trust this college and am invested in it” more than being willing to stand up in front of people who you might have only seen from a distance in Sawyer or bumped into while waiting in line for snack bar and share the most personal of struggles. It reflects a trust in our culture of empathy, respect and communal well being that I think is, frankly, unbelievable.
Watching over 300 concerned students sit patiently while every last one of us who wanted to share spoke, even with mountains of reading and problem sets left to do, was one of the moments during freshman year that reaffirmed, in my mind, that I had completely made the right college decision. Seeing the same thing happen again this year, even with the temptation of Mountain Day the next morning, further solidified that this empathy and concern for our fellow students is a fundamental part of what makes Williams so special.
Two dozen or so brave Ephs served as catalysts for this process last Thursday, as they shared their personal struggles with a good percentage of the campus. Now is the time for us as a student body to do our part. Because when someone, be it a close friend or just someone you think you might recognize from history class, tells you a problem and asks for support, it is our responsibility to reward that trust. This can seem challenging. But I don’t think it has to be.
Being a supporter can be as simple as asking someone who seems down how he or she is doing. Or writing a reminder to yourself to follow up with a friend who you talked to last week about something they were struggling with, even if it seems like they are doing better now. Or giving a friend the little extra encouragement they might need to think about going to talk to a peer counselor or someone at psychological counseling services. It’s things that I’m sure we all do already, but perhaps we could all stand to be reminded of just how much of a positive impact these little acts of concern and kindness have. I know that I could. And while it’s impossible to have a 100 percent success rate of being the perfect supporter and friend, it’s a nice principle to try and incorporate into our day-to-day lives.
Last Thursday at You Are Not Alone, I was extra proud to be an Eph. Because in my mind, what makes this campus special is not that our student body is as smart as they come, or that we constantly crush Amherst at a variety of club and varsity sports – although all of those things are great. What makes Williams so special is the investment that each one of us makes, from the first days in the entry to the post-collegiate alumni network, in the well-being and happiness of our fellow classmates. For me, no event showcases this as well as You Are Not Alone does. Coming out of it, I hope that we can all realize that we have this incredible support network all around us and become a little more comfortable with asking for help when we need it. I think both parties will be glad that they did.
Matt McNaughton ’16 is from State College, Penn. He lives in Gladden.