I visited Harvard last weekend, and it was the best weekend of my life.
I’m not exaggerating. I had the best time. I met people who shared my interests; they were Super Cool Party People (just like me). We were instant Facebook friends, and it felt like we would be real friends if I weren’t leaving in less than 24 hours. And then I went to a huge and exclusive party, which never damages my opinion of a school.
The fun I have during my time at schools other than Williams hasn’t been limited to Harvard; I also occasionally visit a friend at Columbia. There, because I am a stranger to everyone but a few, I can more easily let my guard down and simply have fun. I can be more authentic at Columbia, because I know if I mess up and make a fool of myself, I won’t have to confront those faces on the walk to class the next day. I can take more risks and reveal more of myself, which facilitates faster friendships with people similar to me. Everyone should visit other schools when given the chance. Ephs especially should try to venture beyond the bubble as much as possible, because, and this is the real point of this article, Williams is very small.
Williams is very small, and our size is not inconsequential. Our student body population, as well as our location in the hamlet of Williamstown, means the Williams experience is a truly unique one. I think most of us chose Williams, at least in part, for its small size. I don’t mean to brag, but the Williams education is truly exceptional and superior to other colleges and universities. We get to know our professors, which should not be taken lightly. Both my friends at Harvard and Columbia struggle to find professors who are engaged in what they teach or who know them well enough to write letters of recommendation, much less invite them to coffee at whatever the equivalent of Tunnel City is at those schools. In fact, there probably is no equivalent to Tunnel at schools surrounded by the biggest cities in the country. While being a stranger is really fun for a day, it is also nice to have spaces to run into friends you might otherwise be too busy to see outside your routine.
Williams and Williamstown’s sizes confer other benefits that I don’t mean to discount by not mentioning them here. However, because Williams is so small, it does seem difficult for diversity to establish itself. This is tricky to explain, so read on: Williams is certainly a school full of diversity, both in the more obvious racial, economic and geographic ways, as well as a in a range of opinion and interest. But, because we are so small, it is hard for some of the smallest minorities (here I refer mostly to the latter, rather than the former kind of diversity I described) to gain a critical mass and therefore a foothold on the Williams social scene. It’s harder for outliers to find each other when there are so few of them at Williams. Maybe I’m being unfair, because these minorities should be represented more or less proportionally at larger schools, so while there are more of them there, they should still be dispersed in a similar way. However, I think the difference between smaller schools like ours and larger schools is that the latter create official clubs. There is the Knickerbocker Motorsports at Columbia, as an example, for those who love building really fast cars, or the Lampoon at Harvard for the satirists who idolize Conan O’Brien’s hair. When I visit these other schools, I can’t help but envy my friends who have easily found “their people” assembled into a conveniently organized and titled club or group.
Before I start drafting my transfer applications, however, I should probably remember that my hosts are likely working very hard to make my visit a great time. When you’re a visitor, it’s easy to fall in love and overlook the bathroom stalls that are so small the doors touch your knees. While experiencing a range of college cultures and campuses, we should watch out for this sort of unrealistic idealization of other people and places. I should remember that it takes longer than 30 minutes to find a true friend, and it’s easy to overlook someone’s incompatibilities when you’ve only just met. Ironically, in the midst of my return from Harvard and the conceptualization of this article, two new groups popped up that might fill some of the gaps I’ve been feeling at Williams: The Creative Writing Club and a mysterious artists’ collective that deserves more space than this to be explained.
So, maybe I don’t give some of my entrepreneurial fellow Ephs their due credit. It’s a bit cowardly not to be as authentic at Williams as I am at other schools, and childish and a little arrogant to play the “nobody here understands me” card. I do hope students who occasionally indulge in this feeling don’t choose to conform to whatever they perceive is the dominant culture at Williams or even devote less time to their own passions. In such a compressed place, we should all fight to maintain and never hide the uniqueness we all possess. While I maintain that our small size makes it harder to establish niche groups that last beyond their founders’ graduation years, maybe we should nevertheless work to be bold enough to start our own new and weird thing at Williams. Maybe we should look just a little harder to find each other and remember how truly diverse and exceptional it is here.
Katherine Preston ’16 is from Omaha, Neb. She lives in Prospect.