Challenging narratives

Two years after graduating, I still felt a wave of emotion wash over me as I pulled up to Williamstown. While I remembered the intensity this place demanded, I also enjoyed the sweet medley of fresh air, the commanding beauty of our famous purple hills and those little pockets of hopefully grassy green earth along Route 7.

I felt particular emotions I’d forgotten about, I conjured memories of late night conversations in Paresky, and just like that, old instincts kicked in. I had to reach back into a former self and borrow a few tools to survive this weekend – like being okay with not saying hi to people, even though I recognized their faces, eating dining hall food and having to choose between two bars (way too many choices if you ask me).

At the risk of continuing this cheapened pastoral escapade, I’d venture to say that many of my fellow alums relish the familiarity of Five Corners and Cricket Creek Farm, because it means just a few more minutes of zipping along before Williams College unveils itself.

The politics of memory – that means to say how we choose to remember specific things intentionally or poignantly and how we choose not to remember certain other things – confine us to particular narratives that make community building that much harder than it needs to be. And it keeps certain inflexible traditions relevant even though they might not serve the best interests of relatively new constituents and stakeholders who want to – and deserve to – call Williams home.

Beyond seeking the opportunity for selfishly public musings, I hope to impart some unsolicited advice about remembering and living at Williams that everyone should at least consider:

First, do not be afraid to remember the bad parts. Sometimes you wake up feeling utterly hopeless, but there is something miraculous about living in a community where you will always find someone – at least one someone – to catch you when you’re ready to fall. And not just because of proximity, but because Williams does an incredible job of curating a surprisingly diverse community full of invaluable humans.

Also, be ok with critique; don’t just validate and strengthen systems based on traditions that are painfully outdated and divisive. Value your inquisitive minds and push each other to be better versions of yourselves, always. Commit to being fully present in moments of transition and critique because at the end of the day, it’s about making Williams feel like home for as many of us as possible.

My hope, two years out, is that Williams will see its myriad of difficult conversations as an opportunity to love this place more deeply by refusing to accept it as a lesser version of itself. Difficult conversations and uncomfortable answers are important to building and sustaining communities. How naive to assume everyone comes to Williams with the same opinions, routines and perspectives. How unsatisfying would it be to be perpetually certain of things we’re supposed to be uncertain of? The point of coming to a liberal arts institution is to refine that delicate balance of academic arrogance with legitimate problem solving skills and to learn how to give language and voice to things we don’t fully understand. It might seem like heavy lifting, but beware of irreverence, particularly about issues and realities that may be unfamiliar. As President Falk recently wrote, Williams seeks to “shape students into citizens who can alter and enlighten public dialogue” (“Enlightened Dialogue,” April 30, 2014).

This year has obviously been a challenging one, and the weight of unrest is truly palpable. But, fellow Ephs, roll with the tides of rippling, seemingly crippling fears. It will be okay. Remember that these conversations do matter: they didn’t begin at Williams, and they certainly will not end at the end of this academic year. The world needs brave thinkers and conscientious doers, but the only way to truly make an impact on the world both at and beyond Williams is to grapple with our college’s history, challenge the narratives in which we don’t see ourselves and expose the bits that you feel don’t work while consistently and intentionally framing a solution that is inclusive and sustainable for all. You are, in fact, the custodians of and major agents within Williams’ history and legacy: do not ever forget that.

Good luck with finals – I’m sure that you’ve got this.

Jessica Torres ’12 lives in New York, N.Y.

  • El

    Lol

  • ryan

    great article jess! nicely said

  • Tom

    Is this joke? Is this taunting us? Not sure how to read this.