Pressed for time

Question: Would you rather A) turn in your tutorial paper on time and get three hours of sleep and doze off in your 1:10 p.m. senior seminar despite the four shots of espresso you downed in Goodrich that morning? Or B) turn in your tutorial paper late and get six hours of sleep and manage to catch yourself before you start snoozing in front of your favorite professor? As with every totally subjective Would You Rather scenario, there is a correct answer here. And since I’m the one writing this op-ed, I will offer up choice B as that answer.

Before I go any further, I want to clarify that I do not advocate turning in work late as a regular habit. As students we enter into certain agreements in the classroom, among which is doing our best to honor deadlines. As much as we – students, alumni, admissions – sometimes idealize Williams as an unmediated space for intellectual growth and stimulation, this is an institution for higher learning. As such, timelines exist. Classroom time is scheduled. The syllabus must be followed. Deadlines, like I said before, must be met.

But they shouldn’t be met at the price of students’ health – or their love of learning, which, one could argue, speaks to another kind of well-being. As an institution of higher learning, the College’s academic rigor is undoubtedly one of its greatest strengths. It attracts incredible faculty and keeps us at the top of various well-known college rankings year after year. But I also want to gesture to the flip side of that rigor, which inevitably encourages a “more-is-better” culture where producing essays and lab reports becomes rote. Freshman year, it took me three days to write a five-page essay. By the end of my sophomore year, I had it down to twenty-four hours. My current personal record for writing a five-page essay is four hours, and I know friends who have done it in half that time. As a senior, I’m trying to unravel this habit of mechanized writing. I know, in my head as well as my heart, that I write best when I give myself time. Time lets me meditate on the issue at hand, consider the weight of my words, revise and revisit. Time produces a different sort of production, one less about the deadline and more about the stakes of the material at hand.

Of course, time is exactly what students don’t have here. Or rather, we have time, but we also have schedules, schedules that fill up alarmingly fast with sports practices and club meetings and office hours and work shifts, not to mention the hours we need to sleep and complete our classwork. Not to mention the time we need to nurture our friendships or fall in love or maybe do nothing at all. These are all ways to pass time that may not make us more productive members of this institution, but that do nurture the parts of us that cannot be institutionalized.

In the end, I’m not arguing for Williams students to cultivate better time management skills, although those too are often necessary here. Instead, I ask my classmates to think hard about how they occupy time here at the College – or how our time occupies us. What is lost when we force ourselves to live 30 minutes at a time, accounting for every single minute of our day? What does this reveal not only about our lives here, but also about the larger mechanisms of production in American life? (Those questions will have to remain rhetorical for the sake of length here, but email me if you want to talk more about them.)

The answer is B, kids: Turning in that paper three hours late to get three hours more sleep is a choice, one that is not rewarded by institutionalized time. But sometimes, it’s the right one.

Sophia Rosenfeld ’15 is an English major from Ridgewood, N.J. She lives on Hoxsey Street.