Left behind: Why the College doesn’t care about you

Last week, I went to the Hollander language lab. The student employee scanned my ID and paused. “That’s weird,” he said. “Your card says 2016, but the computer system says you graduated in 2015.” This is just the latest in bureaucratic ineptitudes resulting from my status as an off-cycle student. Discovering this fall that the registrar or political science department disposed of my major declaration form at the conclusion of last year is another example. From these two instances and  many others, I can only conclude that the College does not care about me. The College doesn’t care about you either. Don’t let the bouncy houses fool you.

The College doesn’t care about me because, quite literally, it has made me insane. For people with genetic predispositions to mental illnesses like depression, bipolar and schizoaffective disorders, the early 20s is the most risky time of brain development. High stress and other mentally and emotionally strenuous conditions (a.k.a. college) can trigger the onset or advancement of these conditions. Meaning, mental illnesses are preventable! I firmly believe that if I had received better care at the College, I would have graduated in 2015.

Instead, what I received as care has ranged from ineffectual to outright damaging. During the height of my depression was an invitation to leave. To return to campus, I was coerced into divulging HIPAA-protected information, the contents of my off-campus therapy sessions, to non-medical profession-als. At the time, there was no 4+ Club for me to find community with other off-cyclists, so I felt very much alone. Without adequate psych services, I had a manic episode. The now-retired psychologist missed it as an early sign of bipolar, so I had two more manic and depressive episodes before he began treating me correctly. His failure to listen to me nearly caused a fatal side effect. I will carry bipolar as a chronic condition for the rest of my life. I have my mental health under control, but it is not because the College cares about me.

The College doesn’t care about you because it doesn’t provide enough opportunities for you to find mentors in your field of your gender or racial background. Because our culture valorizes exhaustion over flourishing. Because it doesn’t truly meet all your financial need. Because it engages in economic and environmental practices that are deplorable. Because it still doesn’t have a department for your history. Because the very structure of “a finals period” sets us all up for unhealthy behaviors. Because tenured professors who have documented histories of preying upon students continue to teach. Because the entry system makes you feel like the unpaid “diversity educator” when you’re the only one of a marginalized background. Because you’re a Junior Advisor and you give your labor for free. Because our sexual assault reporting process, even after all its improvements, still left you reeling. Because some don’t know the difference between “coddling” and accessibility. Because all you are to the College is a future donation check.

To me, care is about holistic wellbeing, which involves nurturing the person behind the student. Each instance of uncaring attempts to strip you of your inherent worth and supplant it with commodity value. The College will never care about you or me because it is an institution and a business. There’s no money in making sure students don’t graduate with trauma. (At least, not until Forbes includes in its algorithm the percentage of demand met by campus counseling.) The College the institution is not interested in preserving our dignity. This is something we must cultivate ourselves.

Stoic philosopher and former slave Epictetus likes to delineate what is in our power and what is not. “In our power are opinion, movement toward a thing, desire, aversion (turning from a thing); and in a word, whatever are our own acts. … And the things in our power are by nature free” even when appearances will have you believe you are hindered (Enchiridion, 11). When I imagine my dignity as within my power, I know it can only be degraded in appearances. In lieu of a donation (which will never ever come), here is a method for fighting for your dignity in a place that wants to squash it: Think about what at the College makes you want to turn away, craft your opinion and move toward that thing. Whenever you come up to an obstacle, hold fast to your power. The College can never take your worth, your dignity or your freedom.

Em Nuckols is allegedly a senior political science major from Minnetonka, Minn. They live on Water Street.

Comments (12)

  1. This piece of writing is absurd and goes against everything the College stands for. Williams aims to provide the most rigorous academic experience possible, preparing its students to be leaders in whatever endeavor they choose to pursue. For a student to blame her on personal problems on the rigors of such an education is misguided and reveals that perhaps it’s not that she should be graduating in 2016, but that she should actually not be graduating until she has learned the important lessons the College has to offer.

    1. Leaders present new ideas, which they have definitely done here. Regurgitating empty platitudes does not leave me with same impression.

      1. Rhi…in no stretch of the English language can the ideas in this thought piece be described as “new”.

        We’ve heard them before.

        The externalisation of blame is an old, old game, and it’s getting a bit tiresome now. Anyone with a sentient brain can play it. And they usually do, after all, it’s easier than reflecting on the role their own choices have played in their happiness (or unhappiness).

        Fact is: happiness is a choice. Williams taught me that.

        And choice goes beyond happiness. If you mingle with people you dislike, you can choose to part ways with them. If you don’t like numbers, you can choose to study something that suits your curiosity. If you find yourself overcommitted, like too little butter over too much bread, you can choose to re-examine which commitments are truly important to you.

        And though you didn’t choose to be predisposed to having mental health problems, you could have chosen to have gone to and/or stayed in a community that wouldn’t have strained your mental and intellectual capacities to the limits (the way that a top-ranked college does).

        The point is that you have CHOICE. Choice over your actions. Choice over your self-reflection. Choice over your self-awareness. You can choose to recognise that you are one individual in a community of two thousand other individuals, each different from the other in some way, shape, or form, and that none can be 100 percent happy 100 percent of the time. And yet, that doesn’t mean Williams care NOTHING about you, or them.

        After all, you CHOSE to come here. You CHOSE to take time off. And all the while, Williams held on to your spot, so that it was still there when you CHOSE to return.

        That I have to explain this to a grown twenty-two (or twenty-three) year old adult is by itself something to give pause over.

        1. What you just wrote might just be the single most neoliberal exegesis I’ve ever read. Who we are, who we can be, how are happiness develops, how are brain develops, etc. is vitally interrelated with the institutions and communities that we live in. To base happiness or self-development in a dehumanizing, objectifying, market-derived ideology masked through “personal accountability” is profoundly unempathetic and reductive.

  2. I comiserate with the author, I sincerely do- I’ve had to take time off for my mental health as well, and it’s hard. It’s incredibly hard. But the job of Williams is to offer means of support to its students, not to take care of adults. If you don’t like the JA system, you shouldn’t have been a JA. If Williams was too stressful and too isolated, if it was a bad fit for your mental state, you could have considered another school. Being an adult means accepting the pros and cons of each situation and doing what’s best for you.

  3. Em,

    At some point this year, and for the previous 3, around $60,000 of someone’s money (either your parents or someone else’s) was transferred from their account to the school’s ownership on your behalf. Where I grew up, rural america, that’s 10 years rent. I could have lived 40 years rent free, writing poetry, off of the total of your tuition. For that sum I would want a personal attendant feeding me grapes and telling me I’m wonderful at least once every 5 minutes, so I guess I don’t begrudge you for insisting you get your money’s worth. Of course, I went to Williams as well and wasn’t nearly as demanding. I felt kind of spoiled actually, especially after hearing horror stories from other places, of professors and TAs who didn’t speak English and administrations who forget you exist and don’t provide you a dorm for years at a time. But maybe I should have put my foot down and demanded more. I guess I settled for the prestige, the world class education you probably couldn’t get anywhere else, the kind of education where there are probably 10’s of thousands of people that would switch spots with you in an instant, just in your age group. My younger brother, who was rejected this past spring despite having >4.0 GPA, stellar SATs, and being a legacy (because me), would be one of those people. I feel bad for him, because he did work really hard, maybe even harder than me. But maybe he can transfer in later, if he doesn’t like the other school he got into, and if people who don’t feel like they’re getting their money’s worth make room. There are a lot of state schools out there that are *honestly* a great value, where you can do top of the line research because they tend to be big, research universities that get a lot of money in grants.

    I guess you’ve made your choice to be in it until the end, I respect that. I respect the drive that enables someone to get through 4 years at Williams College, and no one paying that much money should be allowed to be sad. Still, if I was to be honest with you, I think you would find getting through Williams much easier if you lost the sense of entitlement, even if you feel like you deserve it. You have more resources at Williams than 99.99% of the population. You are the .01%. Think about the list of people that need to be helped out of good will. You are quite low on that list. You have up to 3 buffet style meals per day, a high chance of having single dorm, Phds selected for their teaching ability providing your education, and free mental health services, because that’s what you paid for. And dammit, if that’s not enough you should demand more, cause that’s a lot of money. But I wouldn’t suggest that Williams College administration and faculty do not care about you, because I think they are good people. You need to be patient with them so that they have time to understand your heightened needs. They are human.

  4. The nexus of this article is that students should have access to adequate (competent) medical care. The fact that some of you find this contentious is absolutely baffling. No one chooses to have a psychiatric emergency and then be misdiagnosed and poorly cared for to the tune of a nearly dying of obvious and well documented side effects. Then as a result of someone else’s incompetence being forgotten and ignored by the responsible institution is absolutely adding insult to injury. The fact that in my time at Williams people have shown themselves willing to entertain notion that the limited availability of concert tickets is unjust, but they cannot see the injustice in the unavailability of adequate medical care is wild.

    1. The lack of adequate psychological care at Williams is clearly not the point of this article. That is the core of the tenable argument; the portion of the piece that makes it admissible in a publication.

      The author’s intent is to condemn the institution for every ‘failing’ they can possibly drum up; it is a ‘resistance’/’protest’ piece from someone ‘oppressed by the system’. The article opens by claiming that *clerical errors* are a clear indicator of Williams’ indifference, blind greed, and sinister corporate underpinnings. This is a polemic projection of the author’s emotions about the school, not an eye-opening or even particularly effective exploration of the mental health system.

      How does the author attempt to convince you, the reader, about the poor quality of psych services? On this point, they claim that:

      – They experienced stress
      – They developed or discovered that they had bipolar disorder
      – A college psychologist (who is no longer with the college) missed it repeatedly.

      Now, clearly, the college could do much better. Those with mental disorders find it very difficult on social/emotional/motivational levels to go and seek out help, meaning that the college should be proactive about this. It’s unfortunate that this student slipped through the cracks, and it is certainly inadmissible that the quality of care is (ostensibly) so low for $60k per annum in tuition, room, and board.

      However, from another perspective: the college is not a private primary or secondary school; it is an institution for adults, and it is also not a psychological facility. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that the college is not realistically *expected* to provide anything more than perfunctory psychological care, and that students should not be surprised about experiencing great amounts of stress, given its reputation and ranking.

      Is this a valid defense? This article doesn’t address that question, or in fact anything approaching it — it is an utter waste of time. It captures none of the nuance of the situation, instead providing the angry screams of a 20-something in pain. The author might have had an effective article if they had done the basic work to lay out an argument, set up the opposition, and knock them down. Instead, we get an onslaught of largely-unsubstantiated anectodes and emotions:

      – Clerical errors mean that Williams doesn’t care
      – In my opinion, if I had better care, I would have graduated last year
      – I felt that the college was pressuring me into divulging information I didn’t want to
      – I developed bipolar disorder BECAUSE the therapist didn’t catch it
      – The college doesn’t provide ‘mentors’ that fit the profile of *every student*, so how can we be expected to flourish?
      – In my opinion, the culture at the school is bad
      – The college can’t/won’t help me pay my tuition
      – (Ironically) The college is evil because it asks for donations
      – I volunteered for a position that I wasn’t emotionally or psychologically qualified for, and it’s the college’s fault that it let me take it
      – The college does a whole paragraph of other nonspecific bad things, all starting with ‘because’
      – In my opinion, the college is a cruel business that doesn’t care about you

      P1. Care includes psychological services
      P2. When you are *not* cared for, it’s a human rights violation
      P3. The college did not provide me adequate psych. services
      => C. I have suffered a human rights violation. QED

      The author closes with a quotation from Epictetus, which is heavily ironic in the context of the article, because though Epictetus was born a slave, his philosophy was one of discipline and calm in the face of adversity, not protest and indignance. Further, Epictetus claims that the one thing individuals do control is their own actions; the author, however, was in fact incapable of taking action to ensure their mental health, and is apparently distraught enough to allow their emotions to get the better of them.

      As a result, we got this diatribe, in place of something that might have actually had potential to effect change.

      And in lieu of a poorly-wrought speech about human dignity, I leave you with the suggestion that you consider whether the article actually has a point to make, or if it simply exists to evoke an emotional response.

  5. In the Spring before I graduated, during a early night, I walked the sidewalk near Memorial Chapel. A disheveled, world-weary, nameless middle-aged woman appeared near me. I acknowledged her. The night was cool, and a breeze lightly danced amidst the nearby trees. We talked. We sat on the high steps of Hopkins Hall looking out at the souless Sawyer Library. Memories came to her and she shared her heart. I listened. There was silence except for the gentle breeze. She was a Williams graduate who had fallen into financial turmoil and mental illness. Deep from her heart, she shared with me that in her freshman year at the College, she had been assaulted. The College did nothing. We looked out at the brick monstrosity of a library before us. She whispered to me, “Whenever I even go near that library, I break out into hives and have flashbacks”. The deep chasms of the library held dark secrets. We in a very real way, stared at her past. We silently departed into the night, two strangers in a strange land. Yes, the College has many lights. Great minds. Some great classes. The deeply entrancing lights of consulting and finance lucre. Professors and Deans with the all words and intellectual light the world has to offer. Students awash in the light of computer screens. But where is the Light of Love? Love willing to be vulnerable, not not just showing empathy or sympathy, but compassion, willing to bear, and heal another’s wounds as if they our own? Where is the acknowledgment that the irrationality of Love is the most rational response to life, indeed, the answer to life’s deepest questions? Where is the acknowledgment that we are all but clay, all equally yearning for love, seeking love, questing for love, love that is true, lasting, real. Amidst the ceaseless rushing, competing, where is the acknowledgement that in the end, when silence reigns, the gentle whispers from the heart are all that matter, all that counts? Where is the acknowledgment of the most profound lesson of existence, that there is no wisdom apart from love?

  6. Em,

    Amidst your deep suffering, you have come closer to Truth and Wisdom and Light than any administrator can possibly fathom. You are truly probing some very deep truths about the College. I commend you for your courage. The reality of the modern secular college is that the entire College is designed for the benefit of the professors and administrators, and to a lesser degree, those that are consumed by the world: the allurements of wealth, prestige, pleasure, envy, comfort, convenience, and selfishness of every stripe. There is no true learning or wisdom at Williams College. None. Only molding, shaping, posturing for careers that end in gilded coffins surrounded by people in expensive dresses and suits.

    Not a single student at the College needs the College. Any student admitted at the College could be a superstar anywhere. The College wants you to believe you need the College, that the administrators, professors, fellow students obsessed with themselves are essential for your career and development. Nothing is further from the Truth.

    Think about it. Does it make any sense that professors and administrators are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year with world-class benefits with many weeks of vacation a year? The professors and administrators pretend that everything is about the student, that the College is “student-centric”. But those with wisdom recognize that Williams, like many secular colleges, are all about the professors and administrators. The modern secular college is merely a wealth transfer of the most pernicious kind, a transfer from vulnerable students to professors and administrators who have assimilated the highest degree of arrogance, selfishness and narcissism into their very souls. Look at the administrators at the College. For many, the College is but a stepping stone to even greater wealth and more prestige as President or top administrator at another college. Who are these administrators really serving? The answer: themselves. The Truth is always hard.

    Oxford and the University of Paris are among the first modern Western universities. The modern university developed in a profoundly Christian setting. There was some understanding that the intangibles of life: kindness, meekness, humility, love, virtue, light, not only mattered a lot, they were everything. The modern “secular” university has fallen very far from its initial moorings, and is not only an absurdity, it is a monstrosity without a soul, without the Light that only comes from Above, not below.

  7. Dear Jonn,

    What professors did you have here? Clearly not historians or you would probably have a better understanding of the history of education. It’s striking, too, that you have no understanding of the difference between professors and administrators. I have been through so much as a student here, also struggling with mental illness, and cannot imagine encountering teachers of greater wisdom and grace than some of mine here. And hundreds of thousands of dollars? Seriously? These people went to school forever to earn PHDs and spend their lives in this little town with little to offer, for very little money comparatively. I literally want to scream in defense of the faculty when I read this. Shame on you and your ignorance and your idiotic moral posturing.

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