When you tell an adult you’re a college student, the next question is, inevitably, “So, what’s your major?” As a first-year at the College, I am just beginning to formulate my plan. Sophomores, however, have recently hit the major milestone of declaring their major(s). Along with the academic exploration and faculty friendships that these students have to look forward to over the next two years, declaring a major can also have other perks. Beyond the eternal wisdom and guidance extended to those students who have committed to their given discipline, departments also often offer special swag to new majors. I spoke to various departments on campus for an inside scoop on what they give and why.
There are many rumors that circulate about what each department gives or used to give. The mathematics department has been said to give out bottle openers, and Frank Morgan, professor of mathematics and chair of the department, does not dispute this. At their “Famous Majors’ Banquet,” new math and statistics majors “receive a treasured beverage wrench,” Morgan said. Majors also receive stickers that read “Functions Describe the World,” and a cowbell is sounded to announce the new majors. “It’s all just to celebrate math/stats,” Morgan said. With all of the time they spend figuring out problem sets, bottle openers and stickers are fun gifts to help the new majors relax.
Another bit of College lore is that the English department gives out duffel bags. John Limon, professor of English and chair of the department, did not actively deny this rumor but stated that “the English department offers new majors the prospect of two more years of rich reading and writing in the company of brilliant scholars, poets and novelists, plus candy.” Unfortunately, it seems as though the English department, has phased out the physical gift of a duffel bag and phased in greater intellectual conversations. English majors undoubtedly appreciate this greater emphasis on intellectualism and are assuredly not bitter at all over the absence of free duffel bags.
While bottle openers are unique, duffel bags legendary and stickers always appreciated, the History department has decided to give out another sort of gift: a very cool t-shirt. Apparently, the history department has been handing out the same shirt for years. The history department also offers its new majors something that seems to be a common major gift at the College: food. Linda Saharczewski, the department’s administrative assistant, explained that that “once [new majors] meet with faculty and register as a major, they are given a history t-shirt [and] are invited to the history department barbecue.” The psychology department similarly offers a picnic where new and current majors can meet with faculty and their families while enjoying a fun, informal dinner.
Not all departments, however, give something out or put on a picnic. Ken Kuttner, the chair of the economics department and professor of economics, admitted that he is “ashamed to say that we’re a bit behind the curve when it comes to departmental swag.” The department has distributed custom “Williams Economics” chocolates to students, according to Kuttner, “but those aren’t exclusively reserved for new majors.” There is still hope, however, for first-years hoping to declare an economics major. “We hope to do something more exciting next year – like a ‘Williams Economics’ stapler,” Kuttner said. “And I think there’s a t-shirt in the works, but not in time for this year’s crop of new majors.”
Kuttner’s department may be behind the curve, but he did offer some insight into why departments might want to create departmental swag: “For fun, really,” he said. It’s a way, he said, “to lighten things up for the dismal science.” James McAllister, professor of political science and chair of the department, also shared why his department chooses to give something to its new majors. The gray “Williams Political Science” t-shirt “is simply a small gift that recognizes their commitment to our department, as well as something that contributes to a sense of greater unity among our majors,” he said. More than just a physical token of the department, the swag marks a community within the College.
Major swag can be found in all different forms on campus. T-shirts, bottle openers, stickers and picnics on the lawn abound at the College, all helping students to recognize that declaring a major is more than just a pledge to a course of study – it is a declaration of allegiance to an amazing group of faculty, students and educational opportunities. Declaring a major takes careful consideration and planning, and it definitely doesn’t hurt to receive a gift from one’s new department as a reward for making this important decision.