The Williams commune brings alumni together again

October 19, 2016 by R.B. Smith, Contributing Writer

Members of the Williams commune in New York City enjoy living with fellow Ephs, and three couples have emerged in the apartments. Photo courtesy of Austin Davis.

Members of the Williams commune in New York City enjoy living with fellow Ephs, and three couples have emerged in the apartments. Photo courtesy of Austin Davis.

At the College, communal living is a fact of life. From living in an entry as a first-year to forming pick groups, group living can be frustrating at times, but also a lot of fun. As recent alums make their way in the real world, many look back fondly on their four years of dorm life. For some students, however, living with fellow Ephs doesn’t end with graduation.

That’s what Austin Davis ’12 and Robert Khederian ’12 found out when they moved into a new apartment in Upper Manhattan this past summer. Upon their arrival, they were warmly welcomed into a little corner of New York City affectionately known as the “Williams Commune” — a little slice of Williamstown nestled in the heart of New York City.

The Commune’s origins were humble. Two years ago, Sabine Chishty ’12, Lily Wong ’12 and John Mather ’12 moved into a small apartment in Harlem’s Hamilton Heights district. When Chris Fox ’11, Evan Maltby ’11 and a non-Eph friend were looking to move to the area the following year, they found an apartment right next door and decided to move in. Later, when Fox and Maltby’s friend moved out, Davis and Khederian moved in.

The transformation from innocuous Harlem apartment to mini purple bubble was complete, and the Williams Commune was born.

So what’s it like straddling the divide between adult and college student? On one hand, the members of the Commune have their own budding careers to contend with — from education, to journalism, to community organizing, to  acting. On the other hand, the Commune retains a lot of the small-college-community feel.

“I love having this tight-knit community all around me, even in the big city,” Davis said. “In some ways, the Commune feels a lot like an extension of Williams here in the city — I still have good friends living right around me, and it’s just nice to come home to so many friends each day.”

The Commune also sees its fair share of romance. Khederian is dating Mather, and Fox is dating Chishty.  Wong’s boyfriend, Deon Soogrim ’12, lives in a nearby building and is over so much that he has become an informal member of the Commune.

“Sometimes it feels like we’re on an endless triple-date. But we’re all good friends, so it’s a good one. Frankly, it tends to be nice in its stability,” Chishty said.

“Having so many couples together is my favorite part of the commune! It’s just a really loving place, obviously! … And we have a good balance of domesticity and ratchetness, I think,” Davis said.

For most of the Commune’s residents, life isn’t all that different from an entry. From family dinners, “Robert and John are big chefs, so they’ll often be cooking,” Davis said, to movie nights and birthday parties, the Commune puts on social bonding events that would make any Junior Advisor proud.

Much like in an entry, “the biggest challenge is just in navigating everyone’s schedules! Like at Williams, people in the city are very busy, and we all work different hours. … Then, if you consider six other people’s schedules, it means I’ll sometimes go weeks without seeing one or more of my commune-mates,” Davis said.

Nevertheless, the joys greatly outweigh the challenges.

“You come home to people who are thoughtful, aware and kind, which is how I think of Williams folks at their best,” Chishty said. “When we mention Williams, nobody thinks we’re talking about William & Mary,” Khederian said. “It’s nice to be with other people who share the experience of Williams.”

Eph influence extends beyond the general atmosphere, too. Most notable is the full size Chapin Hall Drive street sign “still on its pole, like it was ripped straight from the ground,” Davis said. Its origins are dubious — Davis worked for a year with Cullen Roberts ’10 at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn., and, when Davis moved into Roberts’ old apartment, it had been left there. The story goes that an Amherst cross-country team member stole it right off of Chapin Hall Drive itself, and, after Roberts stole it back, he decided to take it to New York, later bequeathing it to Davis. The story behind the Chapin Hall Drive sign is “very mysterious,” and it’s best not to think on it too much, Davis said.

The sign represents only a single episode in the ongoing saga that is the Williams Commune. If it all sounds a little fantastical to you, you’re not alone.

“I thought sitcoms were impossible visions of what group life could be like, but ours is so often like a sitcom — misunderstandings, running jokes, banter, et cetera, et cetera that we joke about one day selling the rights,” Chishty said.

In the meantime, we can only listen and wonder at those lucky few that get to drag college life along with them out of the purple bubble.

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