“We do what we want”: Calling for the College to respect its neighbors

Paul Park

My sister, Jessica H. Park of the Jessica H. Park Mailroom, lives in a white house on Hoxsey Street opposite the new science center; I and her two sisters frequently visit, to provide her with company and support. A woman with autism, she has lived there since 1971 as the neighborhood around her, formerly vibrant and alive with families and children, has gradually changed. Our house is the last owner-occupied house on the street, which now consists largely of off-campus housing units.  

The current situation is challenging. At the back of the house we have a large, brightly lit parking lot, and, at the front, a huge construction site. While the College has tried to block some of the light hitting us from the lot, the constant noise from the construction has been especially unpleasant: the destruction of the old building, then months of bedrock blasting, which has toppled trees and cracked walls. Jessy, who like many autistic people is hyper-sensitive to noise, wears ear plugs supplemented by sound-cancelling earphones when she is in the house. In recent months, construction has stretched to six days a week, beginning at 8 a.m. and often continuing past 6 p.m. We planned a family dinner outside on our side porch Friday night. 6 p.m. came and went, with no abatement in the noise, then 7, then 8. We spoke to the foreman on the site, who was sympathetic but made clear that the work had to continue. At 9:30 we complained again. This time we spoke to another worker, who said, and I quote, “Fuck off.  We do what we want.” 

It was a clarifying moment. There is no reason to be sentimental and to think, for example, that because she is an elderly woman with a disability and no place else to go, or else as a long-time college employee, the daughter and sister of other long-time employees, Jessy should be afforded any special consideration, or be treated any differently than any of the other people who used to live on that and the adjacent streets. But it is bracing to be reminded so concisely of the College’s relationship with local residents. And in fact, if you look around town, you see example after example of “We do what we want” — not just the pervasive light pollution that makes Hoxsey, Southworth and Latham Streets challenging places to live, but also the constant construction and construction traffic.   

We understand that the College is competing for applicants with other liberal arts colleges, and with them hunting after an ever-smaller number of privileged students, but there is a disadvantage to this process of strangulation in the center of the town. Williams likes to think of itself as part of a functioning community with Spring Street at its center, and that was true at one time:  repair shops, dry cleaners, grocery stores, clothing stores, news stands, a drug store, a service station, a bakery, a shoe store, and dozens of professional offices. Now the street is a service artery for the college, with the form but not the substance of the main street of a pretty New England town.  Spring Street businesses are struggling, distinguished houses are torn down, living conditions in the immediate vicinity of the campus are exhausting and nerve-racking, and the illusion of partnership is less and less possible to maintain.  As our recent exchange with the worker on the new science center suggests, perhaps it’s better not to pretend anymore. For many years, our unofficial motto, translated roughly from the original languages, has been: “We are eager, through new construction and through other means, to maintain our number one position in a destructive college ranking system that we simultaneously deplore.” Perhaps it’s time to update the official one as well:  “Fuckus Offus,” instead of that “liberalitate/armigeri” nonsense and its whiff of outdated chivalry and generosity.  

 Paul Park, senior lecturer in English, has worked at the College since 2002.