Upon arriving on campus this fall, most students were greeted with sparsely furnished dorms. A few College-supplied towels, minimal bedding and information on quarantine procedures awaited, as did a “quarantine care package” of various foods supplied by Dining Services. To some, one particular food item stood out: a plethora of milk.
“I just opened the fridge and saw 14 milk cartons and was like, ‘This is it,’” Javier Robelo ’22 said.
Robelo, one of the first students to return to campus, proceeded to tweet about the “quarantine milk,” catching the attention of Gigi Gamez ’22. Gamez shortened it into “quilk,” and a new word in the Williams lexicon was born.
“I just combine words a lot,” Gamez said. “When I coined the term, it didn’t feel like it was going to be some revolutionary thing. It was mostly just a stupid comment on my friend’s post.”
Although it follows in the tradition of other one-syllable abbreviations like “Snar,” “Drisc” and “WOC,” “quilk” is a bit different. The term is not associated with a location or club on campus, but rather a specific point in time: the strictly mandated individual quarantines of the COVID-19 era. In such an emotionally taxing setting, quilk has been a nucleus around which students were able to connect.
After Gamez’s comment, quilk very quickly took on a life of its own — both on and offline.
“Since people have started moving back on campus, my entire feed is just filled with references to Williams quarantine, what life is like at Williams, and the quilk,” said Majda Murati ’21, who is studying remotely.
“My frosh were definitely talking about it,” said JA Georgia McClain ’22. “People weren’t calling it quilk, but they were commenting on how much milk they were given and how it was probably impossible to drink it all.”
“While milk that you’re given by the College is a mundane experience, I think it became such a phenomenon because it was representative of this crazy experience that we were all collectively going through,” said McClain, whose own mundane experience with quilk is still unfolding. “I’ve been out of quarantine since [August] 28, and I’m still going through them,” she said, adding that her frosh had foisted their unwanted quilk upon her.
Other students have since come up with spinoff terms for other quarantine foods, notably “quogurt” for vanilla yogurt and either “quoat milk” or “oat quilk” for oat milk. Still, quilk remains the most widely used term on campus.
It would be an exaggeration to say that quilk has been a constant in every student’s semester so far. Not only did vegan and non-dairy students receive “quoat milk” instead, but remote students, who make up about a fifth of this semester’s enrollment, were excluded from quilk distribution altogether.
“I’m not a big milk fan, so I can’t imagine the quilk would be that appealing,” said Murati, who is remote this semester. But to her, the quilk phenomenon is symptomatic of a larger struggle.
“I’m sure every remote student will tell you it was a difficult decision for them to decide to stay remote for the semester,” Murati said. “Seeing everyone talk about Williams and being there has been particularly hard for me to hear.”
She even singled out the online discourse surrounding quilk in a post in the “Williams Memes for Sun-Dappled Tweens” Facebook group, in which she lamented the struggle of watching her on-campus friends reunite. The caption? “reminder to ft your remote friends who rlly don’t wanna see another post about the quilk.”
Despite her personal feelings of exclusion, Murati agreed that the quilk appeared to be a unifying factor among students facing the solitude of in-room quarantine. It is also possible that the quilk could have fostered College pride: Both Murati and Gamez favorably contrasted the experience of quarantined students at the College with that of some NYU students who gained fame on TikTok by unboxing their school’s unsatisfactory quarantine meals.
On-campus students appeared to share an appreciation for the efforts made by Dining Services to supply students with ample food — and perhaps more-than-ample milk.
Robelo had a simple message for Dining Services: “Thank you for the milk — for the quilk, specifically.”
“I think it was great for them to do,” Gamez said. “I think it’s really nice to see how much they wanted to make sure we had enough milk.”
Dining Director Temesgen Araya was pleasantly surprised. “I was not aware about the subset of students who were enthusiastic about milk,” he said. “I think it’s fantastic that dining had a hand in having any influence on student culture.”