We take care of our own: One Eph’s perspective on divisions at Williams

Jason (Bum

I write this piece because it is important there remains a historical record that we are not as divided on this campus as it seems based on the representation of recent campus events.

The perspectives of alums who tunnel themselves into data on blogs to recommend admission practices that erase rich stories of Ephs’ varied experiences, or self-marketers whose primary goal is to trigger newsworthy reactions to get in front of a Senate hearing committee, have been unrepresentative of Williams as a community over the past few years. For that matter, the events of this past week surrounding the placement and removal of objects in Hollander Hall, Schapiro Hall and Hopkins Hall and the ensuing confusion have only added to escalated tensions and denigrations of the other. These events that spark the most attention create perceptions of our education and community running amok. These perceptions are those which cause the likes of Ephraim Williams, Mark Hopkins, Allison Davis and Jack Sawyer to roll over in their graves.

On balance, however, let us not forget that these events represent peripheral viewpoints that are seemingly motivated by vanity from all sides. Most of us would not even take sides on this issue. Although it is easy to get emotionally charged up over an issue (which I myself am guilty of, sometimes for the good and other times for the bad), these headline events and perceptions that we are more divided than ever with broken relationships do not reflect the significant majority of people at this College. Overarching voices and actions around issues of identity and bias do not reflect the majority of students who go to classes, professors who help us in office hours or staff who serve us in the dining hall and maintain our facilities. 

The great American philosopher Anthony Bourdain once encapsulated what we must remember in times of appalling behavior that challenge our notions of fairness and justice. Williams, like the rest of the world, is filled with a “hell of a lot of nice people … who are doing what everyone else in this world is trying to do: the best they can to get by, and take care of themselves and the people they love.” And when you now question what I mean by “Williams,” I mean the people who make up the College as a whole – without the people, there simply is no institution. 

People trying to do their best at Williams means something different for everyone. For some, it’s about social justice activism. For others, it’s about building community. For me, it’s trying to learn as much as possible from the people here and trying to give back a fraction back to others of the kindness I’ve received from strangers and friends alike. The list is endless. The simple point is that we do not succumb to our worst impulses when engaging with other human beings. Consider this radical thought – what if most of us on this campus are motivated by trying to do the best they can to get by and take care of themselves?

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have to agree with you to like or respect you. Neither should you. I’ve had conversations with both politically extremist left-wing and right-wing (and even frustrated moderate) professors, students and staff one-on-one where I disagree with everything they stand for.  I may not be singing kum-ba-yah with everyone on campus, skipping down Chapin Hall Drive, but it is more than possible to maintain great respect for each other as human beings when we understand everyone is an accumulation of their own unique experiences. This process of putting these words into action for actual healing won’t be easy. But if you would pardon a cliche: Nothing worth achieving comes easy.

This piece aims to capture one student reaction to the campus atmosphere over the past four years rather than place judgment on who or what is right or wrong. What we need at Williams is not more division, hatred and anguish. Rather, what we need is an environment less conducive to quick judgment and more time spent trying to understand each other so that each of us can maximize and fulfill our potential, elevating each other and the community. I hope some of these reminders resonated with at least one person. Now let’s focus on what matters and build the Williams we have come to love and will love for generations to come. 

Jason (Bum Shik) Kim ’19 is an economics major from Palisades Park, N.J.