Three in Two Thousand: Jeongyoon Han ’21, Rebecca Tauber ’21, and Samuel Wolf ’21

Irene Loewenson and Kevin Yang

(Kevin Yang/The Williams Record)

During the tumultuous events of 2020, Jeongyoon Han ’21, Samuel Wolf ’21, and Rebecca Tauber ’21 served as the managing board of the Record. For our last regular issue of the spring semester, current Editor-in-Chief Kevin Yang ’22 and current Managing Editor Irene Loewenson ’22 sat down with them to discuss the experience of leading the Record through a most unconventional year. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Irene Loewenson (IL): What was it like leading the Record during a pandemic and adapting to being a remote institution and all that?

Samuel Wolf (SW): I mean, my thoughts are not totally formulated. I think the easiest way to put it is that it was difficult. Besides writing that main article [about the campus closure], another thing that epitomized those first few days, or those last few days, before we left campus, was the big whiteboard [where we would put] potential student story ideas, and things that seem obvious to us now having lived through it, but were just coming up to us at the first time. Like, people who don’t have WiFi connection — how are they going to do classes? People who have chemistry labs — how are they going to adapt to that? Questions that we were literally just thinking of on the spot and we knew would be important, but we had not given a second thought to before that. And just trying to put them on the board and gather this whiteboard that was going to become our collective knowledge. 

At the same time, I felt like there was a similar process taking place with the processes of how the Record operated, where the most obvious concern is: OK, well, print is no longer happening — put that on the whiteboard as something we can no longer do. But also, do weekly meetings still make sense? Does weekly output of news still make sense? How are we going to do meetings? Are we going to do everything through Zoom? Are they going to be as often? Are they going to be mandatory? And in the end, we didn’t make any participation in the spring mandatory, which I think was the right decision. But it was just an incredible amount to grapple with in such a short period of time. I really just felt most of all grateful for everybody on the Record, who seemed so eager and willing to help us tackle those questions and work through them. And it never felt like, [to] me personally, the three of us had to figure all that out on our own, because I don’t think we would have been able to.

Jeongyoon Han (JH): As Sam was saying, one thing that stuck out was that things weren’t mandatory. Since every part of life was upturned, so was the Record in the sense that we didn’t really need to keep on publishing things, since everyone was not sure what to do, how this semester would unfold — we didn’t need to go fully remote and keep on writing articles. But I think that having that potential to change directions gave us space to think and reassess what we were doing and why we’re doing it and what made it worth it. And I think in those discussions, we were able to realign ourselves to healthily approach reporting, and also expand what we talked about in our paper in each issue. We started thinking more about issues of race and justice and inequities during the pandemic, which we had lots of conversations about during protests around police brutality, too. Being able to incorporate our values in that way, more concretely into our reporting, was really meaningful for all of us. We had a lot of difficult conversations about that during the pandemic.

Rebecca Tauber (RT): Yeah, it feels hard to separate the pandemic and the racial justice protests of last summer, and all those hard conversations we were having, as Jeongyoon was saying. And also, when we first got sent home in March, after a couple weeks, our classes were all Pass/Fail, and they were much lower intensity — the stakes were much lower. And it was also a moment where nobody knew what was going on, nobody knew what things would look like over the summer, nobody knew what things would look like in the fall. We were sending out more surveys to students than we ever had before to get student opinions; we were talking to admin more than we ever had before — things like that. And I just remember feeling like my work for the Record as a reporter and as a leader of the Record was much more real than my classes. I remember feeling like the stakes of what we were doing were having a much larger impact than, you know, the last month and a half of my Pass/Fail class. And I also like to think that some of our [reporting] … kind of kept the Williams community a bit more connected in a way, when we were all unexpectedly spread across the country. 

JH: And we made deliberate decisions, new things that we decided to do, as well — like, expanding our local coverage, I think, was a key way to tie in all these different issues together because of the lawsuit that happened with the WPD [Williamstown Police Department]. That sparked a lot of conversations about racial justice and equity here in Williamstown, too. It shed a real spotlight on local issues for students at Williams, particularly, and for myself, too. I felt like I didn’t really think a lot about local politics in the first few years of my college career, but to now be a student reporter on these issues really showed me how important student journalism could be. And I think all of us felt really proud to be a part of an organization that decided to shift our efforts more to that. I’m glad that we all did this together, too.

Kevin Yang (KY): You guys have talked about a lot of the tumultuous parts of the semester, and a lot of it has to do with trying to lead the organization. Are there any lessons you’ve learned during that time about yourselves, Williams, [or] the community? 

RT: I think that what Jeongyoon said really applies, which is that local politics have real stakes and have a real impact on Williams students and the faculty and staff that we all interact with and love. And I think being engaged with that more than most students are is really important. I don’t mean that we’re engaged with that more than most students, like the entire Record board, but I just think, as Jeongyoon said, it’s not something I think most people think about until they’re pushed to think about. I feel like that’s something that I learned. 

Another thing I think four years of the Record has taught me, at least about Williams, is how short institutional memory is among the student body. I remember being a freshman on Record and the upperclassmen talking about controversies and activism that had happened before we were here, and they were kind of wisps of memories, and I can repeat half-stories back to people who are younger than me now, but I wasn’t here for them. And then, as a senior, it’s the same thing. I think about when Sam and I were news editors, especially [in] freshman year, we covered all the stuff that was really big at the time and [are] still big things, and then just seeing underclassmen, rightfully so, not know anything about them. It really honed in for me the amnesia. Especially as a senior who’s been on [the] Record since freshman year, having done news coverage of the College for the past four years, feeling like I have this four-year time capsule of the College that will just be lost when we graduate, because institutional memory is so short. 

SW: I think that’s kind of where my mind was headed to. College is just such a fundamentally strange place, where the vast majority of the people there don’t remember anything more than four years in the past directly. And then, the few people who do are in a very different sort of power position than the other ones. And I think that presents in lots of ways. But I think when I was a freshman on the Record, thinking back to that: a) I felt like I knew absolutely nothing and b) I felt like the seniors knew everything about Williams, and they were like Williams personified, and they could give me all of this knowledge. And then, you know, I would kind of soak it in over the course of four years. And then, eventually, I would be a senior, and I would know all this stuff, and then in certain ways, I [would] become more knowledgeable. But in certain ways, I still feel like I really know nothing. 

I’m amazed by just how vast of an institution Williams is, despite only having 2,000 people… I feel like the more time that I’ve been at Williams, and the more devoted I’ve been to the Record, the more I’ve sort of been aware of my own ignorance and of all of our ignorance. So I mean, maybe that’s a little bit depressing in the context of a newspaper, because I think, obviously, our job is to bring light to this college, but as I’ve gotten to know Williams better, I feel like the job of the Record has kind of seemed more and more challenging to me, rather than what I thought it might, which is, I thought it might seem easier and easier as I learn more.

JH: I think I learned about how being on a student newspaper could be a form of community service to the College because … there’s just so much knowledge that people have or might not even have about the College and having a newspaper and putting words to what is happening can be really impactful for a lot of students. 

Case in point, people really didn’t know what’s happening with the WPD or might not have known about it, unless we had maybe reported on it like other newspapers did, too. So I think, for me, it was a really important way to expand my sense of my time at Williams to be a community-oriented person by listening to others and hearing what they had to say about their college experience, or their thoughts about Williamstown. And it was really exciting to be able to just talk with people all the time. I think that’s just how I learn and how I engage with people who have different perspectives from me. So I just really appreciated having the built-in chance to do interviews and ask questions and think about different things.

SW: As an addendum to that, in terms of personal growth, one thing I’m very happy with is that the Record did push me out of my comfort zone to talk to people, because I am a naturally introverted person. And I was very, very shy starting out at college. I feel like it would have been very easy for me to retreat into a little bubble and not get to know anybody. And the Record pushed me to get to know people in ways that I was at times uncomfortable with, or annoyed that I have to spend 10 hours researching this story, or I’m not really in the mood to talk to somebody right now. But being forced to do that day in and day out has really helped me grow as a person. So I’m very grateful for that.

JH: And especially with people who were, you know, in a lot of the political spotlight for various issues, and learning to talk with them in respectful and empathetic ways while also bringing light to certain dynamics that were happening that were related to them. That was a really tough lesson that I am still learning, but the Record helped me get to that better.

RT: Yeah, I feel like it — kind of what you were saying — taught me a lot about the challenges and tensions of an institution like Williams, especially reporting on student activism or things where students, and often faculty, [are] protesting for a lot of issues that I really believe in. And being in the position of interviewing student activists advocating for things. And then also going to the other side, like Sam said, interviewing administration members or faculty members or things like that. I think it depends on how cynical you are. But interviewing a random dean who used to be a faculty member, and he used to be on the other side of things, and really seeing from that, “Oh, they don’t want these problems either. They don’t want to perpetuate the things that they inherently are perpetuating by being a part of an institution.” [That] kind of made me cynical about institutional change, because I feel like talking to people on multiple angles of an issue — it often feels like people might have the same goals, but that it’s much harder to accomplish change. 

KY: One more thing. Do you have any crazy Record experiences that I haven’t heard about? Just something really weird or crazy. 

SW: None for this interview.

JH: No, yeah, redacted.

RT: That’s a good question. I’m trying to think if I have anything that I wouldn’t want off the record.

SW: Just put that question and then [for] the answer just have: redacted, redacted, redacted.

RT: I will say Record Tuesdays — l’ll miss that. I mean, they’re really stressful. You’re in the office all day doing layout. I remember freshman year, Sam and I would get there early. We’d get there at like 8 a.m. No other sections would be there. And we would pull up their InDesign pages, and we would put weird pictures and memes all over them for our fellow section editors to see once they got in the office an hour later or something. I remember once, Sam spilled chocolate milk all over one of the computer wires and mouse.

SW: That’s overhyped.