College balances pandemic concerns with Homecoming 2021 plans

Jordan Furtak and Sasha Snyder

Modifications to Homecoming events this year include restricted building access and a to-go spirit tent. (Jordan Furtak/The Williams Record.)

College administrators are grappling with crowd control concerns and COVID-19 regulations as they plan for Homecoming, which will take place on Nov. 6. While Homecoming will look different than previous years, administrators are creating outdoor spaces for alums and students to gather and to revive traditions that did not happen last year due to the pandemic.

The football team is scheduled to play Wesleyan, a matchup that usually draws a smaller crowd than Homecoming games against Amherst, Director of Athletics Lisa Melendy said. Still, crowd control issues are a major concern for Homecoming planning this year. “I anticipate more alumni will come back than normal, especially those who might have been on teams that didn’t play last year or those who missed graduation,” Melendy said.

Christian Cuttita ’22.5, a member of the football team, expressed excitement at the prospect of facing Wesleyan on the field. “None of our current players or coaches have gotten the chance to beat Wesleyan in our time here,” he told the Record. “We’re confident this is the year that we can change that.”

Although the College’s official COVID guidelines are in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that masks be worn in crowded spaces outdoors, Melendy said that there has been little mask-wearing at football games this semester, and Homecoming will likely be no different.

“We’re telling people that they shouldn’t come to campus if [they are] not vaccinated,” she added. But she noted that the College will not be monitoring whether the outdoor spectators are all vaccinated.

Campus policy is that visitors can not come into most indoor campus spaces. Currently, the only campus buildings accepting outside visitors are the Office of Admission, Sawyer and Schow Libraries, the Williams College Museum of Art, and the Faculty House.

One pre-pandemic tradition that students and visitors can expect from Homecoming this year is pre-game tailgating. Student tailgating in the Towne Field House lot will be an option this year. There are 32 parking spaces available, which will be distributed through a lottery system. The link to sign up for the lottery has been sent to all Williams Students via email. The lottery will open today at 9 a.m. and close Oct. 29 at 5 p.m. Official College policy is that alcohol is not permitted in the parking lot nor at the event.

“The needle we’re trying to thread is that there is interest and enthusiasm from people who want to be able to come back to this community,” said Director of Classes and Reunions Ashley Cart ’05, who is in charge of Homecoming logistics for alums. “But also, the balance of we’re still in a pandemic, there’s still restrictions on who can be in campus spaces.”

The College also still plans to hold a version of the annual chili fest, with Dining Services catering free chili, which will be available at the game.

“Bodies hovering over food for extended periods of time is not right, but we will still have a chili fest [that] Dining is able to cater,” Cart said. “Everyone can come and get their favorite chili and grab a cider doughnut and do that.” The goal, she said, is to try to keep people moving rather than congregating in close proximity.

The Homecoming spirit tent will also be open at the football game, albeit with some adjustments. The tent usually offers face painting, arts and crafts, and spirit items. Out of concern for COVID safety, the Homecoming committee plans to forego face painting. “[Instead, we are] doing a grab-and-go spirit town where people can come get a selfie with Ephelia, grab a temporary tattoo … grab a cowbell, and … again, keep it moving,” Cart said.

While certain indoor events, like the Davis Center’s annual networking meetups for alums, will not happen this year, there will be other outdoor spaces for alums and students to gather, including tents reserved for individual alumni identity networks, a food truck, and a fall festival in the Science Quad.

Shreyam Misra ’21 is one alum who plans to return for Homecoming. “Having missed out on getting to watch a Homecoming game during senior year, it’s especially exciting to be allowed back on campus to support our teams,” he said.

“Given the volume of breakthrough COVID cases, I understand the administration’s decision to maintain somewhat strict COVID protocols,” Misra added. “I also appreciate the effort made to organize a number of outdoor events that alums can participate in while on campus.”

Some recent alums are looking forward to meeting up with their classmates who are still on campus. Will Cotter ’21, who is five months out of school, is “excited to return to campus to see [his] girlfriend and friends.”

Cotter also played for the football team as a student, and this Homecoming game will be his first since graduating. Reflecting on Homecoming’s past, he says his favorite memory was “having my head shaved my freshman year after beating Amherst.”

Frankie Stola ’21.5, a receiver on the football team, told the Record that, for him, “the best aspect [of the Homecoming game] is our march up Spring Street when we win.” This march is a tradition known as the Walk.

Apart from being the first Homecoming since the pandemic began, this year’s Homecoming will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Walk.

In 1971, after upsetting Amherst 31–14, the College’s football team loaded onto a bus for a ride from Weston Field to Cole Field House, but the bus would not start. The players decided to walk up Spring Street instead of waiting for their ride. In the 50 years since, the football team has taken this triumphant walk after each Homecoming victory.

The last Walk was in 2019, when football defeated Amherst 31–9. “[If football wins this year,] the team will walk up, and 50-year anniversary returnees who are coming will follow them on Spring Street,” Melendy said.