Homecoming: A return of the College community in more ways than one

Amy Sosne

During Homecoming on Nov. 6, the College community — alums, students, staff, and faculty — came together. All entered the gate of the Farley-Lamb Field and it was like there was a transformation. Crowded bleachers, young children running around, balloons everywhere — it was a surreal experience in contrast to the weight of academics, extracurriculars, and social pressures that this first “real” semester back with COVID-19 has placed on the College community.

When you walked anywhere on and even off campus during Homecoming, you felt the energy, optimism, and comfort of a living, supporting, and “homey” (bad pun, but the best description!) community. Though foliage in the Berkshires has peaked, many trees are bare, and winter looms ahead, the vibrancy of the community flooded throughout Williamstown. Students were happy!

But as Saturday rolled into Sunday, the College climate went from the optimism of Homecoming to the “back to the grind” mentality overnight. Some students felt guilt from spending their entire Saturday on fun instead of working on a lab report, a history paper, getting caught up on English reading, or finishing a chemistry problem set.

We need to take a pause. What experiences are going to give students well-being, self-confidence, and belonging during their four years at the College? Many students have already lost so much in the past 18 months because of COVID restrictions, which have reinforced isolation and a lack of community.

When students graduate, what is going to make them more “successful?” Is it refining that chemistry lab report, or is it taking part in a program in a local school helping socioeconomically disadvantaged students? Is it going to be reading hundreds of pages on Kant alone in the library and memorizing all of the possible paintings that could be “unknowns” in the next art history quiz? Yes, learning to study, read, analyze, and succeed academically is a priority, but what students really need are activities that will further develop and enhance their interpersonal skills, leadership skills, and experiences in the real world. While volunteering experiences should not be replacements for in-class analysis, and assignments, they need to complement the current College experience. These opportunities are available to students, but students do not have the time to engage in another extra activity that does not satisfy academic requirements or is not a mandatory part of a class. Students need time carved out in order to have these experiences outside of the Williams community, which are essential to their social and emotional healing from the isolation of the pandemic as well as their sense of self. Students are more than what they accomplish in the classrooms; they are an integral part of a larger community in Berkshire County. Immersive experiences within surrounding communities need to be part of the general Williams curriculum.

It is time to return to the whole Williams College community prioritizing well-being, supporting one another, and leaving the bags and the load on the outside for just a little bit. Let the community become a home once again: a haven and comfort, just as it was for a moment on Homecoming.

As students enter fall break, let’s take this time to pause, reprioritize, and come back not to be ground further into the challenges of the end of semester, but to come back slightly removed from this grind. Let’s come back and create a warmer home as we cozy up into the New England winter. We have a strong, supportive Williams community, and there are many fulfilling experiences to be had in surrounding local communities. We need to use the skills and abilities that we have to help each other, teach each other, support one another, and connect within and outside of our community. An entrymate may be an amazing baker, a roommate may be an extraordinary knitter, a colleague might have an extensive meditation and mindfulness practice that they can teach and share, a classmate might have a daily yoga practice that they can teach and share. With all of the talent and skill in our community, let’s look to one another to help support each other through this difficult time; the ingredients are there, it’s time to collaborate and make something sweet and great.

Amy Sosne ’05 is the North Adams Coordinator for Williams Elementary Outreach at the Center for Learning in Action.