The College’s responsibility to the Class of 2024

Jackson Small

In an October 2021 address, Chaplain to the College Rev. Valerie Bailey Fischer commended the Class of 2024 for its resilience and adaptability in the face of COVID-19-induced uncertainty, claiming that everyone at the College can learn something from the Class of 2024. Although I hear Rev. Bailey Fischer, I am not convinced that she has the right voice for telling this tale. Masked by the supposed adaptability of the junior class is a year’s worth of anxiety and social isolation experienced by many juniors and their subsequent resentment of the College for its indifference.

As a first-year, I was greeted not with WOOLF trips, EphVentures, or first-year mixers, but instead with five days of quarantine, online classes, and social suppression. To clarify: I do not blame the College for its policies at that time. Unprecedented times, such as the beginning of the pandemic, called for unprecedented restrictions. The College did what it felt was necessary to flatten the curve. But have they done enough to reverse its social effects?

This op-ed is a long time in the making — honestly, I went back and forth on whether or not I should even write this piece at all. How is it fair to criticize the College for factors that were out of its control? I have wrestled with this question. Ultimately, I decided that it was important to represent the perspective of our often-overlooked class even if it meant condemning aspects of the College’s post-shutdown protocol.

Instead of working to fix the social shortcomings of its strong and resilient Class of 2024, the College chooses to view us as its own personal success story, keeping us in a state of social stagnancy that leads to even more uncertainty. I didn’t join any clubs until about sophomore year, and I’m sure many of my classmates can attest to feeling this same absence from the campus social milieu. Certain aspects of the College’s isolation policies, such as the pod and entry systems, bolstered the culture of exclusivity and elitism that already existed at the College — suddenly, groups had a legitimate reason to keep their circle small. The effects of this partitioning are still salient in the junior class compared to the less fragmented Classes of 2025 and 2026. From my perspective, the underclass students have been able to create larger social networks than the Class of 2024 in their first years. We are at a disadvantage because of the social isolation we faced as first-years, and our inability to communicate with our classmates is a direct result of the absence of inclusivity.

Looking back on my first year, my “Year of Anxiety and Isolation,” as I have affectionately titled it, I cannot think of a single time when I wasn’t stressed. And I believe many of my classmates felt the same way. Our introduction to the College was Zoom lectures and COVID scares. Who wouldn’t have been freaked out by that? We didn’t want to face these particular challenges head on; we wanted the college experience! While I recognize that these policies were completely out of our hands, perpetuating the narrative that the Class of 2024 was ready and willing to stare down everything the pandemic tried to throw at us is inaccurate.

Most, if not all, members of the Class of 2024 were plagued with this pervasive anxiety throughout their first-year experience. For the College to understate this effect is unacceptable. And simply encouraging us to contact Integrated Wellbeing Services is a Band-Aid on a knife wound.

The unfortunate reality is that the Class of 2024’s first year on campus was marred by tragedy, with three student deaths during the course of the school year that weighed heavily on our minds. The College’s inability to open up a larger discussion regarding the effect these deaths had on the student body led us to feel that they did not have our best interests at heart. How can an institution like Williams experience a mental health crisis to this extent, but still impose a narrative of fortitude upon its Class of 2024?

Therefore, I encourage the College to allow the Class of 2024 to tell our own story: how our social isolation lowered morale, led to high levels of anxiety and depression, perpetuated a system of exclusivity, and imposed a narrative that doesn’t represent our experiences.

Jackson Small ’24 is an anthropology major from Saranac Lake, N.Y.