Datamatch, nunneries, and lightheartedness

Aaron Schroen

I’ve gotten a lot of raised eyebrows in the past few weeks. Many of those have been from people learning about my decision to bring back Datamatch — a Harvard-run algorithm-based dating site — to the College. In case you’re unfamiliar with Datamatch, here’s how it works: You fill out a quirky survey, create your profile, and on Valentine’s Day, the algorithm matches you with other students on campus based on your mutual compatibility. I fell in love with the concept when it opened during my freshman year, since a fun and low-pressure way to meet new people on campus is something the College sorely needs. Frustrated with it failing to make a return last year, I decided to reach out to its leaders at Harvard and bring it back to the College. I’m glad I did; as I write this, Williams is now the school with the third-greatest Datamatch participation, with over a quarter of students signed up. It’s clear that our community agrees — reviving these traditions is crucial for a lively campus atmosphere.

The COVID-19 pandemic has deprived us of much more than just lighthearted experiences like Datamatch. The College lying dormant for so much of 2020 was a testament to that fact. As a senior, I still feel this vacuum every day. Campus has lost the vibrant thrum it had throughout my first-year fall in 2019, and a lot of the energy and excitement that made the College my home has diminished. During lockdowns on campus, student groups had to prioritize what they put energy into. My a cappella group, The Springstreeters, found solace in singing, but it had to put aside other activities like retreats, trips, and campus visits to continue practicing throughout the pandemic. At the time, this was undoubtedly the right decision; the health and safety of our community outweighs everything else. However, many activities that I loved began to feel like a chore. Now that campus is returning to normal, we need to work as a community to bring back an upbeat atmosphere at Williams in order to prevent burnout and preserve the unique personality and energy that makes this campus a special place.

Reviving Datamatch sparked a desire in me to reestablish other silly yet significant traditions. As the president of The Springstreeters, I was determined to bring back our annual retreat, a cherished tradition that we missed greatly. To keep costs low, I found the most budget-friendly option in the area where we were going: an old, unused nunnery at St. Michael’s Mission in Conesus, N.Y.. The location, however, raised some more eyebrows among the group: a remote, abandoned convent with a creepy old building and little civilization nearby. Despite the skeptical comments — “A nunnery? You couldn’t find anything nicer?” and “We’re going to get murdered by ghost nuns!” — I decided to book it. I’ll admit, as we arrived at this eerie building in the dead of night, I had some second thoughts myself. However, in the spirit of not taking things too seriously, I chose to make the best out of this unusual situation. As we sang for the caretaker in the abandoned church, shared stories in the living room, and made Sunday morning pancakes together, I knew that the memories we made had made all the spookiness worth it.

As Williams students, the pressure is always on. Between academics, job applications, and social stresses of life on a small and isolated campus, there’s always something that can cause anxiety. It’s easy to feel like taking a break from the constant grind and engaging in laid-back fun is a waste of time. In reality, it’s precisely because of this pressure that finding time for things you enjoy, simply for the sake of enjoying it, is so vital. Stepping back from the never-ending responsibilities and embracing joy and laughter can help relieve stress and refresh the mind, leading to improved mental and emotional well-being. Datamatch and other lighthearted activities are ideal for achieving this goal; through relaxed, informal community-building, individuals feel more included at the College, ultimately resulting in a less stressful and more positive environment. 

I’ll leave you with this: Don’t overlook the value of not taking yourself too seriously! It’s a crucial aspect of creating a healthier and more enjoyable environment here on campus. Whether you find pleasure in a campus-wide event like Datamatch or a simple weekend trip to a nunnery with a group of friends, casual community-building should be a priority for us all. By making time for these fun, unusual activities, you are also engaging in one of the most essential and often overlooked activities for students — self-care. So, the next time you feel overwhelmed, take a break and immerse yourself in something lighthearted — you’ll thank yourself for it in the end.

Aaron Schroen ’23.5 is a psychology major from San Diego, Calif.