Stony Ledge is not Mountain Day: On changing campus dialogue and perceptions of Mountain Day

Jonathan Hall

Leaves are changing, temperatures are dropping and professors across campus are announcing that “the exam will be next Friday… maybe.” Mountain Day must be coming. This piece will primarily reflect on how Mountain Day leaves many excluded and how we can begin to remedy this. Details about programming are in our “Mountain Day Cheat Sheet” and the main schedule, which will both be posted around campus and in the daily messages.

Briefly, Mountain Day is when the president cancels class on a Friday in October to let students go outside. The Williams Outing Club (WOC) – with a herculean amount of support from dining services, facilities and many others – organizes activities on and off-campus in order to make the process of getting outside as simple as possible for students. WOC programming typically includes hikes of various difficulties, performances by student groups and copious amounts of apple cider and donuts. One gathering is on Stony Ledge, a mountain with a great view of Mt. Greylock, the tallest mountain in the state. Another gathering is on Stone Hill, behind the Clark’s reflecting pool, where cows mill around. There are also events and performances on Paresky Lawn for those wanting to stay on campus. A lot of people walk (or for Stony Ledge, hike) to these events, but there’s accessibility transport available, and a new hike leaving earlier to Stony Ledge for those preferring a more relaxed pace. Contact Rosa Kirk-Davidoff  ’21 (rlk2) to reserve one of the fifty spots available. If there is extra space, it will be first come first serve. Contact Phacelia Cramer ’19 (pjc2) with questions or to make arrangements for accessibility transport. We will do everything possible to make it work.

This 30,000 foot overview of Mountain Day hopefully reflects that for many, Mountain Day is a great way to spend time outside with people they care about, watch performances and leave Sawyer physically and mentally behind. However, this attitude belies serious problems about Mountain Day, some inherent in its very idea and others stemming from campus dialogue. We need to accept that Mountain Day can be amazing for many and isolating for others – these aren’t mutually exclusive, and inequality is inherent in the concept and history of Mountain Day. Mountain Day originated as Chip Day in the early 1800s, when students – exclusively wealthy, white, male ministers-to-be – got a day off to clear the campus of newly-visible woodchips after the snowmelt finally came. The College soon hired laborers to do the work, but the day off stuck, and the students used it to go hiking. To this day, the outing community (at Williams and beyond) is dominated by those who have the time, money, ability and inclination to partake, and is predominantly white, well-to-do and masculine. Exceptions exist, of course, and many fantastic organizations use the outdoors to empower people and combat oppression. But again, on the average, underlying historical racial, sexual, ability, socioeconomic and various inequalities still very much remain.

Mountain Day as it is does a lot of good for a lot of people, but we still have a responsibility to improve it and engage critically with it. Beyond the ongoing work of making concrete changes – e.g. more accessibility vans, better on- and near-campus programming – we need to change how we talk about it. The title of this piece is “Stony ledge is not Mountain Day.” In theory, this should be true, but in our campus dialogue, going to Stony Ledge with friends is seen as the only “real” way to enjoy Mountain Day. This is patently false, and harmful. This is why every year we have people pressured into hikes they don’t want to do. They have a justifiably miserable time and, in some cases, get injured. The point of Mountain Day is not to go to Stony Ledge, or even to any of the scheduled programming. Those are just ways of getting outside that WOC has organized to make the process simpler, if you want to do it.

I would argue that the official purpose of Mountain Day – to get outside – is the only way of fulfilling the day’s deeper goal: to take a break. To relax. To slow down for a minute. We are constantly bouncing from this problem set to the next, between this interview and that. If you think hiking to Stony Ledge sounds like the best way to do this, please, go for it! Try talking to somebody you’ve never met before; it will go faster that way. If it’s any of the other events, equally cool. Or if you want to hike elsewhere, or go swimming, or to the Alpaca farm, or sit outside and feel the sun for a few minutes, or any other thing that you want – please do! Whatever you do, we hope you get a chance to slow down and breathe.

PS: Professors, please stop making work due even if it’s Mountain Day. Not cool.

Jonathan Hall ’19 is a chemistry and math double major from Adams, Mass. He wrote this piece on behalf of the Williams Outing Club.