The WSO blogs, as wonderful as they are, can be hard to follow when a big thread builds up. (Or maybe there is an easy way to see just the latest comments?) But that’s, of course, why you come to EphBlog. We read WSO so you don’t have to!

Anyway, David Ramos ’00 has a great comment, on the cluster housing proposal, reprinted in full below. This quote jumped out at me.

Ah yes, the Williams party scene. I have many vivid memories. Pretty bloody lame. Not the decorations, not the themes, just the notion of hanging around in some foetid puddle of congealing beer and vomit, screaming at the person beside me, as the DJ blasts “Come On Eileen” over scratchy speakers for the fifty-third time in one night.

Every once in a long while I worry that various correspondants (Needham, Finley, et al) may have a point when they claim that an old alum such as I can not know what College life is like today. But then I read something like this, something that captures with pitch perfect accuracy what it was like in Perry House in 1986, and I realize that college life is college life, whatever the decade we are in.

I probably differ from Ramos when he describes it as “lame” — and not just because I like “Come on, Eileen.” College parties are college parties. If Williams parties were lamer than those at Swarthmore or Amherst or whenever, then that might be cause for concern. But, as far as I know, they aren’t.

That aside, his entire comment is worth a read. The Anchors Away folks need to start collecting these gems in one centralized location.

Cranky recent alum here. Cranky, because I’ve seen this kind of proposal come up three or four times – each time, to cries of outrage from students. A senior faculty member once complained that students don’t really understand what’s good for the insitution, because students leave after only four years. It seems that the same is true for each new batch of CUL members.
Cranky, because I’ve also seen other schools. I’ve watched Williams for nine years, as a student as a staff member, then as a plain old alum – and I don’t understand what about Williams is broken.

I’m cranky, too, because this plan would destroy the only social institution that kept me from transfering out of Williams – yep, the Odd Quad. Now, I can hold my alcohol. I have no interest in role-playing. I consider myself an organizer. But I had no interest in the majority culture at Williams, while the Odd Quad fit nicely. The Odd Quad, however, was essentially a residential community, based around its own dining hall and a small collection of dorms; the Quad’s would-be members who lived elsewhere, basically, did a lot of walking and sleeping on air mattresses.

(1) Why should anyone *want* to create homogenous communities, little demographically-flat versions of Williams? Why in the name of all things holy should someone hang out with people she shares nothing with, other than circumstance?

This is the sort of thing that one does with children from adversary nations. Take those camps where peace activists bring together Palestinian children and Israeli children and make them play baseball. “Look!” they say, “You’re human too!”

I mean, really.

Williams students are, presumably, WPD blotters nonwithstanding, responsible adults capable of making their own decisions. Capable too, of forming their own communities.

Yes, people thrown together by circumstance can make lasting friendships. But I rather suspect that communities united by common interest would create rather more of those friendships – and I suspect too that they would make more vibrant communities, ones whose members are brought together by a shared passion and not by cold circumstance.

(2) I’ve read claims like “The cluster house will not prove detrimental to any existing communities.” How, exactly? There are only 24 hours in a day. Something’s got to give. If students spend more time in cluster activites, outside friendships will have to suffer. What, will Williams reduce class hours in favor of structured cluster-bonding time? Eliminate lab sessions so that cluster presidents can hold a few extra summer-camp trust games?

(3) Homogeneity supports the will of the majority. Just look at the American electoral system: what chance have Greens got in Congress? Or look overseas: the Soviets resettled troublesome Ukrainians and Georgians throughout the USSR because that way, the minority groups would never gain the strength to organize. Don’t argue that minority communities will still exist even if they’re geographically splintered.

(4) Clusters, 300-person-entries, containing an even sample of Williams students, favor the majority. That means, for instance, that no one can escape the party scene.

Ah yes, the Williams party scene. I have many vivid memories. Pretty bloody lame. Not the decorations, not the themes, just the notion of hanging around in some foetid puddle of congealing beer and vomit, screaming at the person beside me, as the DJ blasts “Come On Eileen” over scratchy speakers for the fifty-third time in one night.

Yes, I do this now, as a grad student, but at our parties people manage to make it to the bathroom before they blow chunks. Also, no one would ever play anything by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Maybe that’s a kind of maturity.

(5) If Williams wants to engineer additional communities, why not build real academic communities? Environmental Studies comes together every week for Log Lunch, and CS meets for pizzas and colloqiua. My department, English, did nothing of the kind, barring once-a-year socials.

(6) Williams’ physical plant, situation, and student energies support a kind of community that far surpasses community at other schools.

Williams is NOT some 80,000-student state school with buildings drifting for miles across an urban wasateland, and students scattered even farther afield because there are only 30,000 dorm beds. Yale’s residential colleges occupy closed, inward-looking quads, guarded by spike-topped iron gates. Every yard of Yale’s architecture tries to ape some English ideal, more Oxbridge than Oxbridge. For goodness sake, the gym is built like a cathedral. Williams was never so cloistered.

Nowadays, I’m a grad student at RISD, down in Providence. We enroll about 2000 undergrads and 300 grads. Only about a third of students live on campus. The rest scatter for two or three miles in every direction. The school “newspaper” appears once a semester if we’re lucky. Now this is a school with a unity problem, right? But there’s still a magnificent undergrad party scene. Cheap-beer-fests, quiet games of bridge, 300-person costumed pillow fights go rampaging across the whole city – something for everyone – and all this without a whit of administration interest.

Williams needs further administrative structures to foster community? Get real. Williams is a 2000-student, fully residential school, plum in the middle of nowhere. I’ve walked from Fitch to Carter in 13 minutes. I recognized most of the people in my graduating class. Even a shy-extrovert like me could flit in and out of three or four social groups, Odd Quad or right across campus, with ease. That’s pretty near perfect.

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