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EphBlog as a Student

I’m curious about the answer for many of you: Why did you start reading EphBlog? How did you find it, and what has kept you here?

The question is particularly interesting for readers who are students, or who started reading it when they were. I don’t remember many students having heard of EphBlog when I was a student.

I first found EphBlog in my first year, when my first Williams “scandal”/hot issue–The Taco Six, for those who remember it–happened. I was so intrigued with following the development of the issue, and reading everyone’s thoughts on it. Yik Yak was big then, and I loved using it, not to post, but just to read what everyone was thinking, and to see people with different viewpoints talk amongst each other. I didn’t totally know how I felt about the issue myself, but I wanted to hear what people who seemed to feel, very strongly, whatever they felt about the issue, talk about it and express those positions.

Of course, there’s only so much intelligent discussion that can happen on a platform like Yik Yak, but there were a few other places I could go for my fix of opinions. There was Facebook, of course, but as a first year I wasn’t well connected at all to many people who were having those discussions on their own walls. That’s what I liked about Yik Yak more than places like Facebook–it was completely public, based on location, so anyone could read and join without having to be socially connected enough to get to witness the conversation. But either linked somewhere through Facebook, or on Yik Yak, I was able to find a few places that were expressing more long-form opinions of the sort I was interested in.

There was the Williams Alternative, which hosted a good number of pieces about that specific incident and which I don’t believe lasted much longer as a platform. And there was EphBlog, which I think I might have found at yet another remove, linked from a comment or post on the Alternative. My memory is hazy, but in any case, I remember finding myself on EphBlog at some point.

I wasn’t very impressed, to be quite honest. The opinions seemed vitriolic and provocative just for the sake of being provocative, which didn’t really interest me. I also remember opinions being somewhat acerbic towards specific people, calling out students who were writing opinion pieces and whatnot in a way that felt fairly inappropriate for older people to do to current students.

I got the sense, from other platforms, that EphBlog was viewed as kind of reactionary and, to put it mildly, crazy, old alumni who were obsessed with the opinions of 18 year olds. That was the general feeling I got of the student body’s views of EphBlog.

So it was fun, in a way, to look it up every now and then, wondering what sorts of wild opinions were beings spouted over there. It made me angry to read a lot of what was being written, and getting angry in that way is a little bit addictive. Every time there was some new scandal or hot issue on campus, I’d find myself wondering what those wild people over there at EphBlog were saying about it, and I’d read the posts, and they’d make me mad. A lot of the time, there were comments that expressed exactly why things were making me mad, seemingly regular readers who, without fail, would respond to the things I found ridiculous about the posts more clearly than I could. I myself never commented, so that was respectable for me. But then the scandal would pass, and I’d forget about EphBlog again until another few months.

Last year, though, felt like hot issue after hot issue, which is why I found myself on EphBlog more and more. Especially as there felt like fewer platforms to discuss that weren’t my own Facebook feed which really only featured the opinions of people I agreed with on it, I just wanted to read views about what was happening–any views, even if I really disliked them.

An amusing conversation happened near the end of the year, where I was eating dinner with a professor and several other students, and somehow, EphBlog came up. It was something along the lines of the professor saying, there’s some alumni blog that has really conservative and offensive takes on campus events; it was rather funny to be the one at the table who could say exactly what they talked about, what they’d discussed over the years I was there. For one, I was one of the least likely people they would have expected, and two, EphBlog was just so removed from campus life and general student consciousness, that any student being so familiar with it just seemed very, very bizarre to everyone at the table.

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Integrative Wellbeing Services: Expanding and Diversifying

The Record published a two-part series on Integrative Wellbeing Services, Williams’ counseling/mental health services program. Given that this is one of my favorite Williams-related topics, I’m excited to pick out a few interesting bits. Article 1, and Article 2.

On the name and philosophy:

PCS [Psychological Counseling Services] is now known as Integrative Wellbeing Services, a change that [Wendy] Adam [the director of IWS] says represents a substantive shift in the College’s philosophy toward mental health. The therapists at the time were already well-prepared to treat mental illness, according to Adam, so her approach centered around broadening the range of services to include options aimed at fostering students’ general wellbeing in addition to providing clinical psychological services.

To me, this has some pretty clear upsides, but the downsides should certainly be acknowledged; for me, those downsides were pretty clear as a student.

The benefits, of course, are making therapy/counseling more accessible to all students and de-pathologizing therapy. Therapy can benefit everyone, and belief that you have to have a mental illness to seek therapy is a detriment. Says Adam:

“In my private practice, if someone came to see me, I had to justify their appointment to their insurance company using a diagnosis,” she said. “One of the things I love about this job is that you don’t have to have a serious diagnosis to work with us. I don’t have to worry that, if you’re having a hard time but you don’t meet all the criteria for depression, I’d have to stop seeing you after a certain time even if it would have been more effective for you to stay longer.”

“We’ve got tons of groups and offerings, where we want to meet students where they’re at,” Adam said. “That’s why there are so many ways of inviting students in. We don’t want that old story of ‘You have to be mentally ill to see a therapist’ to get in anybody’s way.”

The downside—which I experienced—is that, if you do have a genuine mental illness and need specific treatment for a mental illness, Adam’s statement that the school was “already well-prepared to treat mental illness” might have felt like a pivot away from that treatment. “Broadening the range of services” doesn’t have to mean decreasing the efficacy of mental health treatment, of course; in practice, however, given that IWS is training the new clinicians (and students in the two-year training program make up a large amount of the staff, after all), the likelihood that you’ll start therapy and see someone who’s been trained in more of a “holistic” way than a “mental-illness-focused” way is pretty high.

The effect of that can be seen from quotes in the second article:

“Charlotte Jones ’22 started seeing a clinician at IWS last year while continuing to regularly check in remotely with the therapist she has worked with for several years at home. She hoped to use the IWS sessions to process recent traumatic life events, but both of the therapists she was paired with took approaches that she found unhelpful.

“At times, it felt as though they were babying me,” she said. “It could be very demeaning… Maybe they would have been fine for a smaller issue, but for me, they were not ready to handle what I had.”

She said that she does not plan to try again at IWS – “Two times was hard enough,” she said – though she has found the crisis call line helpful for instances when she could not get in touch with her therapist from home.”

The article, and clinicians during therapy, make clear that switching therapists is always a possibility and is encouraged to find the right fit for you. But two times is hard enough! It can be really hard to keep divulging your trauma over and over, trying to find the therapist who’s most helpful in processing it.

The articles also discuss some programs that are new this year at IWS. We talked about those earlier here on EphBlog with a post by DDF (http://ephblog.com/2019/09/12/welcome-and-new-year-updates/),  namely, new therapy options through the online platform TalkSpace, and new non-emergency transport options including twice-daily shuttles to get prescriptions from Rite Aid. At the time he wondered if these were the best uses of Williams’ money, or if we should “prioritize matching financial aid packages from places like Harvard first.”

My comments at the time were responding to this thought specifically, but are relevant to my general defenses of spending on IWS more generally:

Sure, in terms of optics of making Williams more appealing to prospective students, spending on matching financial aid packages from places like Harvard might be better. But I believe this is spending on making Williams actually more competitive with placed like Harvard in terms of actual student experience. In Cambridge there are places within walking distance, or using public transit options, where you can get things like x-rays and blood tests on the school’s insurance. In Williamstown, if you don’t have a car, the one bus most likely doesn’t go where you need it to, to get those medical services done…so you’re absolutely reliant on the medical transport system run by the college, which helps bridge the gap of accessing medical services resulting from Williams’s location.

As for the twice-daily pharmacy runs…I am incredibly jealous. I wasted so much time, up to my very last week at Williams, finding solutions to what should be the very simple issue of picking up prescriptions at Rite Aid. There’s prescription delivery to the health center, but the health center is open fewer hours than Rite Aid is; moreover, prescription restrictions exist. I remember one particular situation where I was prescribed a new medication that was restricted in such a way that I had to pick it up in X days, and they would not let me have it delivered; I had to pick it up in person. So I walked in single-digit weather to Rite Aid, taking a couple of freezing hours during a particularly busy week. Not a life-threatening situation, no, but one that, after a few times, definitely found me wishing I went to a school that wasn’t so darn remote.

Is this the sort of thing that prospective students will think about when debating Harvard and Williams? No, of course not, so if that’s your metric then sure, this is a waste of money. But it’s absolutely something that helps bring quality of life up to par with places like Harvard, and for that I see it as immensely valuable.

At what point do improvements to IWS become a selling point for the college? As knowledge and perception about mental health shift, I’m hopeful that a strong offering of counseling services becomes much more of a plus. And, as the Record article highlights, we really are fairly top-of-class:

“According to Klass and Adam, the ratio of students to therapists across higher education nationally — including both colleges and universities — is around 900:1, while the College’s peer institutions tend to be closer to 400:1. In contrast, the current ratio at the College is slightly lower than 145 students per therapist.

Last year, there was no waitlist for accessing therapy through IWS.

Meanwhile, the total number of scheduled psychotherapy session hours has grown by 260 percent over the last decade. That increase is due in part to the fact that students can schedule as many visits to IWS as they need. “Unlike other colleges and universities, we don’t cap our sessions,” Grinnell said. “I love that about Williams. We can really spend time building relationships with our student population. Therapy may not always feel linear — it might take some time to feel like consistent progress is being made.”

This is all really good, important stuff.

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The Majority of the Record’s Editorial Board

The Record‘s editorial from this Wednesday, September 18 (“Calling for more transparency, accountability in discipline for sexual assault”) concludes with the following note:

The editorial represents the opinion of the majority of the Record’s editorial board. 

This immediately made me wonder: was this not a unanimously endorsed editorial by the Record’s board?

I hadn’t remembered seeing this message at the end of previous Record editorials; the most recent from last year don’t seem to have it. So, its inclusion here makes it seem like this was something they particularly had to make clear on this editorial–potentially because of a minority disagreement on the board.

Of course, it’s possible that this is just a new policy for the Record, and that there has been notable disagreement from the board on editorials before, simply without the disclaimer at the end. Perhaps they’ve decided that this is a statement they’ll include on all future editorials, to cover all their bases. We’ll see in coming editorials this year, I suppose.

But, assuming the more interesting case that there was a minority disagreement with the editorial. What did they disagree about?

The essential message of the editorial (as distilled by the title) is that there should be “transparency” and “accountability” with cases of sexual assault, which seem like pretty agreeable and non-offensive stances to take on sexual assault, just because they don’t really say anything. Looking more specifically, the “transparency” they cite seems to deal with release of public information:

First, we take issue with the College’s lack of public information regarding the standards for suspension or expulsion. If a student faces a semester-long suspension for sexual assault, the community currently has no way of knowing why. We as students do not even know if the College’s standards for penalties differ from year to year or from case to case. Nor does information exist as to whether disciplinary sanctions differ for cases of stalking, relationship abuse or sexual harassment as compared to sexual assault. This lack of transparency is worrying in its own right, but the College’s opacity could also intimidate and discourage survivors from reporting and pursuing cases. In the future, a rubric must clearly set out the severity of offense that merits each sanction.

I haven’t thought about this much and don’t know how much is “known” about the college’s handling of these cases. What did people know about the Bae case, how it was handled, and how such a case would be handled today? Perhaps that’s the point that the editorial is making, but my rudimentary understanding is that there are, at least, procedures that have to be followed when it comes to sexual assault cases. The actual punishment is less clear to me.

As for “accountability,” their statement is clear:

Rather, the College should establish expulsion as the presumptive, though not mandatory, punishment for students who are found responsible for sexual assault.

First, they cite statistics and studies detailing how many sexual assaults are repeated offenses, implying that the college has to be sure to expel sexual offenders the first time so that there can’t be a second time. Second, to help with students’ “perceived security,” since students will potentially feel unsafe on a campus with students who might be rapists.

This seems to be the most likely site of conflict that might have caused disagreement in the board. This hard-line stance would have the potential to harshly punish potentially innocent students. The board hedges their stance on this, with the following statement:

We recognize that increased penalties for sexual misconduct necessitate serious contemplation of the evidentiary standards that are required for a finding of responsibility, and the College must work to ensure a fair process for both parties with no presumption of guilt for the accused. Either sufficient evidence exists for a finding of responsibility or it does not, however, and we maintain that punishments short of expulsion can hardly ever be appropriate when such evidence is found.

In 2014, the college “found Bae responsible for misconduct and imposed a two-year suspension.” If this is the case, the board majority is saying, explusion should always be the next step.

What do people who disagree believe the next step should be, instead?

I understand why the board doesn’t publish a “minority opinion” when the editorial board is divided; it lessens the power of the editorial as a strong voice stating an opinion and cutting through to the campus. Nevertheless, it’d be great if editorial board members who disagreed would pen individual opinions articles (not under the “Editorial” mandate”) explaining their dissent.

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Williams Mobile App

Two current students, Dysron Marshall ’20 and Kelvin Tejeda ’20, spent the summer building the new Williams Mobile app. The app is listed as developed by Williams Students Online, and accordingly it links directly with some WSO services (the Facebook, Factrak, etc). Its goal seems to be to unite services that currently exist in various places across the Williams website, on WSO, and elsewhere, into one service that makes them easier to access.

First of all–awesome effort by these two! They seemingly did this entirely for free and of their own accord (see later in the post for more on that). It’s a nice, snappy app, and they definitely deserve acclaim for their work!

I used a handful of apps related to Williams life while I was there. A lot of time, I just accessed Williams websites from my phone: Eats 4 Ephs to check the menus at dining halls and decide where I wanted to eat, PeopleSoft sites for records and logging work hours, LaundryView to save myself the walk down to the laundry room and check in advance if it was in use… Last year, Williams introduced the GET App ostensibly to unite some features, but which I only really used to add money to my ID when I’d go to do laundry and realize I was out of money. During my first year there was some sort of dining app, student-created I believe, that made Eats 4 Ephs a little prettier. And, of course, there was Yik Yak, the late and great app that really made sure I knew everything I needed to.

These students announced their summer’s-long work to students with Facebook posts: one, to Class of 202X Facebook groups saying the following:

And one with a meme, in the Williams meme group, Williams College Memes for Sun Dappled Tweens:

As the first post says, they’re hoping to get administrative support for their app, so that students can develop it and actually get paid. I don’t know what the status of WSO getting administrative support is, but I imagine the app itself could get funded in the same way if WSO does; I feel less confident about it being possible to get students paid for developing the app. That was always something that confused me, though; do WSO student developers get paid for providing an incredibly useful service, or is it treated as a club would be, where the service itself gets funded (hosting, servers, etc) but not the actual development?

Below the break, a quick look at the app!

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The Real Problem at [Williams] is Not Free Speech

Last week, I came across a thought-provoking article: “The Real Problem at Yale is Not Free Speech,” by Natalia Dashan, published in Palladium. While the article obviously deals with the author’s experiences and observations at Yale, I believe you could replace most of the occurrences of the word Yale with Williams and have an observation that, for me, remains true.

The article is not so much, in my opinion, coming down one way or another on the “free speech debate.” Rather, it’s a look at the same issues said debate takes up through a slightly different paradigm, one that rings more true to my own experiences at Williams than the paradigm of “free speech” ever did. The article’s thesis is this:

Student at “elite” colleges are increasingly rejecting the role of  becoming “the elite,” with all of the privileges and responsibilities that being in the elite comes with. Instead, students frame themselves as underdogs and fighting against the elite. The elite colleges themselves follow suit, purporting to be in line with the students in taking down an oppressive system that they are, inherently, representatives of, causing an identity crisis for colleges today. The result is “controversies about free speech” that are, at heart, more precisely rooted in powerful students at powerful universities presenting themselves as devoid of power.

Phew! If I presented that as a thesis of a paper for class, I’d probably get called out for some much-needed revision. But, the article is a hefty 10,000+ word piece, and it’s worth considering. I do recommend reading it in full, because I’ll be not always reconstructing the arguments as much as pulling out salient bits and considering how they apply to Williams. This week, I’ll look at the first half of the article: the phenomenon of how students present themselves as devoid of power, and why. Next week, I’ll look at the second half, of how that manifests in the “controversies” plaguing Yale/Williams.

A final note: I personally don’t agree with everything in this article. Though I think Ms. Dashan did a great job in terms of it being a feat of long-form publication, it is a bit all over the place, with some points tying into her argument less clearly than others. In other cases, my disagreements might come just from Williams being a different place than Yale. I’m certainly curious to hear everyone else’s thoughts.

After the break, Part One!

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Eph Send-off Party

According to Maud’s Instagram (@williamspresident, if you don’t follow her), Williams’ president attended the Princeton Regional Send-Off for new Ephs. I assume this is because she has roots in the area, having grown up in Princeton and attended elementary through high school there.

Meanwhile, I attended my first Regional Send-Off, going to a sadly Maud-less party recently. I never attended one of these parties when I was actually a new Eph, though I’m fairly sure my family received an invitation. There were a good number of new Ephs there, who seemed somewhat unsure about what exactly they were there to do, and many of them clumped together and met each other. That said, most of the alumni present were incredibly eager to engage the new students and give them as much advice as possible.

Seeing on my nametag that I had just graduated, some new students specifically came up and asked me if I had advice for them. I had an unexpected amount of trouble coming up with advice when asked for it. Maybe I’m still too close to my own Williams experience; I definitely feel that I haven’t yet fully reflected and synthesized it into a few easy things to tell them. Mostly, I turned it back on them, asked what classes they had signed up for, and talked about my experiences if I was familiar with the class or professor; I gave them some idea of what to expect during first days; and I plugged my club as one they should check out when they get to the Purple Key Fair.

Most students get to campus next Monday; first-generation and international students arrive tomorrow. What advice would you give to new Ephs as they’re about to step on campus for the first time as students?

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Admission and Mental Illness

Last week’s post discussed the readmission process after a medical leave of absence due to mental illness. In the comments, DDF wrote this:

If you were Sandstrom, would you re-admit a student at (medium? high?) risk of suicide?

That brings an equally interesting, yet somehow wholly different question: should Williams admit such a student in the first place?

It’s different, of course, because it’s an admissions committee making the decision vs a smaller, less formal, and less dedicated (it’s not their only job) committee that decides readmission. Last week, we had a whole discussion about what’s in the best interest of the student, and what’s in the best interest of the school, when it comes to readmitting students who have struggled with mental illness. That all comes with the prerequisite, though, that the student told the college about their mental illness (in the form of their application for a medical/psychological leave of absence) and is now relying on the college to make a decision about their readiness to return to Williams.

To get admitted in the first place, however, they had to go through no such process. You don’t have to disclose that you have any sort of disability on your college application (I’m pretty sure that’d be a violation of the ADA). You can choose to, of course, if you want to write an essay about it.

My guess is that students with very impactful physical disabilities or diseases will often choose to do this; if their disability has had a large impact on their lives, the challenges they’ve had to overcome, and the way they see the world, then that is, quite rightly, something they can and should highlight in an essay to set them apart to an admissions committee. The fact that the student is submitting the application means that they believe they will be able to handle college life with their disability; if the admissions committee determines this is the case academically, they will admit the student and will work to provide any accommodations needed for the student’s success.

Mental illnesses theoretically work similarly, in the sense that they don’t have to be disclosed under the ADA, and that once the student is admitted they can get the accommodations they need to succeed.

However, disclosing a mental illness in a college admissions essay is probably a lot rarer–and a lot less “successful,” in the sense that it probably gives college admissions committees more reason to doubt the student’s ability to thrive than convinces them of the student’s tenacity and unique perspective. Should this be the case? If a student comes into the college with a mental illness, should their readiness for college be inherently doubted?

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A Readmission Appeal, and an Appeal to Reconsider Readmission

The following letter came to my attention a few days ago, being circulated by current and past students. I think it’s worth examining, not necessarily for the specifics of the letter itself, but because of what it draws attention to–specifically, the complications of taking a mental health leave of absence, and returning. Note that I’m not attaching a link to the letter itself, because it is actually an editable Google Doc that is a petition for this student’s readmission; I’ve also redacted the student’s name, because again, I don’t want this to be about this specific student.

A bit of context, and my thoughts, before the letter after the break:

  1. Leaves of absence, for personal or for medical reasons, can be requested of the Dean’s office by any student. Students must submit a request for readmission to the Dean’s office by certain deadlines in order to be readmitted; for personal leaves, this doesn’t go much beyond approval by the Dean. For medical leaves, it’s a bit trickier; readmission requires submitting proof that whatever medical/psychological condition necessitated the leave of absence was resolved during the leave, including doctors’ letters and an evaluation by someone at the Health Center, and the application is then considered by a committee.
  2. I don’t have much information beyond the letter below, but: Student XXX ostensibly took a medical (psychological) leave of absence. She then applied for readmission to Williams, and was denied by the Deans. She is submitting an appeal, as is her right; in addition to her appeal, two friends drafted the below letter in support of her appeal, and circulated it for students, alumni, and staff to sign.
  3. As someone who took a medical (psychological) leave of absence myself, spending a full year away from Williams, I know just how overwhelming the readmission process can be. Say, for example, a student leaves Williams on a leave of absence because she is having debilitating symptoms of depression and is showing signs of suicidal ideation. She leaves Williams so that she can go home to see a therapist and a psychiatrist regularly, and once she is out of elevated danger, to learn to manage her condition. Obviously, we will want her to display no signs of suicidal ideation in order to be readmitted to Williams. But what does “the condition being resolved or managed successfully” mean? Depression is a lifelong illness that cannot be cured, successful management is tricky, and it’s hard to delineate some brightline that would make knowing when to readmit easy.
  4. I personally sought readmission when I began feeling that staying home was doing me more harm than being at Williams would have, but that’s not exactly a rave review. To the readmission committee, I presented myself as having learned so much about myself during my leave of absence, having stabilized everything on medication, and having no suicidal ideation. In reality, I wasn’t always doing great, and throughout the rest of my time at Williams, there would continue to be moments of crisis, moments where it was difficult to function, and more general periods of despair. But, I reasoned, that’s probably the case for a good third of Williams students at any time; I wasn’t doing so much worse than them, mental health wise, that I didn’t deserve to go back if I decided I was able.
  5. Even if you aren’t a fan of the rhetoric or any other point made in the letter, I would like to call attention to its point number 3: the fact that, during leaves of absence, you cannot stay on the school health insurance. For me, as it seemed to be for XXX, this was a total nightmare; I was already dealing with a debilitating mental health condition, and on top of that I had to figure something totally new out to get health insurance. Given that I was on a medical leave, it seems pretty obvious to me that health insurance is essential to helping students return to Williams, and being uninsured or underinsured is a detriment to that. If I took the medical leave because I knew I couldn’t give Williams my very best and needed time away from the school, then a school that cared about me–cared about me graduating, cared about me being able to do my very best–would ensure that, during that time away I elected to take, I had all the tools I needed to succeed. Instead, I very much felt thrown out and left to fend for myself.

Read more for the letter.

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Introducing recent grad

Hello! I’m recent grad. Travel schedules prevented me from posting until now–thank you, David, for covering for me–but from now I’ll be posting on Thursdays. I chose my terribly creative screen name (would you have been able to guess that I just graduated?) because it was the first thing I thought of what seemed relevant when I only planned on making a comment or two. When David said he was going to publish that comment as a post of its own, I was rather pleased, not only because it’s nice to see your own words published publicly, but because mental health, the topic of that comment, is a subject that’s really important to me. I was dismayed, then, when that discussion instead turned to the only off-topic mess that comments here tended to be. I want to have actual, productive discussions about mental health at Williams, and other topics important to me; thus, my joining on in this experiment. That said, if anyone has a username suggestion that’s better than “recent grad,” that’s one off-topic subject I’ll be happy to discuss.

I’m not sure what my “niche” will be here, and suggestions are welcome. That said, one thing I can provide (moreso than other authors, perhaps, except purple and gold–you’re still a student, right?) is some insight into campus culture right now. I’ve graduated, but my Facebook feed and Instagram is still dominated by Williams students, the majority of whom are still students; of course, what I see there is biased by the circles I was in and the things that interested me, but nevertheless, it gives me a glimpse into what’s being talked about that, combined with my own experiences, might be useful. Student perspectives certainly tend to be misrepresented here.

My first real post will be coming tomorrow morning!

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