Title: Williams College

Date Occurred: Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Date Written: Thursday, July 4, 2019

Written by: Joel T. Kant

Copyright (c) July 4, 2019


When we first arrived at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, we went to the admissions building to attend the information session. During the session, prospective students were asked where they were from. Several people came from California, but also represented were Florida, Michigan, and another family from Ohio. The other Ohio family was from the Cincinnati area rather than the Cleveland area. Something I had not expected was there were also families from the foreign countries of Saudi Arabia, India, and South Korea.

In all our visits to colleges during this week-long trip, this was by far the most diverse visiting group.

Carol asked the presenter, "How does the tutorial program work?"

Carol had read ahead about this, but wanted more details. It was one of the things that attracted her to Williams. The tour guide explained how a tutoring system of two students working with one professor was adopted from a similar idea at Oxford University in England. One week, student A writes a paper while student B writes the rebuttal. The next week, the assignments are switched. Every week, the students meet once with the professor to discuss their work. These tasks increase ability in critical thinking.

Since I've been teaching for about sixteen years now, there are certain education words and phrases that get overused. Various textbooks I have used now label essay questions as involving "critical thinking" as if a brand-new thing, but the essay questions do not look to me much different then in textbooks decades older before this term was in vogue. It seems a gimmick to sell the newest edition. With what was described with the Williams tutorial program, the intensity between only two students and one professor and how it is modeled after Oxford may deserve the label of "critical thinking" justly applied to it.

One of the presenters at the information session was a recent graduate. He told of how it is necessary for the student to approach the professor for doing this kind of research. Roughly half of the students choose not to do this kind of tutorial, but the rest do. It is an option.

The recent graduate described his senior thesis. It involved going to burlesque shows in Paris. He received a grant from the college to pay for his travel. Just imagine...getting paid to see shows with scantily-clad women!

Due to her education at Laurel School, I think Carol could be academically assertive enough to get value out of this sort of tutorial program. I doubt it would work well for certain timid students, especially if shy and quiet. This tutorial approach has Williams College as the favorite of Carol's so far, unless the amazingly unlikely happens with her getting actually accepted to Oxford College in England.

Like many of the colleges that Carol has been looking at, Williams College has a study-abroad program. There are various countries and colleges that Williams interacts with. What seemed interesting is that if one does go to Oxford College in England for a study abroad, one takes the regular classes with the grades transfer over to Williams College...for better or worse. For colleges abroad in other countries, it did not seem so clear how the Williams grading would interact with the grading at that college.

As an example of what I mean, I transferred in 1984 from University of Wisconsin-Platteville to University of Wisconsin-Madison. My Madison transcript lists the transferred courses, but other than having clearly passed them, it does not state what Platteville professors gave me as a grade. Thus, I expected something similar for Williams College with the study abroad, yet their relationship with Oxford is different with the grades given there mattering beyond pass and fail.

As we left the information session, Holly said that this presenter put things in a calm and factual way. Holly seemed impressed, while Carol seemed thoughtful.

There was a waiting area outside the small auditorium where the information session had just concluded. Seated in the waiting area, a middle-aged man who looked to be the father of the young woman seated next to him asked her, "Where did all these people come from?"

His daughter explained, "From the information session that just ended."

The father protested, "The tour is about to start, and the information session comes after the tour."

I smiled as the daughter explained, "There is more than one information session today. It can be done in either order."

Soon, we began our tour of the campus with a student guide. Some of the buildings around campus have the red brick and fancy window look that tends to remind me of Harvard, while other buildings looked far newer. There was a compromise, though.

When I last visited MIT a couple years ago, I found that glass and metal had been used to put a roof over what had been courtyards when I did my MIT post-doc in 1999. In what had then been a big lawn were now hallways, offices, and balconies. A similar process was done at Williams College, although stretched between two old brick buildings rather than a courtyard. Thus, on the interior of what is new is the brick fa‡ade of what had once been the outside of an old building. However, behind the metal and glass of the new construction, the old building with the bricks continued on to be the outside as it had always been. (Fig. 1) This keeps the historic look, yet increases the indoor space.

Brick Exterior now Interior

Figure One: Brick Exterior now Interior

This architectural look does not hide or reject the past, but the modern portion of the mostly glass addition shows this is the twenty-first century rather than the late-nineteenth or early-twentieth century. (Fig. 2)

Carol with Wall Behind Her That was Once an Exterior

Figure Two: Carol with Wall Behind Her That was Once an Exterior

Similar to Bowdoin College and Colby College, there is no Greek life at Williams College. However, at Williams College, the fraternities and sororities were removed back in the Sixties. To me, that seems decades ahead of the current trend to get rid of Greek life. I still have mixed feelings since my own experiences with almost joining the TKE fraternity were definitely positive, not negative.

The tour guide told us an amusing story that occurred long ago. Williams College's football rival was Amherst College. Some students from Amherst sneaked onto the Williams football field before a big game between the rivals. A giant letter "A" was put onto the William's field as if this were the Amherst home field.

Naturally, this called for retaliation when a later game was played between the rivals on the Amherst home field. Yet, the revenge pranksters felt that just putting a "W" on the field was not good enough. It was unoriginal. Therefore, the revenge pranksters put a giant "B+" on the Amherst field, as if the fields were report cards and Williams got the better grade!

I hope that story is true. It certainly got laughs from the crowd.

Rather than the tour guide telling us the whole campus is carbon neutral and other exaggerated Earth-friendly stuff that makes me very skeptical as we walked in and out of air-conditioned buildings, the tour guide pointed to one particular building that was their test-out building for becoming more environmentally friendly. The roof was covered in solar panels, and more solar panels were laid out in front of the building. (Fig. 3) The tour guide explained about the special windows and insulation that are used in this building.

One Building with Solar Panels

Figure Three: One Building with Solar Panels

I would have liked to look closer at this building with the many solar panels, but the tour guide took us in a different direction.

Another unusual thing about Williams College is most dorm rooms are singles that are situated around a common room and a bathroom. Being an only child, this appeals to Carol. She seems nervous about having a roommate.

Despite huge fees for tuition, room, and board, this was the only college that did not require freshman to have a roommate. Given the sums of money involved, unlike at the in-state state colleges that I was used to, it seems the having a dorm roommate is not so much about economics as I had once thought, but considered part of the educational experience.

This made me think back to my own experiences with a roommate in the dorms. For the 1983-1984 school year, my roommate was Alan Raichel. He was terrific, and I learned much as much about computers from him as from any of my professors. However, I had one roommate at University of Wisconsin-Platteville and another roommate at University of Wisconsin-Madison with whom I had severe religious incompatibility. Both told me that if I did not renounce the Roman Catholic faith in which I had been raised, baptized, and confirmed, then I was doomed to burn forever in the fires of hell! At both places, I was told the only way I could avoid this fate was to convert to their particular flavor of very fundamentalist Christianity! I didn't ever say anything one way or the other about their beliefs and religion, but neither would ever let up on this burn-in-hell stuff! Decades later, I did convert to ECLA Lutheran, but I think those guys would find that worse, not better. This did not make for good relationships with my roommates!

It is supposed to be a growing and maturing experience to learn to deal and compromise with a roommate in the dorms of college, but for the you'll-burn-forever-in-hell roommates I had, I really even all these decades later cannot think of even one redeeming feature about living through it. There did seem a hell on Earth aspect because I did have to endure having those intolerant louts as roommates!

However, I don't think in the twenty-first century that a student would just have to grit their teeth and put up with blatant and outright religious intolerance from a roommate in the dorms as seemed required to survive back then.

Much stress was made at the colleges we visited about surveys to find compatibilities in roommates. I have almost zero trust in those matching algorithms, but I think times have changed in that what I experienced if reported in the modern world would lead to a change! My own attitude toward college roommates based on experiences decades ago may not really be valid anymore, and might be unfairly influencing Carol to want to avoid dorm roommates.

Yet, here at Williams College, not having roommates in the dorms even as a freshman seems common.

For Williams College as with Bowdoin College where we started our trip, alumni connections were heavily stressed.

After the tour ended, Holly, Carol, and I got into Holly's Accord. I then began our drive to our next destination. I was only about a mile away from the college and still on a two-lane winding road when I abruptly pulled off to the shoulder.

Holly asked in alarm, "What are you doing?"

I pointed, "Look! A bear and two cubs!"

The mother bear and her two cubs were crossing a small road that intersected the one we were on. I whipped open the door, pulled out my video camera, and tried to get a shot. (Fig. 4) Holly was not too happy with this little side adventure as I got back in the driver's seat to continue on our way.

A Momma Bear and Two Cubs

Figure Four: A Momma Bear and Two Cubs


Back to Joel Kant Home Page: Joel Kant Home Page.