The picture that greets College of William and Mary students when they log on to the portal really says it all. Before a stunning autumnal scene at Lake Matoaka, the archetypal College of William and Mary student seems oblivious to the natural beauty around her, bent over her laptop and no doubt stressing over her latest paper deadline.
OK, so in describing one of the recent images that has greeted us students when we log on to the portal, I’ve used a bit of poetic license. However, my point is a very real one. Our studies here at the College are often so intense and involved that it is easy to lose perspective over the course of a long and arduous semester. The College needs to do more to offer the kind of well-rounded educational experience that best prepares its students for life beyond university.
It’s not just the College’s fault; we as students contribute to this as well. It’s very easy to slide into the monotony of routine, especially when living on campus. We need to break this cycle sometimes, even if that just means going home for the weekend, making that trip to Richmond, or just getting out of Williamsburg for a while. The library closes at 6 p.m. on weekends for a reason: to tell TWAMPs to get lost and kick back a bit. In a more general sense, this also means cultivating an awareness of the world outside the campus bubble. Not to bite the hand that feeds me, but there’s often a lot more worth reading in the pages of a local or national newspaper than there is in The Flat Hat.
The College itself plays a big role here, too. Courses are heavy on assigned readings and expensive textbooks and do little to encourage independent research or stimulate genuine intellectual curiosity. The sheer volume of work expected of students is simply too great. Repeated and strenuous assessment creates an academic culture focused more on grades and teaching for a test than on fostering a richer and more nuanced understanding of a subject. However, one skill, which many lecturers here do possess, is an ability to make their material easily understandable and relevant in a contemporary context, which is something that should continue.
The location of the College itself is something that can’t be helped. Colonial Williamsburg is essentially a historical theme park — with a real one just down the road at Busch Gardens — and we are surrounded by tourists, fake colonials and an actual city barely worthy of the name that actively keeps its student population at arm’s length. You’d be forgiven for thinking we’re left a bit high and dry here.
The charge of insularity is not something unique to the College; many universities are unfairly perceived as ivory towers of abstraction and detachment. I do not wish to denigrate the kind of intellectualism that is encouraged here. Many Americans remain deplorably distrustful of genuine intelligence, as evidenced by the undercurrent of ridicule sometimes directed at President Barack Obama — particularly from the right — for his so-called “Harvard Yard” elitism. However, many students are involved in philanthropic activities that take them beyond the confines of campus other than students or faculty members.
Ultimately, we’d all do well to remember that many employers are looking for people they can have a drink with as much as those with an excessive work ethic and a sky-high grade-point average. When the world comes knocking after graduation, let’s not get caught in the headlights when we look up from our laptops.
E-mail Tim MacFarlan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cartoon by Olivia Walch.