Articles

Your Student’s Sophomore Year at Williams

Dear Families of the Class of 2025:

It is my pleasure to introduce myself to you and to congratulate your student as they prepare to begin their sophomore year: a year that holds great potential and provides them the chance to consider new opportunities from leadership development to study away and summer fellowships.

What’s different about your student’s sophomore year from their first year? Sophomores typically know how to do their laundry on campus, live with a group of neighbors they’ve “picked in with,” and have “graduated” from their entries and JAs. Sophomores also have academic requirements they have to complete, and they will declare a major. Now is a great time for your student to be reflective about their first year experiences and to begin to get excited about the year to come. You can be a supportive part of their reflections by inviting them to have an informal conversation with you about their return to campus. Here are some possible questions for your student to explore: 

  1. Are there academic experiences that they would like to fulfill in their 3rd and 4th semesters? Students may have had classes they loved and also had classes they struggled in (those may be the same courses!). They may be forming an idea about a possible major or they may not yet have a clear idea of what field they’d like to choose.  Now is a good time to encourage them to take advantage of new opportunities to navigate their academic path. Examples might be finding a new interest or inspiration, working intensely with a professor, becoming a stronger writer, making greater use of the library, learning about educational accommodations at the Office of Accessible Education, making connections across different areas of study, or learning an instrument or a language. Your student still has their academic advisor from last year, but at this point they can (and should) be developing a wider team of staff and faculty who can provide advice and support. They can talk with a favorite professor from last year, the chair of a department, or someone they’ve gotten to know in the Dean’s Office or  ’68 Center for Career Exploration. Now is a good time for students to reflect on the ways they would like to support their own academic thriving. 
  2. Are there different experiences they would like to have in their life outside the classroom?  Do they know who to ask about finding new ways to experience campus life? For example, were there talks, writing workshops, or tutoring sessions that your student wanted to get to but didn’t make time to attend. You can also ask them whether they have ideas about how they might get closer to spending their time in a way that reflects their priorities. Encourage your student to get to know a professor or staff person this semester by visiting their office, inviting them to a Lyceum or Doddceum Dinner, taking them to coffee, talking with them about ideas or goals or hopes at supportive places like the Davis Center. Email is a great, low-stress way to reach out to a faculty or staff member and set up a get-together. 
  3. Do they have a plan to care for their wellness and/or mental health? Time management, health and wellness, and self-care are big challenges of adulthood that students started to tackle in their first year of college. Williams students, being the smart and accomplished people that they are, have told us that they often feel they need to do as many things as possible, all at once. While some students thrive on that, it isn’t a necessary or wise route for most. Slowing down to give substantive time and attention to a few important interests, including themselves, is for many students a crucial change that helps them make the most of their wellness and their college education. 
  4. How are they creating sustainable social relationships? It’s worth asking your student whether their social life last year went in the way they’d hoped. While many students’ first social experiences in college are exciting and rewarding, sometimes students find they were drawn into a group of friends who don’t share their values. As a result, as they enter into their sophomore year, your student may have anxieties about continuing these interactions. Oftentimes students may feel trapped into thinking that because they’ve made these friends they have to keep their “college friends,” even if those past interactions were unhealthy or unsupportive.  It’s helpful to talk with your student about healthy relationships and to remind them that they have three more years at Williams: friends can change and there are opportunities to develop new friendships. Help your student to think of their social interactions as a way for them to build a sustainable community. Your student can make the most of this remarkable community at Williams if they extend themselves and build new friendships throughout their upper-class years.

I always tell sophomores that I want them to operate from a place of strength. As your student becomes more independent in their living and learning experiences, they should know that I and my colleagues are here to help support and encourage them as they seek to develop a stronger sense of individual and intellectual purpose. These are just a few conversation starters that may prove helpful to you and to your student. As always, you can find more information and answers to frequently asked questions at families.williams.edu. If you don’t find what you need there, just ask us

I wish you a good end to your summer and good conversations with your students.

Take care,

Tamanika Terry Steward
Dean of Sophomore Year Students and Director of Transfer and Non-traditional Student Services

Your Student’s First Williams Year

Dear Families and Parents of New Students,

Welcome to Williams! Thank you for sharing your remarkable young people with us. We on the staff and faculty of the college are excited to meet the Class of 2026, who will bring with them so much from their families and home communities to enrich each other and all of us.

I write today both to welcome you and to share some information that will be helpful for you to have in mind and talk over with your students before they arrive on campus. We know from experience that these conversations help new students make the transition to college, with all of the big and exciting changes that brings to their lives.

First, our community.

  • Your student’s classmates will arrive at Williams from all over the country and all over the world – from more than 80 countries and hundreds of different communities, urban and rural, with many different first languages, cultures and experiences. Many of the young people your student will meet here will have grown up in families and communities that are different from yours. Spending time with classmates from such a wide array of backgrounds is an important part of the magic that happens here: students learn so much from one another as they get to know each other in their dorms, in classrooms, in community service, in athletics and clubs, in the arts, and in places of worship.
  • Those encounters are powerfully educational: it’s rare to learn more in a classroom than you learn by making a lifelong friend whose home life is completely different from your own. It’s good to talk with your student about the opportunity this community presents, and also about how to approach some of the challenges that may arise, even before they leave home.
  • Encourage your student to listen to others with an open mind, give them the benefit of the doubt, ask questions, and answer the questions of others, even if the questions seem surprising or unusual. Encourage them to be patient with others and with themselves, allowing time to develop new relationships, rather than rushing to find “instant” new friends to replace those they had in high school. The opportunity to live among their new classmates is going to pass more quickly than your student can possibly imagine. Help them approach it with openness, curiosity, and a welcome spirit.

Second, our courses.

  • Your students are about to make their initial selections for their first semester classes. Of course, there will still be an opportunity to add, drop, and change their minds, with the guidance of their academic advisors. Williams students don’t receive department-specific advisors until they declare their majors at the end of their sophomore year.  So, if your student is keen on chemistry and gets matched with a history professor, tell them not to worry in the least. First-year advisors work with students to envision the entire arc of their academic career, including many opportunities and requirements that fall well beyond the scope of a specific major. The depth and breadth of Williams’ academic offerings lead many students to choose other majors to the one they think they’ll choose when they first arrive here. That exploration is an integral part of the liberal arts and sciences experience, and one our faculty encourage.  
  • Perhaps you have had the chance to talk with your student about their upcoming initial choices. At this moment students often believe that “success” in college means knowing exactly what they want to do or “be” (“I want to be an economics major and then go into business”) and then plotting a very specific course to get there (“I’ll start with Econ 110, and Math 150, and complete my Division I requirement with a course that meets on Tuesday mornings…”). While planning is a great thing, it also will be important for your student to be open to new possibilities. Many of the classes we teach here are in subjects your student has never studied before, and in the subjects they’ve already tried in high school the courses here go deeper and broader than they’ve likely ever imagined. Many students find their life’s work and passion in a subject they’d never heard of, through a class they didn’t think they’d love (or even like.) Please encourage your students to stretch—to explore broadly, try something they didn’t like in high school, read the course catalog, make lists of things that they’d like to know something about before they graduate. It’s great if they expect to change their minds about what they are good at, and to learn something new about what they are interested in.
  • Nearly all Williams students are challenged by the academic transition from high school to college. Fewer classes, longer homework assignments, and peers who, just like your own student, are all really smart combine to create a learning environment that can take some getting used to—particularly for students who are used to being at the top of the academic heap. If your own student feels this way at any point, please let them know that they’re in good company with most first-year students. Encourage them to take advantage of these powerful academic resources, as most students do at some point in their Williams careers.

Third, the social environment.

  • You’ve already done a great deal to help your students make good decisions as children and teenagers, and to encourage them to care for themselves and others as they enter adulthood. Your students have probably had more “rules” as teenagers than they will in college, where they will control their own social lives for the first time. We do a lot of educating and provide a lot of support to help students take on this higher level of personal responsibility.
  • Still, it’s really helpful for you to talk with your students about the challenges and decisions they’ll face in this new social world. You know more than I do about what conversations will be most meaningful to your own student, but here are a few suggestions: Let them know that you expect they’ll explore new things, but that you hope they’ll make decisions that are safe and that they’ll step in to get help if they see someone else who is in serious difficulty. Talk with them about alcohol and drugs, and about how to be safe and respectful in their intimate lives. This isn’t your last chance to impart life lessons of this kind, of course, but it’s an important one.

Fourth, the journey.

  • Your students are already impressive, accomplished, and smart. They’ve seized opportunities and made the most of them. Many such students define success in terms of a journey that goes from strength to strength, with no bumps in the road.  But part of making the most of college is knowing when and where to ask for help and guidance.
  • During orientation, we will point out many resources on campus for help if difficulties arise, and emphasize that our strongest students are the ones who take advantage of that help rather than avoiding it. Now is a good time for you to remind your student that great journeys always have twists and turns, that learning happens through rough patches as well as smooth ones, and that you’ll be glad to hear from them no matter what part of that journey they may be in.

On a related note, please encourage your student to let us know if they are dealing with health issues of any kind that might require support while they’re at Williams. Our Health Center is fully equipped and prepared to ensure that such challenges won’t reduce the quality of your student’s experience here, and we do this work best when we know in advance what your student’s particular situation might be. Likewise, if your student benefitted from disability support services in high school, that support continues at Williams.

Please encourage your student to reach out at any point to me, Dean of First Year Students Christina Walsh. My role is to be a resource and support your student’s journey at Williams. 

And as Williams parents, you are encouraged to contact Rob White, Director of Parent & Family Programs, with any questions you may have at [email protected].

Finally, please accept my warm wishes to you all. You’ll find a lot of concrete information and answers to questions on our First-Year website, and even more on our parents and families website. If you don’t find what you need there, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

I’m looking forward to meeting those of you who can make it to campus at the end of the month. It’s always terrific to meet the families who are behind the amazing young people starting their college education here.

With best regards,

Christina Walsh, PhD
Associate Dean for First Year Students

Health and Wellness at Williams

July 12, 2022

Dear New Williams Students,

Williams is committed to supporting students in mind, body, heart, and spirit.  We’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the full range of medical and mental health care and 24/7 emergency response that Williams offers.  

First, a word about chronic conditions.

Please contact us this summer if you have physical conditions or mental health issues of any kind that might benefit from support while you are at Williams. Rest assured, we are fully equipped and prepared to ensure that such challenges won’t reduce the quality of your experience here. Call us at 413-597-2206 to schedule a consultation. Your family members or guardians are welcome to join in those conversations with your permission.

Medical Services

  • There are no charges for clinic visits at the Health Center. Students can make appointments to see a health care provider Monday through Friday while we are in session. Call us to schedule an appointment in advance. Same-day sick visits can usually be accommodated. Our RN staff manages weekend visits, and a local physician is always on call. Physical and gynecological exams, lab testing including STI testing, and an orthopedic clinic are also available on campus by appointment.  
  • Most laboratory tests and diagnostic studies, prescription drugs, and consultation or treatment outside the Health Center are the student’s financial responsibility, as are certain vaccines required for students traveling internationally. Learn more about student health insurance requirements.
  • In emergencies,  students should call 911 from their cell phone or 9-911 from a campus phone. Local ambulance service will transport you to Berkshire Medical Center’s emergency department, 10 minutes from campus. Depending on your particular condition, transportation may be arranged to comprehensive medical centers in nearby Pittsfield, MA, or Bennington, VT.  

Mental Health Care 

We in Integrative Wellbeing Services (IWS) are eager to help. In any given year, the number of Williams students who engage with IWS is probably higher than you think: more than half of all students use our services in some way while at Williams. 

We’re here to help you meet challenges you may face on during your Williams journey. We provide comprehensive support to students in addressing mental health issues and making changes to enhance personal growth, capacity for healthy relationships, and academic engagement. There are no charges for clinic visits at our center for Integrative Wellbeing Services in Pond House.

Our staff includes psychologists, clinical social workers, mental health counselors and psychiatrists, and we work closely with our colleagues in Medical Services. Beyond in-person, on-campus services, we provide additional, alternative means of mental health support through a full array of free, live video counseling and psychiatry, as well as asynchronous messaging services, through Talkspace. There is also 24 / 7 crisis on-call support available by calling 413-597-2353.

Confidentiality

We provide all services to students with the promise of full confidentiality. Except in cases of clear emergency, we’re legally prohibited from sharing any information about our confidential conversations with your family unless you give us permission to do so. Within these guidelines, we’re delighted to partner with your family to ensure a healthy Williams experience. 

We close by encouraging you to call or stop by the Health Center with any questions or concerns. Once you learn how easy and comfortable it is to access our services, you’ll be empowered to take charge of your own health and wellbeing.

For now, enjoy the remainder of the summer, and please feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] whenever you have concerns or questions.

Wendy Adam
Director of Integrative Wellbeing Services

Deborah Flynn
Director of Medical Services

Robert McBain
Health Services Administrator

Inviting Families to Williams Firsts Orientation

Dear Williams Firsts Families, 

Williams College is proud to support our students who come to Williams as “first” in some way. The Williams Firsts community on campus includes students who are the first in their families to go to college, students who are the first in their communities to travel away after high school, students who are the first in their high schools to attend a school like Williams, and more. To be first in any of these ways takes hard work and courage, and it is important for us to bring these students together at the beginning of the academic year.

One of every six Williams students is invited to take part in the Williams Firsts program, and we are delighted your student is being asked to participate.

  • Williams Firsts students are among the college’s most successful and go on to great careers and lives as Williams graduates.
  • Our deans and their leadership team of older students in the Williams Firsts community will help your student thrive at Williams and take full advantage of all the opportunities and support systems the college provides. 

Our Williams Firsts pre-orientation program starts Saturday, August 27, and we are delighted to invite you to join them on campus for a special family orientation program at the start of their Williams journey. Students have been invited to register their family members for this program, so please work with them on the transportation and lodging arrangements outlined in their own invitation.  If you can come to Williams, you and your student should arrive on campus for dorm move-in any time after 9:00 a.m. or before 5:00 p.m. Saturday, August 27. You’ll join them for an informal dinner that evening and participate in special family programming all day Sunday, August 28, ending with a student and family picnic and goodbye hugs that evening. (All meals starting with dinner on Saturday, August 27 through breakfast before you depart on Monday, August 29, will be free of charge.)

We look forward to meeting you if you’re able to join your student for our orientation program.

And whether you attend or not, I’m happy to answer any questions or concerns you might have. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected].

Congratulations and best wishes, 

Rob White

Director of Parent & Family Programs