World War II Veterans at Williams

[part II]
This media attention brought Williams into the "American reconversion spotlight" but alienated some of the other students on campus. They complained that the country was getting a distorted impression of Williams College. One student wrote to the Record :

The big problem, however, was in convincing our parents that Williams really wasn't coed and that the money we asked for each month was spent on books and not girls . . . All we ask is a Bill of Rights for Bachelors. We ask that all future articles about Williams be removed from the Women's and Fashion sections of newspapers. We ask that in future press releases some mention be made of the fact that single men do come to Williams occasionally . . . But all is not dark. Today people have a different reaction to the name of Williams College, and perhaps it is a healthier reaction than that which existed before the War. We used to hear, "Williams? Where's that?" Today it becomes, "Williams? Where's your wife?"

Much more controversy was generated by the mandatory continuation of a summer session of classes. The College faced the problem of accommodating hundreds of returning veterans and talented high school graduates who wanted to either continue or begin their education at Williams. Enrolled students complained that a compulsory summer term was out of line with Williams traditions, would make excessive demands on "mentally, morally, and physically tired" students, and prevent them from dealing with family issues or from obtaining the resources to finance their education. President Baxter did relent and gave students the option of applying for exemptions. However, each student was urged to consider: "Whoever leaves for the summer is depriving a veteran or a high-caliber civilian of a place at Williams, and he must seriously ask himself first whether he can and should make the sacrifice that others made for him."

The summer term also put a financial strain on veterans who received money for school calculated at a daily rate, not per semester. Although the summer term was shorter than spring or fall, it earned a full semester's worth of credit and cost the same amount of money. Deducting the additional costs from their allotted benefits might prove problematic if veterans hoped to attend graduate school. The1949 Gulielmensian hailed Williams' return to tradition when the first two-semester year of the last five took place.

With the return of the student body came the return of various other Williams institutions suspended during the war. The honor system, dropped due to the government's restrictions on the College's naval trainees, was reinstated by a unanimous vote of the student body. To further the revival of sports and other campus activities, the Record called on each student to "assume his individual responsibility and take it upon himself to spend a portion of his time in pursuing some extra curricular activity. If each of us assumes this responsibility then there is no reason why Williams will not function again as before the war."

The College also began some new organizations, instituting the Air Reserve Officers Training Corps in July 1947. At the completion of the four year Air R.O.T.C. program, the student was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force Reserve. Veterans were given credit for the first two years of instruction. The Williams College Placement Bureau was reorganized, improved, and put under the direction of William O. Wyckoff. Wyckoff explained, "The most important service which the Placement Bureau can now render is to assist in securing suitable positions in civilian life for alumni returning from the armed forces, or war work." However, the reorganized Placement Bureau would be of service to all career-bound undergraduates.

As much as the students, both veterans and civilians, wanted Williams College to function as it once had, there was also a sense that it could grow into an even more significant institution of higher learning. One Record editorial, from September 1946, voiced this feeling. It announced:

We do not want a return to "normalcy," if by normalcy is meant the days of carefree irresponsibility and lack of concern for anything beyond the next houseparty, the next drink, or the next trip to Smith. We want the post-war Williams to have its fun, but we want that fun to be a secondary feature in college life.
The post-war Williams must not turn out men who will ask rhetorically, "am I my brother's keeper?" It must not turn out men subject to blind prejudices or open to emotional appeals devoid of reason. Graduates for decades to come will enter into a world in which democracy as a political form of government will be challenged by those who promise freedom from want. That challenge cannot be answered by patriotic appeals to the symbols of political freedom. It can only be answered by thinking men who will prove that the democratic way can provide economic hope for the people it serves.

By Jaime Margalotti (Williams Class of 2000)

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