Relocate the Health Center – James Hitchcock

I remember the collective dismay that my pick group felt about a year and a month ago when we realized that

a.) getting 97 as our group pick number within Wood Neighborhood was not a good thing (especially not out of 99 groups, as it later turned out), and

b.) it meant that we’d be confined to the charming but isolated hermitage called Agard for our sophomore year.

I grew to love Agard over the course of the year, in spite of its Shangri La-like location and the markedly bittersweet journey of acclimating to one’s first college roommate (cheers to you, Tim). For such a lonely building, however, I found an unlikely companion next door: the Health Center. It was a place I’d visited only on occasion the year before, just to run a standard strep test or to seek out some healing herbs for a pulled back muscle. Even since sophomore year, my run-ins with the Health Center have been blessedly few, but its utility has been made clear to me by many several and acquaintances, who cite it as their primary ward against ailments, physical or psychological, that might otherwise be affecting them.

The general consensus, however, seems to be that the Health Center is a useful if not underutilized resource. By and large, it is apparently the location of last resort, which kids visit only once a previously harmless cold has metamorphosed into tuberculosis, internal bleeding has erupted forth cataclysmically, or their sixth quarter-life crisis of the month has drawn to a tremulous close. The trek down Hoxsey or Stetson Court–pick your poison–can be a descent down nine very unnecessary hells, with the Health Center offering solace often weeks overdue.

Why do Ephs wait so long? Long-running stigmas surrounding mental health issues undoubtedly contribute to a reluctance to act, and campuswide campaigns to push back against them are a step in the right direction. However, there exists an even simpler problem that keeps people away from the Health Center: its location. The Center, so far removed from the heart of campus, is thus rendered inaccessible to a great majority of the student body, and its potential is squandered for many who could greatly benefit from it. It’s not an issue of laziness; one of my frosh recently described the predicament she and several friends experienced this November, when they realized that the length of the trip, made in a Williamstown winter, could have in fact posed a greater risk to their health than if they chose to remain in their dorms.

For those debating paying a visit to counseling or Psych Services, the trip is doubly formidable. Judging by the sheer number of excuses I’m able to generate to avoid walking to Spring Street, I can only imagine the sort of mental fortitude required to motivate oneself to make the pilgrimage all the way to the end of Hoxsey or Stetson Court. And by nestling the Health Center in a corner of campus away from most foot traffic, we render the walk down a more isolating experience that can be only allowed to occur away from the curious eyes of the rest of the College.

If we’re serious about improving physical and mental health standards at Williams, the problem here is one of accessibility. The Health Center must be moved to a more convenient location on campus, such as on Park Street or in Morley Circle. Doing so not only would not only increase usage of its facilities, but the heightened, more visible traffic would furthermore normalize trips to the Center, reducing any associated, social stigmas and thereby improving health standards at an institution as intense and stressful as Williams. Everyone would benefit.

It seems silly that, during training, JAs are taught that the most effective strategy to encourage freshmen to utilize the Health Center is to offer to accompany them down the long walk.  This recognition that the greatest barrier to its usage is, in fact, its distance from the rest of campus, underscores the need for change, which will only come through physical relocation of Health Center facilities in the first place.

Leave a Comment