Note: This post is the fourth and final in a series of reflections from three Williams College students who worked with Forklift on “Served” for their Winter Study course in January 2017. Read the previous posts here, here, and here.
For much of the fall semester – before these talks with Karen, Gail, Ada, and other meaningful moments from this experience – I found myself thinking long and hard about what kind of experience I wanted to have this January. It was my last Winter Study, after all. Looking through the Williams course catalog, there was an abundance of options and potential trajectories to take. Additionally, through my conversations with the Career Center and Zilkha Center, I was also exploring some off-campus options. However, I finally landed upon this opportunity when I saw a daily message which outlined the possibility of conducting ethnographic research in January. As an Anthropology major, I was curious to learn more.
Come January, when Isabel, Adam, and I met with those overseeing the project in-person, any conceptions I had about this experience went out the window. I watched a documentary from another of Forklift’s performance projects and began to value the mission of uncovering and presenting the artistry in everyday movement. When we learned that the ethnography would take place in dining services, as a subculture of Williams, my interest only grew. I began to see this project not only as an excellent opportunity to gain fieldwork experience but also as a way to meet some of the people who’ve made my four years here possible and learn more about what they do.
Once the project began, things quickly picked up speed and I found myself coming across new faces every day. This was overwhelming at first, certainly, but provided an informative glimpse into the exhausting nature of the work. From cooking to dishwashing to receiving to ordering inventory to managing accounts payable, dining services must tackle each day with tight deadlines and less appreciation than they deserve.
After shadowing and chatting, those faces became complimented by stories and narratives. I began to connect with certain employees of Williams dining as people and saw the food cycle from a new perspective. Perhaps the most rewarding element of this work was learning these stories about those who keep our community running. Everyone with whom I spoke had something interesting to share and came to Williams for distinct reasons. And, as it turns out, almost all of the staff are similar in their care for the students.
With the opportunity to engage in these meaningful dialogues, and complete some job shadowing, I got to know some of the great people behind dining operations a little bit better. And in the process, I became more aware of just how lucky students have been to be cared for by these people each day. In a nutshell, I learned more about what makes this community special: the fact that, at the end of the day, we care for one another. And it is my sincere hope that this project, as it comes to fruition, will disseminate a similar awareness to the student body in a way which draws the campus closer together for years to come.
Written by Charley Wyser, Williams College Class of 2017