Outgoing Gaudino Scholar Lois Banta: Asking 'At What Cost?'

Reflections on an active tenure

Lois Banta

I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have had the chance to serve as Gaudino Scholar over the past three and a half years. The Board members, both alumni and students, have been a real source of joy and inspiration in their commitment to this remarkable legacy.

During these years, the programming supported by the Gaudino endowment has carried on the Gaudino legacy by considering the question “At What Cost?”  At the personal level, the notion of “effortless perfection” has entered our college discourse, but underlying that fallacy are other questions: What are you willing to give up for success at Williams? Why do we work so hard at what we do (whether academics or athletics, teaching the perfect class or in service to the college), and what might we learn if we took more time to reflect on the choices we make?

Does our emphasis on individual, collective, and institutional achievement and excellence come at the cost of communal responsibility? At a societal and global level, many issues including health care and climate change have lent themselves well to extended consideration of costs and trade-offs. We have also explored the less grandiose theme of individual experience during times of crisis or cultural upheaval, acknowledging that every one of us fortunate enough to be sheltered by our “Purple Bubble” can discuss and critique global events, societal challenges, or “different” cultures in the abstract, and yet have little idea of the experiences of the individuals who live those realities.

One facet of the “At What Cost?” initiative has centered on not only witnessing the stories of those whose experiences reflect costs borne, but also bringing those stories back to Williams. This programming has, among other things, included short residencies by authors, documentary film makers, and artists whose professional work embodies witnessing. The goal of these residencies has been to provide enhanced opportunities for students, but also faculty and staff, to hear and experience lives very different from their own, and to share the stories that captured their hearts and minds, as well as our own stories, with others on campus.

Each of the artists in residence that the Gaudino Fund brought to campus has powerful stories to tell and a true gift for sharing them. Even more, they share a deep-seated ability to be completely present and “on” in their interactions with the students, faculty, staff and community members. Every one of them created magical moments that I will treasure. It was an incredible privilege to be immersed in this programming.

—Lois Banta, Professor of Biology