Sitting Down with Ellie Sherman: Our Co-President and A True Renaissance Woman

“We need to change everything that we’re doing so we can do the thing that college government is supposed to do, which is [to] improve the lives of students.” - Ellie Sherman

 

Me: What things are you involved with on campus? Why are they important to you?

Ellie: I’m currently the College Council co-president with Carlos. I love doing that. I’m going to stop being president in February, um, I’ve really enjoyed the time that I’ve spent on College Council - I’m also really excited to do other things that aren’t directly involved with college council, just because it is a lot of time and energy. I’m also a member of the women’s swim and dive team, that’s really fun. We just started our season on November 1st - that’s really going right now. I’m also - god, what else- I’m also on the WOC executive board. I’m technically the hiking co-chair, co-chair of backpacking, or something. That involves planning events, doing overnights. One thing that I - one of my favorite events, that I’m really hyped about - and it hasn’t really worked out super well in the past two years, but I’m really excited about it this year - it’s called WOCapella. Which is like, we get all the acapella groups to come and sing in an outdoor space.  It’s been a bit of a rough time in the past two years, but I’m really determined to make it happen this year. I’ve been the entertainment director for Mountain Day for the past two years, so that’s coordinating all the a capella groups, and I actually started - I had the idea of having the dance groups perform on the Paresky steps, and that’s been working really well, so that’s a really exciting initiative. I teach yoga sometimes on hikes, so that’s fun. What else? Oh, I’m a member of the Gargoyle Society, which is a group of students that works to make a change here on Williams Campus, through ... clandestine activities. 

Me: Is that like a secret society?

Ellie: It is like a “secret society.” I kinda hate the term, “secret society.” But yeah it is a secret society insofar as I can’t say who else is on it. Any of us can tell anyone that we’re on it, but we can’t tell anyone else who’s on it.  I'm also leadership of the Williams water polo team - the co-ed water polo team. I’m not really good at water polo, but I really enjoy the team, it’s a really good group of kids. I was also a JA last year, but … not so much anymore.

Me: Yeah that’s come and gone. That’s a lot of things!

Ellie: …  I’ve always been really busy. I’ve always been one of those people who has to stay busy. I have really bad ADHD, so I get really easily distracted.

Me: But you’re using that to your advantage!

Ellie: Yeah! I can’t sit still. I have to be doing a million things at once, so I kinda thrive off this really busy energy. That being said, I am really looking forward to Spring, when most of my commitments are going to be done. But I love being busy, and I love everything that I do, and I can’t imagine not doing any of the things that I do.

 

Me: Can you talk a little bit about the award that you received at the Baccalaureate Ceremony?

Ellie: Yeah! The Grosvenor Cup. I was completely caught off guard by it.

Me: Did they tell you before the ceremony?

Ellie: No! It was a complete surprise to me. I had heard of the award, insofar as friends that I have known have gotten it, like Alia Richardson and Rob Hefferon, both got it in the past. They were both Gargs and both did water polo, so I happened to know both of them pretty well, both really good people. So, I kinda knew of the award as like, people who do good things for Williams end up getting this award.  … I was completely shocked by it. Obviously super honored by it. I was not expecting it at all. Steve Klass made eye contact with me, and I was like “Oh… you want me to come up on the stage.” … And Maud afterward was … saying that like watching my facial expression as I slowly figured out that they were talking about me. She was like, “Yeah, that was pretty entertaining.” Morgan Waley was like, “Dude! I think it’s gonna be you!” and then it was me and I was surprised.

 

Me: Why did you choose CC? What keeps you there? Why is it important to you?

Ellie: I joined the College Council in my sophomore year. I had done SGA (student government) in high school. We had done a lot of policy changes in my high school that I was partially responsible for that helped dealing with, like, academic workload, and helping with mental health issues and stuff like that. I felt like I was able to see the tangible positive effect that I was able to have on students in my high school, and that made me really happy and excited, and I liked being part of those organizations, and I wanted to improve the lives of students on Williams campus. I mean, there’s a lot of things that I would love to change about Williams, but I do love the community here, and there are so many good people here, and I really wanted to be able to have a positive impact on the community. And, the college council felt like a good place to start for that. And I think in a very idyllic way, that was my idea of student government: that this is the organization that is supposed to make things better for Williams College students, and that’s what I wanted to do.

 

Me: So, I was talking with (obviously) Los earlier in the semester, and we were joking about his “Burn the Bylaws” deal. Are you with him on that? Do you have a different view?

Ellie: Oh yeah, totally. I don’t know how much you read the Record, but we just passed a resolution that’s like -

Me: Yeah! You’re going to reform CC, right?

Ellie: Yeah, so he and I have been, I mean, these reform discussions have been - I started them with the Deans last year. At the end of last year, before we hired our consultant, Leaf Flynn Gallant from MIT. And, that, I think came out of me realizing, in my first semester of being president of CC, that the view that I had had about College Council was idolized and idealized insofar as, I saw it as a primary goal of this organization to make the lives of students at Williams better, and it wasn’t doing that. Or it was doing that for not all of the students here. And it was causing harm to a lot of students. So realizing that I realized that we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing, and for that reason, we need to do something drastically different. We need to change everything that we’re doing so we can do the thing that the college government is supposed to do, which improves the lives of students.

Me: That’s awesome. I like that, maybe you started with this idealized view, but when you realized it wasn’t that, you didn’t let it derail you. You were just like - 

Ellie: Okay, I gotta change it then!

 

Me: So, I know that this year there was very low participation in voting. What’s your view on that?

Ellie: Oh, yeah. I think that honestly- and it’s not just at Williams, right? I have actually spoken to three different student governments of small schools in the past two weeks who have reached out because they were like, “We’re doing structural reforms. We want to hear how things are going at Williams,” not knowing that we’re reforming. Just reaching out to hear how other schools do their thing. And, what I hear, time and time again, is low participation rates, disengagement with these kinds of community leaders roles. So, I think that it really is a national problem. And I think part of that is a really strong disillusion that a lot of people have with government, generally, right now. Like the top-down, of like, our generation is super disillusioned, I think, with the government right now. And, I think it’s trickling down into the ways that we deal with the administration and constructive powers in our institution. But, I don’t think it means that students aren’t wanting to be activists. Because, like, we are seeing a rise in ad hoc groups like Care Now and this boycott of the English department. Students are forming groups, and are wanting to make a change, but they’re not wanting to do it through such institutionalized means anymore. 

 

Me: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, my next question for you was what are your goals? Do you want College Council to become more of a go-between, between students and the college? To help them achieve those goals?

Ellie: Absolutely. I want College Council to be a place where students on this campus feel like they can actually enact change. Like this [could be] the organization where Care Now can come to CC and be like, “These are our goals! How can you help us with these things?” And then, we can have productive conversations, and students can feel like they can be a part of the College Council and can do even more institutionalized changes without feeling isolated from the conversations that happen in that room. … We are recognizing that we have made a lot of mistakes, and I think that there’s been a lot of hurts caused by the organization, and I think that there’s been a lot of eye-closing to those things in the past. It’s been kind of a painful awakening for a lot of people to have these big dramatic events happening; it’s a wake-up call- okay, we are now forced to confront the fact that things are really wrong- things that we did not want to have to deal with or reckon with directly. … So, I am grateful that this process has kind of forced us to look critically at ourselves.

 

Me: So, those are all the questions that I’ve prepared. Is there anything else you want to talk about?

Ellie: So, … I never really find ways to talk about this, and … people are often surprised by this: I’m a Bio-English double major, and I really want to go into work with animals. I really want to be a vet. My dream is to be a large animal exotic surgeon. Which, there’s only about five of them in the world right now, and there are no female exotic surgeons so far.

Me: So you could be the first!

Ellie: Yeah! I could be the first! And, so, that’s kind of the dream. I’m doing a thesis right now, and I’m working with birds. So, I have about 12 birds right now, and we’re going to get about a dozen or so more, and then they’ll have babies. They’re zebra finches, so they’re from Australia. They’re super tiny! They’re really cute. They’re really pretty. So, I love talking about them and talking about animals. Often my teammates will, because they know I want to be a vet if they have like an animal problem or something - someone found a hurt squirrel the other day, and like, called me! And then, I have a couple of squirrels who live above the room that I’m training, because I leave food out for them every day, and trying to, like … it’s a whole thing. But I love animals. So if anyone ever wants to talk to me about animals, or about pet problems, I’ve done a lot of work with both small and domestic animals. I worked at the Duke Lemur Center last summer. I really enjoyed that. … I’ve also done a lot of interning at small animal clinics, so I know a lot about dogs and cats and bunnies and stuff. So, always down to talk with people about their animals.

 

Thank you for your time and thoughts, Ellie!