Anand Hemmady ’17 majored in math because he didn’t really know what else to major in. Luckily, the math professors didn’t give him too hard of a time, so he somehow graduated. Here are his reflections on his time at Williams.
I didn’t intend to major in math when I got to Williams. Math was something I usually enjoyed but also wasn’t very good at, which made me think I should look for something else to major in. Unfortunately, I felt similarly about every other subject, so I really had no clue what to study. I figured I would just take some math classes anyway, since I heard that the professors were great, and I knew that math would be useful no matter what I ended up majoring in.
During my first two years, when I didn’t always feel comfortable at Williams, math felt like a world where things made sense. Well, I take that back – math rarely made much sense. But I found that, with enough effort and badgering of professors during office hours, things started falling into place. You know that feeling of re-visiting something you once thought was impossible to understand, and all of a sudden it seems intuitive and natural? I got to experience that every once in a while, and those moments of understanding are my fondest academic memories. Of course, for every such moment of clarity were thousands of moments of feeling lost, but math taught me to become comfortable with not knowing things, and to keep striving for understanding. My relationship with math hasn’t changed much from when I started college. It’s still something I usually enjoy, and it’s still something I’m not very good at. Somehow, my experiences at Williams allowed me to embrace the former and make peace with the latter. After that, it felt like a no-brainer to major in math.
What really caught me by surprise was the dedication and compassion I felt from the math professors. Every professor I had held office hours more often than they needed to and went out of their way to make sure that we got the support we needed. Many also made it a point to make personal connections with us. I felt this most when I got a concussion the day before the spring semester of my senior year. All of my professors immediately told me to take my time to get better and were happy to let me turn assignments in late. As much as they cared about my math education, they cared more about my wellbeing as a person, and that’s something I really appreciate.
Looking back, I’m really thankful that I chose to major in math. I made so many close friendships, both with fellow students and professors, through the math/stats community, which became a sort of second home for me while at Williams. I guess that’s why I regret not doing more to make the community more welcoming to all. As a cisgender male, I knew that my experiences within the department weren’t representative of how everyone else felt. I regret not being a better ally. I’m a pretty shy person, and I was always scared to speak up about these sorts of issues. I did what I could while trying not to make much noise. I tried to listen to people without judging and let them know that I was there for them, and I did my best to talk less in class in order to let other people participate. I know I could have done more though. I’m still trying to understand what it means to be an ally and how to empathize from my position of privilege without being patronizing. I wish I began that process earlier in my undergraduate years.
That’s just one of the many reasons why the AWM is such an invaluable addition to the Williams math/stats community. Getting to know members of the AWM and attending one of their dinners helped me reflect on my privilege and understand the courage it took for non-cisgender males to simply exist in the math community. Everyone in the AWM is also just really, really cool, so I appreciated getting to spend more time with all of them. I hope that everyone who is interested in diversity and representation within the math community gets a chance to interact with the AWM. That being said, us cisgender males have to be mindful that the AWM is, first and foremost, a space of solidarity for individuals of other gender identities, and we must make sure that we don’t take up too much space at AWM meetings and events. I’m convinced that we can do this in a respectful and thoughtful way, and in doing so, become better allies ourselves, while maintaining the integrity of the space that the AWM provides.
To any students who are reading this, I hope you take a chance and enroll in some math courses. I hope you find them as enriching and welcoming as I did. If you don’t feel at home in the department, though, or if you ever feel uncomfortable about something, I hope you remember that spaces like the AWM are there for you, full of amazing and kind people who have gone through what you are going through, and who have made it through with their love for math (mostly) intact.