Obituary: Malik Williams, student in Arts & Sciences, 22

Student Malik Williams
Malik Williams, photographed here in Italy, is remembered as a quiet, calming presence who loved good food, World War II and military history and gardening. (Courtesy photo)

Malik Williams, an undergraduate student in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, died Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, of an undiagnosed medical condition. He was 22. 

Williams is remembered as a quiet, calming presence who loved good food, World War II and military history and gardening. He also was very funny, said friend Miriam Silberman, a senior in Arts & Sciences.

“There were so many times where a bunch of us would be laughing and we’d fall into a kind of half-quiet, waiting to see who would say what next,” Silberman recalled. “Malik would jump in with a dead-pan, on-the-nose joke and we would laugh louder than before. Only Malik could have made us laugh like that because he knew he was quiet and he knew who he was. I think that is rare in a person — to not just know who you are and how others perceive you, but to be able to spin that to be your brightest self. He was great at that.” 

Williams originally entered Washington University as a first-generation mechanical engineering student. But, in the course of fulfilling his humanities requirements, Williams discovered a passion for linguistics. He officially transferred to Arts & Sciences this summer with the intent of majoring in the discipline.

Kris Campa, formerly an assistant dean at the McKelvey School of Engineering, said Williams would drop in to talk about history, archeology and linguistics.

“It was so exciting to watch him bloom,” recalled Campa, now director of the Ervin Scholars Program. “He would light up when he talked about what he was learning. And the idea of writing papers — something engineering students usually hate — was so exciting to him. It takes a lot of courage to switch majors and pursue what you love, but Malik bravely took that step forward.” 

Silberman said Williams plunged himself deep into history’s rabbit holes. For one piece, he conducted dogged research until he discovered the precise tread width of the wheels of a particular military tank.

“Few people are willing to ruminate on those details, to investigate so deeply the facts many of us would glance over,” Silberman said. “Malik would have made an amazing scholar. He wrote so incredibly well and researched his work with the focus of a PhD candidate.”

Williams also loved to travel and enjoyed exploring the world by foot. He recently visited Maui with his mother and great-aunt and participated in an archaeological dig in Italy. Originally from Arlington, Virginia, Williams also liked to explore St. Louis neighborhoods, sometimes with friends, sometime by himself. 

“Malik was uniquely autonomous and comfortable on his own,” Silberman said. “In that way and many others, he was mature beyond his years.”

Williams is survived by his mother, Grace Williams, and younger brother, Hezekiah Williams. 

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