I sat at Valentine several nights ago and couldn’t help but overhear two students sitting nearby:
“Whoever designed this place was so stupid — I don’t even know what he was thinking.”

“I know, right? Even the redesign failed miserably. Like, why would you put booths over here — you can’t get in and out of them! And then those new tables in the front room — I get the “social atmosphere” hope they were going for, but it makes it so there’s never enough seating.”

“Everything about this dining hall is a fail — even when they try to make it better.”

The past two semesters saw a huge resurgence of student activism and much encouraging work to make the college a better place. The most notable example of student activism was Amherst Uprising, which sparked conversation typically rare to our campus. The movement brought crucial issues to the forefront, yet on a campus marked by the stress of academics and extracurriculars, it’s hard for overburdened students to sustain the same level of high energy activism.

In Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” Little Red Riding Hood questions “Isn’t it nice to know a lot / and a little bit not.” This phrase, as a postscript to a number in which she extols the virtues of knowledge and mastery, poses a perennial question for students like us. If we are committed to intellectual inquiry, can we or should we imagine that we know and can do everything? Or, is it perhaps better to know “a little bit not,” and to cope and live with the unexplored mystery beyond our own intellect and power?

There has been plenty of hand-wringing in the senate about whether the college’s student government, Association of Amherst Students, is a worthwhile institution. There has always been hand-wringing, but lately it is astonishingly pervasive; all anyone affiliated with the student government can talk about is how “dysfunctional” it is. The irony of course is that if senators chose to defer these conversations so they could actually do their jobs, they might not need to have them after all. The problem is a large number of senators this year simply did not understand what the job entailed.

I left my first year expecting that the time of uncertainty would be pretty much over. Of course things would change, but I don’t think I fully realized what this change would look like. Or at least, I expected things to grow linearly — I knew that I wouldn’t hold on to every single relationship from my first year, but I thought that I would have felt like I was growing, not regressing. On the other side of sophomore year, I do feel like I’ve developed. But there were parts of this semester that were hard in ways I didn’t expect them to be.

Amherst was treated with unseasonably high temperatures last weekend, and naturally many students took advantage of the beautiful weather, whether by reading on Memorial Hill or partying on the social quad. And while it’s understandable that many students would want to celebrate the warm weather, it’s troubling when the debris of weekend parties interfere with daily life on campus and exploit the hard work already carried out by college staff.

Many students, including me, desire to put the classroom in the service of politics. I mean that many of us think that, with the forces of thought, knowledge-production, and scholarship on our side, we can enact political change and transformation. And while it is true that we can, it might be worth pausing over this desire to ask the question: Should “the life of the mind,” to borrow Hannah Arendt’s formulation, be employed to enact social change, issue public policy and modify our ethos toward the world?