On Thursday, Jan. 26, the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) and the Dean of Students’ Office teamed up with the Board of Trustees to host a trustee dinner at the newly-renovated Lord Jeffery Inn. The dinner brought students, trustees, faculty and staff together to discuss issues confronting the College. Participants rotated around 10 tables at the Inn, discussing topics such as housing, academics, sustainability, campus community and facilities. Although the College has held similar events in past years, the trustee dinner this year was the largest of such events in recent history.
Dean of Students Allen Hart said that this year’s event was part of a joint effort by the AAS and the Dean of Students’ Office to involve students in the conversation about the College’s future and to address issues important to students.
Concerns about preparing the College for the future dominated the night’s discussions as participants explored a variety of subjects, including the new science building, the fate of the socials dorms and electric cars on campus. At the same time, many students expressed a strong interest in preserving and maintaining the history and traditions of the College, emphasizing a need to balance the necessity of change with respect for the past. Alex Stein ’13, AAS Chief of Staff, highlighted the importance of this balance with respect to housing.
“Housing represents a significant tension for the future of Amherst,” Stein said. “We are looking to expand as a school, while on the other hand we are tearing down the Socials, and it is important that we preserve historically valuable spaces in the process.”
Stein mentioned that alumni he met at reunion last year lamented the loss of the Mayo-Smith ballroom and stated that renovating housing was part of re-inventing Amherst history. Paula Rauch ’77, a trustee assigned to one of the Housing tables, responded that the Building & Grounds Committee has been working to meet these challenges, citing the recent renovation of the Lord Jeffery Inn as a successful outcome of their efforts.
“The Lord Jeffery Inn is a cornerstone of the town of Amherst and a portal between the town and the College,” said Rauch. “It was a beautiful building, but there was a lot of delayed maintenance and serious changes needed to be made. Our renovations retained the historical importance of the Inn while updating the facilities to modern standards.”
Rauch also told students that renovated buildings must meet modern fire codes, an oft-forgot obstacle to development that can force the Building & Grounds Committee to make drastic changes to remodeled buildings.
The lack of suitable social space for parties was an additional topic of discussion at the event. The construction of the new science center requires tearing down the Socials, starting with Davis next fall. This presents the College with the prospect of severely diminished party locations over the next few years. Many students pointed out that this change is just the latest of several reductions of common areas suitable for parties, citing the renovations of the dorms on the Triangle as additional examples of this trend. Scott Turow ’70, a trustee who spoke at the Facilities table, replied that many of these changes resulted from the Residential Master Plan, a facilities development plan created with the help of students, alumni, faculty and staff in the early 2000s. Turow said that these plans are often several years behind the needs of current students due to the time required for the execution of such plans.
“Planning takes time, and by the time building construction has started, the students who made up the planning committee have all graduated. Students have to remember that they aren’t going to be here forever.” said Turow.
Students and trustees alike had ambitious ideas to promote sustainability and recycling at the College. Axel Schupf ’57, a trustee involved in the Sustainability discussion, suggested an inter-dormitory recycling competition as a way to incentivize students to increase recycling. In a similar vein, Hannah Raskin ’14, a student participant in the group, suggested a beer can exchange program as an unconventional alternative to the current three-bin recycling program.
Other students had similarly forward-thinking suggestions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from College vehicles. George Tepe ’14, the AAS representative to the Sustainability group, mentioned plans to install plug-in hybrid stations on campus and proposed expanding the number of electric vehicles the College purchases. Cherry Kim ’14 suggested a bike exchange as a cheaper and more accessible alternative to electric cars, but both agreed their ideas were not mutually exclusive.
The Community and Traditions discussion group brainstormed creative ideas to increase school spirit and revive lost or forgotten traditions on campus. Romen Borsellino ’12 explained his plan to hold an Amherst History Week to remember historical traditions of the College and encourage the creation of new school traditions.
Laura Yerkovitch ’80, a trustee participating in the discussion, remembered that during her days as an Amherst student in the midst of the College’s transition to a co-educational environment, many traditions were either lost or forgotten due to their “unsavory’” nature, and she also pointed out that the dissolution of fraternities weakened the ‘institutionalized’ character of many traditions.
Julia Eichenfield ’12 suggested Interterm as an opportunity to create new traditions at Amherst.
“Interterm is being wasted. Nobody wants to end their break early to take an accounting class or something boring like that; we need more classes. For example, we could offer Mixology or wine-tasting classes for students over 21,” she said.
Other students were concerned about the College’s reputation in the fields of science and technology. Dvij Bajpai ’15, who participated in the Academic Issues discussion, said that he wanted to help build the College’s reputation as a center for talented aspiring scientists.
“I remember from high school that many of my friends who were interested in science didn’t apply to liberal arts colleges because of their perceived weakness in science, but I feel that’s a huge misconception. Yeah, we don’t have the same facilities as some larger schools, but nowhere else can you get the same level of faculty attention. There’s no better place to study theoretical physics than in a small class.”
The night allowed students to engage in a dialogue with decision-makers in the College community. At the end of the event, Turow said:
“We’re going to take back the ideas we heard tonight to the Board and help this event have a tangible impact. At the same time, students need to understand their impermanence at the College. Just because something doesn’t come of students’ suggestions while they’re here doesn’t mean they’re not heard. Things take time.”