Exploring our Education
Issue   |   Wed, 02/26/2014 - 00:56

Two Amherst students talk about a new project called Defining Amherst. This is the first in the series of upcoming interviews with students, faculty, and staff about the purpose of an Amherst education. For more info about Defining Amherst, visit www.definingamherst.wordpress.com.

What is Defining Amherst about?

VM: Defining Amherst is a student initiative about exploring the purpose of an Amherst education. It is an opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to share their college experiences with each other. “How do I want to shape my own education? What do I value? How do I want to live my life? Which meaningful experiences at Amherst kept me thinking or changed my perspective? What is my purpose at Amherst (and beyond)?” These are all hard questions with no easy, immediate answers. Yet, these are the very questions that have the biggest impacts on our lives. I hope that Defining Amherst will provide the space for us to bring these questions into our conversations.

SH: I also think it’s about community building. I’m interested in looking for commonalities among students and hearing about their different definitions of Amherst education, as well as how they see their lives here.

VM: I’m sure that a lot of students are reflecting about what they’re doing here and the purpose of their education. I would love to hear what other people have to say, because we can learn from each other’s ideas.

SH: Giving people the space to talk about these things is a big part of it for me because our lives here are so crazy and busy. I think it’s very hard to find the time to reflect on what we’re doing. And if you do find the time, you’re more likely to do it on your own. I think that turning this internal dialogue into an external dialogue would be useful.
How would you define your Amherst education?

VM: That’s a really hard one. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about constantly. Obviously, it’s probably different for each person, but I think that my purpose here is to explore and learn different things. I want to figure out how I want to best live my life. And I think that part of the reason why I’m here at Amherst is to learn how to write well and think critically, learn about social issues, and learn more about myself.

SH: For me, a lot of it is about self-discovery and figuring out what I value most in life. I don’t want to say that I’m here to figure out what to do with my life because I don’t think that I will necessarily happen.
VM: Because preferences change.

SH: You hear all the time that people can completely change their careers when they’re thirty-something, or however old they are. I don’t expect to discover what I’m going to be doing, but I want to discover the values that will guide me through my life in general.

VM: But values also change as well.

SH: Changing your values is not an easy thing to do, but I think sometimes it’s very necessary. I think my education here involves learning how to deal with changing values, or how to deal with the fact that things in life are always changing.

What can we do to be more aware of how our Amherst education relates to our personal lives?

VM: It helps to incorporate what we’re learning in class with what we’re learning through our interactions with people outside of class. For example, how does what we learn inform our decisions, our choices, and our behavior towards others? I also think that finding out what matters most to us through the class material can help us see that our education does have importance in our personal lives. What do you think?

SH: It seems like a common trend for people to talk about college education in general as a means to get a job. And I think if you go into classes with only that mindset, you’re less likely to get something meaningful or applicable to your personal life out of it. Getting good grades is important, but we should also try to look at how the material relates to our lives outside of the classroom.

Everyone has their own different purpose here. Do have a larger, common purpose as Amherst students?

SH: I think our purpose on campus is to foster a safe learning environment for each other and to try not to judge each other. We should strive to make Amherst a place where people who come from vastly different backgrounds can interact comfortably with each other. I think that is something that I would like to see more of on campus— more cohesiveness and fewer divisions.

VM: One possible answer is that the larger, common purpose of an Amherst education is to develop our own purposes. That’s what life is about, right? People want to have a sense of meaning and identity. Through Defining Amherst, I hope that we can continue to think about the purpose of an Amherst education.

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Comments
RLA (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/26/2014 - 18:30

Giving people the space to talk about these things is a big part of it for me because our lives here are so crazy and busy. I think it’s very hard to find the time to reflect on what we’re doing. And if you do find the time, you’re more likely to do it on your own. I think that turning this internal dialogue into an external dialogue would be useful.

One practical question would be to ask where this space to talk is found. In the classroom? - sometimes, but we can't count on it. At mealtimes? or do people hang around the tables for hours after the meals are finished, talking? Wasn't the Keefe Center meant to provide this kind of space? Does it work like that?

Of course the next question concerns finding the time to talk - a much more difficult question.