A History of the Social Dorms: From Inception to Demolition
Issue   |   Wed, 09/14/2016 - 01:59
Graphics by Justin Barry '18
A copy of The Student from 1986 featured an article declaring the structure of the social dorms socially limiting.

On May 7, 2016, students gathered to arrange and light votive candles on the social quad — their individually small but collectively voluminous flames could be seen flickering in the wind by those dancing on the inward-facing windowsills of Crossett and Pond. This past spring, on the last Saturday before finals period — a few days after a keg found its way out of a window in Pond and a few days before the ultimate bulldozing of the social dorms — students organized a vigil to celebrate the space’s existence or destruction, or both.

Kali Robinson ’17, head planner of the event, succinctly summarized the student body’s mixed sentiments in his call via Facebook to commemorate the dorms Crossett, Stone, Pond and Coolidge: “This is it, they’re coming down, mourn or scorn with me tonight at 11:30pm!” Students, spanning in both class year and level of sobriety, scrawled short, personal farewell wishes to the Socials on scraps of paper, ranging from, “I can’t wait for this to come down,” to, “Coolidge 4ever <3.”

In the later years, the Socials decidedly served as the best, most reliable party-hopping scene on the Amherst campus, the landmark for many first and last bad decisions and that place that allowed people to meet, for better or for worse. However, Amherst students have not always thought of the dorms in this light.

In a copy of The Student from 1986, the editors printed an opinion piece on the social dorms expressing sentiments quite distinct from the consensus current students hold. The short article expressed their concerns and asked for amendments, all stemming from the apparent lack of inclusive social space in the social dorms that had caused student-thrown parties to fail:

“Residents of the social dorms have recently displayed several enthusiastic attempt to host campus-wide parties. Primarily sophomores, these students have been limited by the very structure of the social dorms. Originally designed to house small groups independent of one another (i.e., seniors who had previously established close friendships), these dorms are now primarily occupied by eager underclassmen still in the process of forming widespread friendships. However, these residents are plagued by the anti-social structure of the social dorms. In order to encourage conducive social atmosphere in these dorms, the administration should radically experiment with at least two of the five dorms. Basement renovations are critical, perhaps including carpeting, permanent furniture, televisions with cable and sectioning with a possible kitchen. More community social space, as opposed to room-group social space, should be created. Specifically, the second floor, four room-six man suites in Stone and Crossett should be gutted and reconstructed to be similar to the Moore T.V. pit or the New Dorm social space. We emphasize that experimentation is essential; presently, the social dorms simply don’t work, and changing them just can’t make a social dorm party more crowded.”

The administration might have considered this opinion when choosing the plan for the Greenway, the housing space that ultimately replaced the Socials. Not only does the Greenway boast carpeting, permanent furniture, kitchens and against today’s popular opinion less “room-group social space,” they also include many communal indoor and outdoor social areas, including a beach volleyball court, a half basketball court, an outdoor amphitheater, study spaces, common rooms with games like skee ball, comically large Scrabble and indoor event spaces — spaces only a little bit cooler than the Moore dormitory television pit.

Yet, the student body does not seem totally satisfied with the new space — as the Social dormitories provided the constant location for gatherings, students are at a loss. When asked about the new dorms, Gabriella Selover ’17, resident of Greenway B, said, “Obviously it’s nice to have modern and clean rooms [in the Greenway] but it doesn’t make up for the community that the socials facilitated.”

Others are a bit more optimistic. Amir Hall ’17 recently observed that the new, inclusive spaces in Greenway seem to allow students to meet and socialize with peers they may not necessarily have before, at all hours of the day. “So far it seems to be facilitating interclass community pretty well,” he commented.

Looking back on an old opinion of the socials — one so drastically different from more recent sentiments — gives us, as students, another chance to learn from history. Thirty years ago, students were apparently “plagued” by the “anti-social structure of the social dorms.” Today, we are not completely sure where the new social scene will settle without them. Essentially, the take away is this: The dramatic death of the socials does not mean the equivalent of Amherst social life. As Amherst students, we will eventually find a way to use the structure of our current spaces to our advantage, and eventually an alternative, even a return of social-esque dorms, will seem impossible.

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