A Poor Replacement for Social Spaces
Issue   |   Wed, 09/14/2016 - 01:03

Last year, upon my arrival to Amherst, I learned about a place called “The Socials.” Four upperclassmen dormitories Coolidge, Crossett, Stone and Pond were the centers of weekend social life for Amherst students. Sure, many Fridays and Saturdays would be occupied by formals taking place in common rooms, but after those parties teetered, one could always retreat to the Socials to find a party.

Today, a year later, much has changed. The social quad has been obliterated — the buildings have been demolished, the land has been flattened, and a massive mound of dirt now sits next to Keefe — and a new Science Center is slated to open in the fall of 2018. New dormitories, known as the Greenways, now house many Amherst students. And, perhaps most importantly to many students at the College, new locations are being developed as the centers of partying on campus.

This relocation of weekend social events is where, in my limited experience, problems have arisen. In the few nights that I have gone out on campus this year, I’ve felt that the number of unique, public parties on campus has gone down, leaving students with fewer options of where to go on a weekend night. Furthermore, and as one would expect, because of this lack of options, I’ve found that nearly every party becomes overrun with people, no matter the location. These problems are, in my opinion, a result of two very obvious things. One, of course, is the fact that the Socials are gone. The second is the College’s decision not to replicate the Socials when constructing new dorms, and instead to create very different types of spaces in the Greenways.

The Socials had many flaws, both in their physical condition as well as the social atmosphere that they promoted. However, they were effective in a few key ways. First of all, the Socials suites contained larger common rooms where a good number of students could gather. They were a size that promoted a group of friends gathering to “pregame” by playing some pleasant drinking games, larger but still intimate gatherings with just an athletic team or two (often called “mixers”), as well as full-on parties where the lights were off and the music was blaring, and no one was keeping track of who came in and out of the door.

Of course, these common rooms were not as large and not nearly as nice as many spaces found in dorms like Mayo-Smith dormitory, Hitchcock dormitory or Seelye dormitory. And sure, those common rooms can and already are used for each of the different types of gatherings I listed above. Furthermore, by virtue of being larger, these common rooms could hold even more people for the larger, lights-off-music-blaring parties, which many might see as an advantage.

However, in my experience at the Socials, it was never a disappointment when a party was too crowded. This leads to the second reason why the Socials were effective: The sheer number of parties happening at the same time. On any given weekend night, one could rely on a multitude of parties being thrown at each of the four Social dorms. This created a situation where a student who felt overcrowded at a party would not have to choose between staying in an uncomfortable space and going back to their dorm. Rather, they could simply use the old-as-time Amherst adage and simply “follow the music” to find another party at a nearby suite, whether in the same building or across the quad.

This leads to the final reason why the Socials were so effective: their proximity to one another. If a student wanted to go to a different party, they wouldn’t need to walk all the way across campus to get there. They would have to simply walk across the Social Quad.

Nearly all of these advantages have been undone this year, but not only because the Socials have been torn down. What has exacerbated the issue of the state weekend life at Amherst is the fact that the Greenways do not promote the same type of socializing — the type of socializing that many Amherst students are used to — that the Socials did. The Greenways have suites, sure, but the common rooms are miniscule compared to those in the Socials. They are in proximity to each other as well, but because of the small common rooms, very few if any public parties take place there.

Because of these problems with the Greenways, so far Amherst students have resorted to gathering in other spaces, namely the Triangle (Hitchcock, Seelye and Mayo-Smith) and Jenkins. While this is the same number of dormitories that were on the social quad, the Triangle only has three places where a party can take place (in each of the large common rooms), and Jenkins has fewer suites than any of the Social Dorms did. Furthermore, Jenkins and the Triangle are quite far from one another.

These are all things that disrupt the way that Amherst students are used to going out on a Saturday. Now, there are fewer parties occurring, while the same number of people are going out, which leads to overcrowding. Also, because the parties are far away from each other, in order to go from one to another, students must walk a greater distance than they are used to. Obviously this is not a huge issue, it is just something that students are not used to doing. But what makes this walk especially unfortunate is the fact that instead of walking to find a party that is perhaps less crowded and more enjoyable, students are walking back and forth between two locations — the Triangle and Jenkins — that are equally crowded, hot and generally unbearable.

Of course, we have only been back at school for a couple of weeks, and there is probably no need to overreact. After all, before the Socials were built, most parties took place at old fraternity houses, so social adjustments have been made on this campus before. However, I find it very unfortunate that the College decided to build these new dorms in the way they did, knowing that students would not be able to have proper social gatherings there. I wish that the College had thought through the consequences that would come with not directly replacing the Socials. It seems that Amherst believed building the Greenways would result in fewer students wanting to go out to larger parties, but result has instead been that fewer students have fun when they do go out.

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