Social Clubs or Eating Clubs?
Issue   |   Wed, 04/29/2015 - 00:01

In a recently released video by the Social Project Work Group, “Jess,” a fictional first-year student having trouble finding her place at Amherst, finds a diverse group of friends in the “Coolidge Club.” Social clubs have generally been presented as a panacea for students facing the challenge of finding themselves and their place at college. The promise of instantaneous friends and an inclusive environment without the classic “fraternity problems” seems too good to be true. That’s because it is. In fact, social clubs have the potential to further divide an already fractured community.

Many students are worried that social clubs will devolve into something resembling a highly regulated fraternity system, but this concern was not addressed explicitly in the proposal. The main point emphasized in the new proposal was that social clubs wouldn’t revolve around a specific skill or interest. Instead, they would provide a purely social outlet to students. This is the purpose of Greek life on college campuses nationwide. In fact, the idea of exclusive “social clubs” was specifically banned in the board of trustees’ decision last year — an incongruity that has been brushed aside with assurances of a supposedly inclusive selection process that immediately calls to mind rushing at any state school.

The new regulations that supposedly differentiate social clubs from frats are a joke, plain and simple. No single class year can comprise over 50 percent of a social club’s membership, but DKE, Chi Psi and TD also had specific numbers of members from each grade, otherwise known as “pledge classes.” Though initially the proposal was for clubs to be single sex, they now must have the same 60:40 gender ratio required of Amherst dorms. The gender ratio is a step in the right direction, but it’s not nearly enough to disguise the fact that social clubs still look suspiciously like coed fraternities.

Especially in the wake of the demolition of the actual social dorms, social clubs hold the potential to reproduce the central role the dilapidated buildings played in our drunken Saturday nights. Once again, the very name “social club” reveals the hope that these groups and their events will dominate campus social life. Yet, by virtue of the clubs’ opt-in exclusive nature, someone who chooses not to opt-in their first year risks removing themselves from the cemented social circles at the heart of campus culture. Much like the eating clubs at Princeton, one must join a social club to have a social life or be on the fringe of Amherst culture. Furthermore, in assigning so much power and importance to social clubs’ events, the Social Project Work Group ensures that the nature and quality of campus traditions will be determined by a select few, instead of arising organically from Amherst culture. As the creators and arbiters of “tradition,” social clubs would remove the possibility that such a concept as campus unity could truly exist in reality.

Finally, social clubs are redundant in light of neighborhoods. The essential goal of social clubs is pretty unobjectionable: Put more diverse students in contact with each other and to allow first years and sophomores to have access to upperclassmen mentorship. While far from perfect, the neighborhood concept fills in a lot of the gaps social clubs leave. All students would be part of a neighborhood, creating communities based on inclusivity rather than exclusivity. The opt-out nature makes neighborhoods a benefit for all of campus rather than a boon for a minority as frats have been in the past.

Since both seek to function as an Amherst student’s central community, social clubs and neighborhoods are mutually exclusive. Most importantly, neighborhoods are backed by the administration. Social clubs have the dangerous potential to entrench and institutionalize the already existing divisions on campus. When the student vote comes around in early May, The Amherst Student editorial board urges you to vote no on social clubs.

Anchor
Comments
Matt (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/29/2015 - 04:49

First, before I start off, I would like to express my disappointment that this Editorial Board, since the suggestion of any sort of social club idea, has done nothing but attack the ideas, while still acknowledging that there is an issue that must be solved. By doing this, nothing is added to the conversation. It is more than fair, and encouraged, to express opposition opinions, but it seems to be slightly unreasonable when there is clear malice in pieces addressing proposed solutions, and yet, the board makes no attempt to create suggestions of their own, save a possible endorsement of a very recent administrative proposal.
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Moving on to this most recent piece, my first issue is that the reach attempts at making every aspect of the social clubs into some aspect of traditional fraternity systems needs to stop. Right off the bat, because they seek to provide a social outlet for individuals, social clubs were equated with “Greek life on college campuses nationwide.” This statement is made with a clear negative connotation, yet there is nothing inherently detrimental in groups that exist to provide social settings for its members. As the piece progressed, it additionally took every positive improvement made to the structure of the social clubs, and associated it with some negative fraternity process. These additionally, were improvements made as a result of student body feedback. The first is the “supposedly inclusive selection process that immediately calls to mind rushing at any state school.” I would also like to point out here that later on in the piece, the social clubs are deemed worse than the neighborhood plan because neighborhoods, “create communities based on inclusivity rather than exclusivity.” At what point did the social clubs go from being bad because they are inclusive to being bad because they are exclusive? Moving on, after many expressed issues with possible gender imbalances, social clubs will now be required to follow the 60:40 gender quota, which you commended, but only right before bashing them for now being co-ed fraternities. Finally, in order to increase diversity, a social club can no longer draw more than 50% of its population from one grade. This is a step in the right direction, yet it is immediately derided as being just like pledge classes of the former fraternities. These comparisons are unnecessary, and unfounded.
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Later in the piece the comparison is made between the neighborhood policy being proposed by the administration and social clubs. I would argue that this neighborhoods example put forth as being a better option is actually a very poor example. You state the neighborhood program is superior due to being based on “inclusivity rather than exclusivity.” The social club program is not exclusive. If you apply, you will be a part of a club. However, if this is something you’d rather not be a part of, you are free to not get involved. The neighborhood program as it was proposed, is forced entry. Regardless of what students wish to do, they have to be involved. How is this better in any way? Not getting to choose whom you live with (out of the whole student body), or where you live (out of all possible dorms)? How is that not exclusionary? To go further, here is a quote from an Amherst Student article on the neighborhood proposal:
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“Neighborhoods would develop their specific own cultures by hosting events. Each neighborhood would have a set of residential counselors and a neighborhood council. The neighborhoods would each be allocated a budget, and the council would decide what kinds of events to put on. Through this process, the college hopes to build a sense of community around each neighborhood’s unique culture.”
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And then here is a segment out of this most recent article on the social clubs:
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“Furthermore, in assigning so much power and importance to social clubs’ events, the Social Project Work Group ensures that the nature and quality of campus traditions will be determined by a select few, instead of arising organically from Amherst culture. As the creators and arbiters of “tradition,” social clubs would remove the possibility that such a concept as campus unity could truly exist in reality.”
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Interesting that each of these two pieces take the same concept and put exactly opposite spins on each situation. Campus events created by social clubs (which importantly, are open to, and encourage the attendance of, the entire student body) are vilified and “remove the possibility that such a concept as campus unity could truly exist in reality.” However, when those events are created by a neighborhood, it allows everyone, “to build a sense of community around each neighborhood’s unique culture.” This could not be more hypocritical and biased. It is encouraged that each neighborhood develop its own sub culture, but suddenly when it is a social club attempting to hold a campus wide event, the very fabric of campus unity is being torn.
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The piece then continues on to highlight how the neighborhoods provide all the benefits of the social clubs but add additional positives as well. However, you have missed a major component of social clubs. They exist to foster community and friendships between individuals with similar social interests. The neighborhoods cannot claim this in the slightest. In fact, they rely purely on the assumption that if you force groups of people to spend large amounts of time together, they will inevitably become friends. This is absurd. Have we really gotten to the point that we need the college to choose who they think we should be friends with before we even get to school as first years?
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Additionally, the motivations behind the social clubs assumed by this article are unsubstantiated. Somehow the fact that the social dorms are being torn down is now a reason why the social clubs are bad? That’s a stretch. The two sentences following the previous claim contain the lines: “Once again, the very name ‘social club’ reveals the hope that these groups and their events will dominate campus social life.” This is an incredible reach. They are called social clubs because their goal is to provide a social organization for individuals lacking such a group currently. Where in that name does any sort of possible “domination” of campus life come about? The next sentence then goes on to state worries about the fact that first-years “risk removing themselves from the cemented social circles at the heart of campus culture,” and that “one must join a social club to have a social life or be on the fringe of Amherst culture.” At what point did these groups that do not even exist yet become the “cemented social circles” of the college’s culture that define one’s entire Amherst experience?
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All of these examples amount to an article and an argument that is unfounded, biased, and misleading to any reader. There is no malicious underlying goal behind these clubs. The goal is to provide social groups for individuals who wish to either expand their existing social circle, or to find one to be a part of. The approach being taken by many is to assume that those creating these groups are hiding their true intentions. It is disheartening to see an immediate rebuttal and assumption of malice as opposed to collaboration. Although it may seem that I am, I am not making the argument that the social clubs as proposed are 100% perfect. I do believe however, that as they have been proposed, they have great potential to add a missing piece to the Amherst experience.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/29/2015 - 10:56

This article is on point. Social clubs are a huge mistake.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/29/2015 - 11:48

Everything in this article is inaccurate

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/29/2015 - 15:50

"Instead, they would provide a purely social outlet to students. This is the purpose of Greek life on college campuses nationwide." - This is extremely false.

"Much like the eating clubs at Princeton, one must join a social club to have a social life or be on the fringe of Amherst culture." - Nope. If you're a normal human being you will make friends.

"The new regulations that supposedly differentiate social clubs from frats are a joke, plain and simple. No single class year can comprise over 50 percent of a social club’s membership, but DKE, Chi Psi and TD also had specific numbers of members from each grade, otherwise known as “pledge classes.”" - There is no required number of people in each class year in a fraternity. It's just a matter if you finish pledging and get initiated--nothing more or less. It is just nice to have a balanced number of people per class year.

Seriously, if you're telling people to vote no--what CAN this school have? You can't please everyone; that's life. People at this school are so out of tune with reality it amuses me.

Liz (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/29/2015 - 16:21

Sick of the constant criticism of the social club idea. Many of us enjoy and thrive in the social setting similar to that offered by team sports at Amherst--social clubs seem, to me, a great way for non-athletes to feel that they have a little more structure to their social lives. What's so terrible about that? If this isn't the type of social life a student desires, fine--no one is forcing hi or her to participate in a club--it's not mandatory. But don't ruin it for the rest of us. It's an avenue for people who prefer the camaraderie of a large group and would enjoy some more organized social activities to find their niche at the college. By the way, there's nothing exclusive about it if every interested student is guaranteed a spot in a club.

Michael (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/29/2015 - 16:32

I kind of expected from the beginning that neighborhoods came about primarily as a hasty replacement for the social club proposal, but I wasn’t really expecting an article explicitly saying “Neighborhoods good, social clubs bad.” As the article says, neighborhoods and social clubs have, in practice, very similar uses. However, neighborhoods 1. don't give you a choice whether or not to join 2. force you to associate with this splinter group of Amherst for four years (what if your friends are scattered across numerous neighborhoods? You'll never be allowed to all live together, unless you all use your one-time swap to go to the same neighborhood, but then if you make new friends and lose old ones...) and 3. RESTRICT which DORMS you get to live in (literally who thinks that students would be ok with that?).
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Social clubs seek to embellish the social scene on campus. Neighborhoods, in contrast, seek to entirely dominate it, break it up into segments, and bureaucratize it. If you want a proposal that will improve the social scene, why would you seek to limit the number of people I could potentially live with? Amherst has fewer than 1700 students, already divided by such barriers as the athlete/non-athlete dichotomy. Breaking this up even further will do nothing but limit who I know and have the chance to live with, while simultaneously forcing me to live with people that, frankly, I may not even know or have anything in common with.
In addition, the fact that neighborhoods have administrative backing makes me shy away even more from it. So now I'm being forced into a four-year living situation planned out by the same people who planned orientation? Please. The last time most of them knew what students wanted, they were students themselves. I'd much rather go with an idea planned by someone else who lives in these dorms and eats at the same dining hall as me. We have shared experiences; it's student life, not admin life. Student support is much more important because, when it all comes down to it, we're the ones who have to actually live with the choices the administration makes.
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Social clubs are exclusive in a way, that can't be argued. You won't necessarily get into your first choice club. But I didn't get into my first choice FYS or LEAP trip, and I turned out alright. Besides, a major part of the social clubs is to plan functions for ALL students. Once a semester, each group must throw a school-wide party, open to all. That's something that has an actual impact on social life; what does being confined to a group of 500 students do? How to they engage with the student body as a whole? Why am I being forced to join one, again?
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Even if you don't like social clubs - which you don't have to - don't invent misinformation and create this image of social clubs as the beginning of the end for Amherst social life. The article explicitly says, "…social clubs have the potential to further divide an already fractured community." The key word is potential. I don't really see why they think that- I think they’re being overly cynical, personally- but they express it as a potential. With neighborhoods, there is no potential of this happening- instead, there's an ensured reality, as that's their only goal. Take your pick.

Will Gillespie (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/29/2015 - 18:23

If the Editorial Board is going to condemn social clubs, then they ought to condemn certain organizations that exist already on this campus. How is it that these social clubs are labeled as, at best, "co-ed fraternities", when the Humphries house, better known by its Greek letters as the Zu, escapes all criticism and condemnation.

In order to become a resident of the Zu, the interested student must enter into a lottery--much like the social clubs. Because the students entering the lottery are well aware of the Zu’s culture, there is naturally a certain consistency in the collection of interests found in the residential body. Residents must abide by a constitution that outlines a statement of purpose, the duties of the House President, and the responsibilities of the house members (note that the constitution refers to students as members, not residents). Traditionally, on the night of a full moon, the Zu throws a campus wide party. Wine and cheese events are also commonly advertised. Typically, should you wish to have dinner at the Zu, an invitation must be extended to you by one of the “members”. Of course, like all Greek organizations the country over, there is no doubt the Zu is subject to the College’s zero-tolerance hazing policy. And, to boot, I needn’t mention that this community is enshrined by a house.

How is it that the Zu is able to exist, undisturbed by the Editorial Board's lambasting when the above description appears closer to the definition of fraternities that social clubs?

I'm not trying to criticize the Zu or similar organizations--I sincerely believe they are a powerful force on campus. But if the Editorial Board wishes to remain consistent in their accusations, then I'd like to see their criticism extended to other organizations on campus.

It is only further evidence of the bias and narrow-mindedness the Editorial Board has. It seems as if the Editorial Board is advancing something closer to a conspiracy theory whereby the old fraternities are attempting to revive themselves as social clubs. This is not only outrageous but simply misguided. If they understood the structure of fraternities, as represented throughout the country, they might see clearly that social clubs are far from them. Rather they choose to look at "suspicious" timing and "exclusivity" as proof that these will in fact be re-branded fraternities.

Perhaps the Editorial Board could escape its own bias and open its mind to the possibility that social clubs, like the Zu, could indeed have a positive force on this campus. Instead of injecting negative qualities into the social club model, try and see that these could in fact do some good.

I understand that the Zu and the Marsh House provide alternative spaces to the predominant social scene on campus, namely the socials. And I understand that by and large the students who most desire social clubs are students who also partake in the predominant social scene on campus. The argument that follows, from what I understand, is that these students should simply continue to partake in the athlete-dominated social scene. Those who feel uncomfortable doing so can find alternative spaces in the Zu and Marsh. But students, no matter what scene they currently enjoy, should not be denied the right to self-determine and organize into formal groups, simply because they already enjoy the predominant scene. Perhaps the predominant scene doesn't offer all that they would like out of a social campus life, but they feel forced into it. These students should have outlets. Social clubs are optional. They aren't forced. Let them have that right.

Alum (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 17:33

I agree with this article. Clubs for the purpose of making friends is actually kind of pathetic. You cannot FORCE friendship. The best and most successful way to build relationships in a community like Amherst were events they started in 2012, late night events in Keefe, fun workshops for people to gather and create together.

an alum (not verified) says:
Sat, 05/02/2015 - 12:11

There is -- or at least was -- a purpose to theme housing that is distinct from that of fraternities, namely, a specific and productive mission organized around a particular interest, or need. In the case of the language houses, the interest is obvious; in the case of the Zu, that was vegitarianism; and in the case of Marsh, it was to provide additional resources and space for students to make and share art and performance. To some degree, both the Zu and March are now associated with "social life" or "lifestyle" choices, and to that extent, the understanding and purpose of their original missions have been diluted. As I've followed this debate overall, I have been disappointed by students' narrow view of what constitutes "social life" which, as far as I can tell amount to little more than what group one feels accepted by while drinking (or as the case may be, choosing not to drink). I do not think social clubs address this basic lack of imagination among students who seem so intent on "organizing" campus social life.

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