A Crisis of Social Space
Issue   |   Wed, 01/30/2013 - 01:21

Does anyone know what is going on with Keefe? Outside of a stunning neon green and orange color scheme that shines off the walls, most of the renovation of the Student Center remains a mystery to students. A single email sent by the President in late December lists the renovations, but since then we have seen no floor plan nor a reaffirmation of the original sketch laid down. After months of supposed consultation with students, the administration went ahead with a completely different move without any student input, negating months of work and leaving the students with a campus center that has the possibility of filling none, some or all of our needs.

Renovation plans to Keefe changed often prior to that one email, and there was nothing afterwards to confirm it and/or provide a link to details. The rehabilitation of the drab old Keefe building is certainly a welcome change, but the lack of clear (or, to be honest, any) information about what we can expect during the renovations leaves students scrambling. A great number of activities occur in the campus center — club meetings, campus activities, recreation, creating student publications — and these are now all thrown into the lurch because of the poor timing or planning of this renovation.

It also remains entirely unclear as to when the renovation is actually going to finish, with no communication from the administration or really anyone on what is happening with Keefe. The renovations could be done in two weeks or two months, both of which have violently and drastically different implications for our student body and the loss of social spaces on campus. Students have to plan for events and other activities over the next few months, and the opaqueness with which the administration has carried out this renovation is nothing short of astonishing. It is almost as though the students are not worthy of knowing what is going on in our own campus center, just as we were not worthy in deciding its layout.

The complaints students are having about Campus Center renovations itself have shown what most students already know — that social spaces on campus serve important functions, and that the elimination of one of these spaces greatly impacts an already fragile public and social life at Amherst College. Keefe, as poor as it is in functioning as a social space for student life, is one of few social spaces that we already have. The loss of other social spaces at different times last year for different reasons also strained student social gathering in the short-term. However, we believe that ending the poor use of other spaces on Campus could permanently alleviate much of the angst about the lack of social life and effective social spaces.

The Student believes that attempts by the Administration to redesign and renovate spaces across campus would be backed by popular demand if they were undertaken with enhancing student social space in mind. Many spaces, ranging from O’Connor Commons to the vast Moore common room, could provide much better support for student clubs and student hangouts if they were redesigned to do so. Even Valentine Dining Hall plus a few upgrades (commonly found at other schools) such as booths, couches and around-the-clock access could be a viable hub for student life. The new science center, which almost all of us will never see during our time here, will provide some daytime relief to this problem. The Student believes social life’s intersection with social space needs to be pushed into the limelight, especially in the absence of the science center’s completion.

Sam Bell (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/06/2013 - 01:44

This article dances around the real issue, so I'm going to say it: The problem is that there is a severe lack of space to hold safe parties where students can freely consume alcohol without fear of prosecution. Concrete basements and dingy socials common rooms are not conducive to safe drinking. Nor are parties crowded to beyond any semblance of fire code compliance.

Most of these problems can be addressed with several easy steps:

1. Campus police need to target party enforcement towards unsafe drinking practices. Cracking down on safe parties drives students into the few remaining parties, which become unfathomably packed. If students feel comfortable that responsible parties will not get broken up, then that will encourage them to throw safe parties.

2. The official ban on drinking in freshman dorms must be repealed. Freshman common rooms must be opened up as space for safe parties to relieve the very high burden placed on the few remaining ballrooms in Hitchcock and Seelye.

3. Social spaces should be made classier. The effect of environment on student behavior is real. Concrete basements lead to chugging straight from a plastic bottle of Rubinoff. The College's vast store of mediocre paintings ought to be opened and distributed to appropriate locations around campus.

4. Alcohol must be permitted at official campus parties. Student security must no longer issue patdowns, confiscate alcohol, and block entrances and exits in clear violation of fire codes.

5. The administration must make it clear that the school's official position is that the drinking age and marijuana prohibition are unjust laws, and the school will merely do the minimum required to uphold them. Biddy must sign the Amethyst Initiative.

6. All limitations on use of alcohol by students who are 21 or older must be repealed.

If Amherst chooses instead to continue with the policy of packing students into wildly unsafe parties, we will continue to see a surge in frat membership, sexual assaults, alcohol poisonings, and other symptoms of unsafe drinking practices. When I came to Amherst in 2007, many of these problems were not as severe as they are now. And that matters. Administrators may mock these concerns, but I found that the alcohol crackdown meaningfully decreased my quality of life at Amherst and led to me engaging in less safe drinking practices. I graduated in 2011, and from homecoming visits it seems like the problem has worsened considerably. It's time for reform.