Social Club Work Group Answers Frequently Asked Questions
Issue   |   Wed, 12/10/2014 - 01:31

Over the past few weeks there has been a great amount of discussion about establishing social groups on campus. There are some students who have become immediately drawn to this idea and others who are opposed, but almost everyone has been eager to learn more and offer feedback. What are social groups? What issues will they address? How will they do so?
The following questions and answers aim to shed light on the potential of Amherst social clubs. However, since the idea has only just recently begun to take form, it is important to note that the subsequent information is simply a starting point for the conversation of social clubs. Moving forward, it is crucial that this idea reflects and is tailored to the needs and values of Amherst College. This can only be done through the the genuine participation of the student body in the crafting of a system that appropriately addressed the currently lackluster social climate.

Q: Who is on the Social Club Work Group, and how did this group form?
A: The current members of the committee include Tomi Williams ’16, Virginia Hassell ’16, Tom Sommers ’16, Jerry McLellan ’16, Brian Lobdell ’15, Abe Kanter ’15, Ashley Felix ’15, Jenny Fitzpatrick ’15 and Ellie Andersen ’15. This group was formed when several students approached the administration with various ideas to help improve social life at Amherst College. These students were encouraged to work together and, over the course of several meetings, came up with the beginnings of the idea for groups on campus meant to facilitate diverse, meaningful and consistent social interactions for all interested students.

Q: How concrete are these ideas?
A: They aren’t! The group intentionally left much of the idea open ended so that all students have an opportunity to actively contribute. We are working through all of these ideas and looking for any and all input from the student body. We want to hear all opinions and thoughts, advice and concerns.

Q: How can I get involved?
A: There are a number of ways to get involved. The social project workgroup will be holding several all-school town halls and work sessions. We will also be holding dorm chats and attending club meetings upon request. Perhaps most significantly, the work group will be expanding to 15 members, so any interested students should apply. Applications will be considered by the AAS Appointments Board.

Q: What is the timeline for these groups?
A: There is no strict timeline for the establishment of these groups. We initially hoped that if all went well we could get a pilot up and running at some point next semester, but this will only happen if a comprehensive program is collaboratively crafted and proposed, and the student body is well informed and supports the initiation of said program.

Q: What are the currently proposed social groups?
A: The originally envisioned groups were very similar to the houses of Harry Potter: groups that are focused around universal traits/interests and open to all students.

Q: Who is SCOC?
A: SCOC stands for Social Club Oversight Committee. This is the group that would oversee the activities of the social groups. The SCOC would be comprised of the student leaders from each of the social groups as well as a board of Administrators and Faculty members to administer admission processes, facilitate creation of any new social groups and investigate transgressions and hand down any necessary sanctions to individual group members or groups as a whole. The SCOC — which is a distinct body from the Social Project Work Group — has not yet been formed and can only be so if and when the social groups are established.

Q: What is the goal of the social groups?
A: There are several goals of these social groups:
•Increase/encourage student access and openness to diversity by allowing students to congregate not on the basis of identity but rather on common, universal characteristics, traits and/or interests.
•Assist in the the reorganization of the social scene traditionally dominated by a relatively small number of campus groups.
•Provide access to social organization and participation to those whom have commonly felt overlooked by Amherst’s social scene and have experienced loneliness due to such neglect.

Q: How are they different from fraternities?
A: As mentioned above, the idea has yet to be fully shaped and will, in its final form, heavily include the feedback of the student body. As this the case, it is difficult to point to every difference that the final model will have from former fraternities. That being said, there are constraints within which we are operating to ensure a basic distinctness between these new groups and past Amherst fraternities. These distinctions will be built upon and even furthered as the idea continues to develop. Below are the minimum distinctions between the two:
•Close administrative oversight of all activities of the groups
•Zero tolerance for hazing
•Required bystander training
•All students who would like to participate are guaranteed access to a group
•Groups will be heavily publicized to all students
•Not exclusively centered around drinking/party culture

Q: How are they different from current activity groups?
A: As many have pointed out, there is already a tremendous amount of stress and pressure placed upon the shoulders of Amherst students. We actively seek to do better and join more. A vast majority of our current registered student organizations are mechanisms through which students can learn, serve or further pursue academic/professional aspirations. Social groups, as we have envisioned them, are meant to be a place where students can come together, socialize and have fun without the pressure of a required product or outcome. These groups are, in fact, similar in purpose to affinity groups that function as a consistent support system, social organization and safe space for many students on campus. That being said, most affinity groups predominantly serve a particular portion of campus. These groups will aim to also accomplish these goals for diverse groups of students from various backgrounds and of differing identities.

Q: Who can be in a group?
A: Any and all Amherst students can be in a group!

Q: Will the groups be coed?
A: This is a decision that is still very much being fleshed out and we are actively seeking student’s thoughts and opinions on the issue. Regardless, there will certainly be coed options for these groups but what is yet to be fully determined is whether or not single-gender options would also be offered.

Q: How are we going to ensure that these groups are diverse?
A: Establishing genuine access to the special diversity we have at Amherst is one of the main focuses of this idea. Any member selection/allocation process must reflect this ideal and it shall be ingrained within the system so that it may be maintained for years to come. It is also important that the unifying character of any individual groups does not inherently discriminate against students on the basis of background or identity. SCOC will play an important role here to ensure that students are not being actively or essentially excluded on the basis of their background or identity.

Albert Bard (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 11:54

"The originally envisioned groups were very similar to the houses of Harry Potter. . ." Hogwarts is a fictional boarding school for teenage wizards. Amherst is a real college whose signature pedagogical imperative is student self-government. It exists to prepare adults for responsible participation in a democratic republic. (See Alexander Meicklejohn, The Liberal College.) Why would any Amherst student accept, let alone advocate for, a residential life system predicated on "close administrative oversight of all activities of the groups"? Such a system is appropriate for a secondary school, not an undergraduate institution. No Ivy League student would stand for this kind of infantilization. It is surprising that the Amherst faculty would suffer its imposition on their students.