An Honest Appraisal
Issue   |   Tue, 01/30/2018 - 21:35

We, the Editorial Board, were not planning on writing the editorial on this topic. Jake May’s opinion article clearly articulates the concerns many on campus have with the updates to the party policy that were released last week. However, in light of yesterday’s email from Chief Student Affairs Officer Suzanne Coffey and Senior Associate Dean of Students Dean Gendron, we felt that it was our responsibility to respond.

First, we would like to note that even though we vehemently disagree with many elements of the new party policy and strongly critique the wording and argument of yesterday’s email, we would agree that the ultimate goal of this process should be to “build a better community for everyone.” However, the college’s efforts towards this noble goal are misguided at best and cynical and counter-productive at worst.

In this email, which within minutes stirred up an enormous furor across campus, Coffey and Gendron noted the recent rise in dorm damage, misconduct and alcohol abuse, behavior which they claim is “beneath contempt” and certainly is. We similarly condemn this disrespectful behavior, and acknowledge that the actions of students need to improve across the board. However, they neglect to mention any of the causes for these spikes, for many of which the school is to blame. The current state of our social life stems from the administration’s decision to replace the social dorms with the Greenway dorms, which were designed in a manner antithetical to any meaningful party scene.

Social life is now essentially constrained to a small collection of dorms, namely the Triangle, Lipton, Mo Pratt and Jenkins. These same dorms are likely the ones accruing the most dorm damage, but only because, with almost no available suites on-campus, there is nowhere else for students to go besides large common rooms. Furthermore, the fact that many parties in these spaces are shut down early means that students often choose to heavily pregame events, leading to incredibly unhealthy drinking habits in private.

In addition to the administration’s unwillingness to look at the effects of their own choices on Amherst’s social life, the tone taken by Suzanne Coffey and Dean Gendron, one of patronizing disrespect, is endemic to the administration’s discussion of the issue. By no means do we ask for coddling or even complete agreement. We understand that there are certain issues on which the student body and the administration fundamentally differ. However, we would ask that the administration engage in a genuine dialogue where both sides accept blame. It is clear in this email that the administration still feels that they shoulder no blame for the uptick in poor behavior. The writers claim that it is easy to blame the administration, and perhaps it is, but the reason we do so is because they are the ones enacting policy. They claim responsibility for not finding the right balance, but that overlooks the fact that many would argue that we were much closer to the right balance when the socials existed.

Furthermore, the writers of this email also set forth a series of claims that, at a quick glance, seem fundamentally illogical. How is it remotely reasonable to compare social life and party policy at Amherst, a school with little to no off-campus housing, to a school like Brown or other NESCAC schools, which boast either Greek life or a vibrant off-campus community? For Amherst, a school where students have to fight tooth-and-nail to claim one of 50 off-campus houses, such comparisons ring hollow, as does the claim that “residential living is a privilege.” The school wants us on campus, for better or worse, yet is unwilling to seriously address the limitations and problems this has created on this campus.

Ultimately, we believe the social scene at Amherst College is fundamentally flawed and the college’s acceptance of this fact is helpful. Moving forward it is imperative that both parties — students and administration — do their part to maintain the health of our community. Students must tend to their spaces with respect, care and consideration. However, the administration must also accept it is at fault for some of the issues students are complaining about. Honestly engaging with each other’s concerns is the only way towards a vibrant and safe social scene.