What Can We Do With Party Policy Discourse?
Issue   |   Tue, 02/06/2018 - 23:27

Things have gotten a little crazy here at Amherst College. Crazy that a dean showed up to walk through Crossett Christmas. Crazy that these are the things that our student body apparently thinks we should “make some serious noise about” when a modern-day gestapo is deporting people from communities in our own backyard. But this is where campus discourse is at right now, so what do we do with that?

As frustrated as I and other campus leftists are that people don’t care about other far more egregious and insidious abuses of power around campus and our western Massachusetts community, I believe that this particular topic can be a window into many of the tensions and contradictions that we negotiate daily as Amherst students, as people living in our current historic-political context and as people, period.

We feel infantilized. As my friend Bryan Doniger ’18 noted in his Jan. 23 op-ed, if we don’t want to be treated like infants, we ought to start by not treating ourselves like infants. The administration is not without its valid points about safety, and to deny this would indeed be rather infantile. I am not often one to side with the administration. But since we find ourselves at their more-or-less autocratic whim, we have little choice but to take their criticism seriously so that we can recognize what may be worth changing about our campus culture, and push back with legitimate counterpoints against their illogical or unfair assertions. Suzanne Coffey writes in her wildly unpopular email of January 30th that “getting to a better place and a more vibrant social environment requires that you hold one another responsible and protect one another from excesses that could be highly risky for them or for other people [sic].” If we don’t take care of these issues ourselves, we are inviting infantilization by our campus Big Brother, or at least this is the logic provided to us.

We feel over-policed. We should talk about this, because we will not cease to be over-policed when we leave Amherst College. Over-policing is predicated on a logic of infantilization — that we are not capable of taking care of ourselves — so that is just what we must do. We have to watch out for people getting too drunk at our parties. We have to watch out for predatory behavior at our parties. During my time living at the Zu, we tried to do this by assigning roles for people to remain sober, providing contact information for sober people in bathrooms and hallways and encouraging people to keep their eyes open and notify us of any unwanted behavior. Community responsibility is a messy project that takes trial and error. Police have had nearly 200 years to perfect their means of social control. We’re not going to learn how to undo our policed mindsets and care for each other overnight, but it is extremely important to practice. Even if it begins out of spite for a “Footloose”-esque administration, we have little to lose by implementing ethics of community self-care not only in our parties, but in our everyday lives. If we get started now, we might be able to return to our communities back home, or wherever we may go after college, and begin to grow networks of mutual accountability that eliminate the need to call the police.

The police inevitably crash our Zu parties even when we try to take as much initiative as we can to neutralize the need for their presence. Our college police have a lot less to do than municipal police, have a much smaller area to patrol and are pretty good at predicting when and where students will be doing things the college is supposed to frown upon, since, as the popular refrain goes, we have no party spaces now that the socials are gone.

But what if I told you that, south of the gym, west of Route 116 and north of Route 9, lay neighborhoods upon neighborhoods of houses transitioning year to year between groups of students much like ourselves? That they are competitively priced with room and board at the college (or subject to a generous financial aid stipend), and lie outside the jurisdiction of the ACPD? It is true, my friends. I realize that transportation is still an issue here, but it is worth at least using party policy discourse to start a conversation about the possible obsolescence of the college’s strict policy of being a residential community. If one wants to not be infantilized by college police and administration, one solution is to live outside of the bounds of its biopolitical sphere of influence. We could decide when and where to eat rather than herding ourselves to our community feed trough two or three times a day, we could meet our neighbors of a variety of ages and backgrounds and we could decide how we want to party and exchange our lack of responsibility for a sense of control. (I will not go into the importance of meeting more community members, as I have already done so in my Disorientation 2016 piece, “Popping the Amherst Bubble”). The college would not have to meet every need of every student — it could merely be a place of learning (imagine that!) from which we return to our own sovereign spaces each day. This might relieve Student Life from some of the pressure of providing everything a young adult might need for a fulfilling life in the space of a few acres, too.

But of course, even if we build systems of accountability in our common spaces, the cops will still come. Even if we all decide to move off campus, the college will put up a fight. So the most important thing to take from this moment is that the people who claim to represent you, to keep you safe, will disappoint you and prevent you from being free. In mid-January, Congressional Democrats folded in negotiations to protect 800,000 undocumented young people after only 72 hours. My comrades at the Pioneer Valley Workers Center and I had hoped we could count on New England’s Senate Democrats for whom we had campaigned, to represent us, but they did not. That is why we organize. If we want a campus culture we can be proud of, we’ll have to put in the work to build it ourselves, and if we want a society we can be proud of, we’ll have to build that ourselves, too.