A Letter to the Administration from the Residents of Hitchcock
Issue   |   Tue, 02/13/2018 - 20:12

The relationship between dorm damage, the social spaces available to students, party policy and administrative oversight has emerged as a major problem facing the campus community. The email sent to the student body from Suzanne Coffey and Dean Gendron on Jan. 30 fails to accurately identify the problems or their sources. Further, their communication as a whole with the student body as well as the policies they have implemented have done nothing to improve the situation. As residents of Hitchcock, one of the most severely impacted dorms, we feel strongly that the inaccuracies and oversights from the administration on this issue be corrected. Key to devising policies that solve these issues is understanding who is causing dorm damage, who is being impacted and most importantly, the ways in which the administration’s decisions (and lack thereof) around party policy are the underlying cause. Hitchcock Hall, as one of the most frequent locations of student parties as well as one of the most severe sites of dorm damage, is a perfect case to understand what is happening.

Dorm damage arose as an issue for us on Dec. 29, 2017, when Residential Life applied a charge of $55.22 to the Student Accounts of Hitchcock residents for “Common Area Damage.” No explanation was given for what had occurred, when it had happened and whether or not the entire dorm had been charged, and there was no notification that the charge was being to our accounts. Hitchcock residents individually discovered the charge and began contacting ResLife asking for an explanation and context. Many resident’s individual emails were ignored for days and weeks. Eventually, residents heard from ResLife via an email on Jan. 19, 2018, providing limited context.

ResLife asserted that $14,855 of unattributable damages had been done to residence halls in the Fall 2017 semester. Information was not provided regarding the amount individual residence halls had suffered, what constituted damages, what specific dates the damage had occurred or why they were considered un-attributable. This information would not be provided until Jan. 30 after a continued effort from Hitchcock residents to get basic information out of ResLife.

The lack of transparency and communication throughout this process is representative of the relationship between students and ResLife. That residents of Hitchcock were not alerted that dorm damage charges were being incurred against them until the semester was over and were not provided information regarding the specifics of these charges until after the next semester began is absolutely unacceptable. The inability for ResLife to clearly communicate policy changes and implementation as well as provide information to students is one of the core issues that needs to be resolved. To begin, ResLife should provide immediate updates to Hitchcock residents whenever damage they believe is unattributable has occurred, so that we are aware of it and are able to respond with information about what might have happened.

ResLife asserts that certain dorm damage is “unattributable” and therefore that cost should be spread equally among all residents of the dorm. There are two problems with this: (1) The current state of the Amherst party scene involves a very limited number of students, in part due to the limited amount of spaces available. (2) This “unattributable” dorm damage is largely the product of officially registered student parties. Each of these registered parties last semester had a student “party sponsor” who was responsible for the event. The purpose of the registration system is in part so that party sponsors can be identified in the case of damage occurring as a result of the event. In the case of Hitchcock, when comparing the breakdown of dorm damage provided by ResLife to the list of party registration requests and party sponsors in the main Hitchcock common area, it is easy to identify the groups and individuals that registered parties the weekends that damage occurred. It is therefore ridiculous for the administration to assert that this damage is “unattributable,” let alone that it should be dispersed among dorm residents, most of whom are not involved in the events happening in their common spaces.

When identifying the groups registering parties in Hitchcock, it becomes apparent just how small a group of students are utilizing the space. Approximately 77 percent of the groups that registered parties on weekends in which damage occurred during last Fall Semester were varsity athletic teams. Further, three teams — Men’s Lacrosse, Men’s Football, and Men’s Ice Hockey — constituted roughly 67 percent of registrations on such weekends alone. About 72 percent of all registrations during that period, regardless of whether damage occurred that weekend, were made by varsity athletes.

While it is certainly true that there are cases of non-athletes attending parties registered by athletes, party sponsors, both athlete and non-athlete, need to accept responsibility for controlling attendance or calling ACPD when destructive individuals are attending their events, regardless of if they were invited. It is also because of this that simply banning the members of one or two groups from registering parties would not solve the problem. The underlying structures and policies that produce these situations are what require immediate attention.

ResLife and Student Affairs have made no meaningful effort to hold party sponsors of any affiliation accountable for cleaning up after their registered events in Hitchcock. Instead, by attempting to disperse dorm damage costs to all of the residents of a dorm, they have allowed a limited number of students to act in a destructive manner and then pass the consequences onto the rest of the student body. The result has been that from the beginning of this academic year, parties in Hitchcock have been continually destructive to the space and those registering parties have never been incentivized to meaningfully address it. The administration’s answer has been to burden students not participating in these registered parties to become watchdogs over the students who are, or be monetarily penalized.

This policy needs to be understood alongside the knowledge that varsity athletes disproportionately register parties on the weekend. The athlete/non-athlete divide is relevant because it also represents a class and racial divide. The class divide is particularly important to understand when policies are resulting in students being monetarily penalized simply for choosing to live in a specific dorm. 6 percent of men’s and 2 percent of women’s varsity teams are low-income students while 31 percent of non-athletes are low-income students. 73 percent of men’s and 74 percent of women’s varsity teams are white, while only 35 percent of non-athletes are white. (This data is 2-3 years old and comes from the Place of Athletics at Amherst Report released in 2017. The administration should update the student body with new data if the numbers have changed significantly). Knowing this, it becomes clear that through this policy of placing the burden of dorm damage on entire dorms, administrators are pressuring non-athletes, as well as varsity athletes not in attendance, to spend their weekends watching over party registrations which are dominated by varsity athletes to ensure that damages are “attributable” or to face financial consequences. The diffusion of these financial consequences allows for students registering parties, who are disproportionately athletes and therefore much less likely to be low-income, to essentially push out low-income students from living in certain dorms out of fear for having to pay for someone else’s damage.

It’s also worth talking about what being a student watchdog would actually mean in the moment. Many of us do not know the names of every face we see partying in our dorms. Without being able to provide a name, it is rather difficult to send a report to ResLife afterwards to attribute damages to destructive individuals. Calling the ACPD is ineffective as well, considering even RCs have had experiences of calling ACPD to handle a situation only to have them never arrive or arrive too late, after the destructive individual has left. This leaves students under this policy forced to directly confront destructive, intoxicated violence that could just as quickly be aimed at people as it is at furniture (and cases of physical and verbal assault happen too frequently in party spaces as it is). Knocking holes in ceilings, breaking furniture and punching walls (all of which have occurred across campus) are often the product of a violent, toxic masculinity that can be physically dangerous to those present. The danger of this violence is especially true for RCs and residents who are not men but are expected to directly confront these situations. Coffey and Gendron’s policies quite literally put some students in the situation of choosing between potentially putting themselves in physical danger or facing financial consequences.

That the administration failed to recognize the intersections between their policy and the dynamics of class, race and gender at Amherst or to acknowledge the ways in which their policies impact various groups at Amherst differently is completely unacceptable.

While Coffey and Gendron’s most recent email on the subject mentioned the “sickening conditions” faced by our custodial and facilities staff who are left to clean up after these events, they failed to recognize that this issue is a result of their refusal to make serious effort to hold party sponsors accountable for ensuring their events are cleaned up. Most importantly, they have failed to recognize that those “sickening conditions” deeply impact student welfare as well. The experience of the residents of dorms who live in conditions in which vomit, trash, broken ceilings etc. occurring on Friday or Saturday night and could sit for 48-72 hours until Monday afternoon before it is removed, continues to go unaddressed. Coffey and Gendron have failed to recognize or address the ways in which students, including those who were placed in Hitchcock for medical housing (as well as other dorms in which dorm damage is severe) and did not make the choice to live there (as well as students who did choose to live there but could not have possibly expected what has happened), are now being made to live in unsanitary conditions which present a health risk.

Coffey and Gendron’s most recent response highlighted that their newest policies reflect those of several other liberal arts colleges. That they would attempt to mimic the student life policies at schools with dramatically different and varied student life frameworks, simply because Amherst has a similar academic mission, speaks to their incapacity to find a productive and relevant solution for this campus. Further, despite their newest policies, as residents of Hitchcock we can confidently say that the destructive behavior and unsanitary conditions have not changed, and all of the concerns and problems that we have outlined, remain relevant.

The student body needs leadership among the staff that are knowledgeable about what student life is like at Amherst and can produce solutions that specifically address the issues that are faced on this campus. We need policymakers that are willing to acknowledge the divisions within the campus community and actually work to address them instead of treating every problem as a campus-wide issue. More importantly, the administration needs to accept responsibility for the fact that what is occurring now is the product of a long string of failed and misguided decisions across Student Affairs and that it is not the job of students, who have no interest being at a specific social event, to monitor or police it. As residents of Hitchcock, we hope that going forward, solutions will reflect the student experience.

Illen Asmerom ’18
Christina Bourne ’18
Ricky Choi ’18
Faith Chung ’18
Miriam Eickhoff ’19
Emma Griese ’18
Jennifer Krems ’18
Catherine Lindsay ’19
Kristen Molina ’18
Helen Montie ’18
Michael Shi ’19
Andrew Smith ’18
Brenna Sullivan ’18
Lerato Teffo ’18
Alex Toupal ’18
Will Zaubler ’19