Space Allocation in Context
Issue   |   Wed, 12/05/2012 - 00:29

Given that the move and improvement of the MRC and the Women’s Center takes place in the larger context of Keefe spatial allocation, we should discuss Keefe’s long-term improvement.

It’s disheartening that the dialogue surrounding the move instead centers around a zero-sum competition over the limited resource of quality floor space, meaning that some area of campus life must suffer if another is to gain. This need not to be the case if we recognize that the efficiency of space overall can be enhanced. If the three floors were much better integrated as one space, then whether one must walk up or down a central staircase to reach an office would not be an issue.

It is also disheartening that the requirement to move the MRC next to a main walkway means that it can exist nowhere but at Keefe’s entrance. This is the result of major design flaws. First, the old age of the building and the fact that rooms are constantly reconverted for alternative uses means that quality office space is very limited. Some areas include awkward nooks, oddly shaped window arrangements, half-walls, old dark-rooms and storage spaces. Areas with the things needed to make an office attractive to new hires — new furnishings, personal office rooms and sufficient natural light — are limited almost exclusively to the first floor. Second, the fact that the design doesn’t allow for central avenues of movement and activity means that only a few areas are accessible enough for them to evolve into the kinds of open cmmon areas that the MRC hopes to host and create. Third, the highly compartmentalized feel of Keefe means that the only areas visible to the flow of foot traffic are areas immediately surrounding the first floor lobby. Campus centers at other schools often open up into grand atriums after walking through the entrance. Ours, however, opens up into a lobby that acts as a glorified t-intersection. It is neither brightly lit nor enhances any feeling of openness, making the whole building an unwelcoming space for visitors.

This boxy nature fractures the sense of community we hope to create; if the building contradicts the feelings of its intended purpose, then the College ought to radically re-envision the internal structure of our campus center.

There is a move to renovate Keefe over interterm, but internal redesign and external expansion of Keefe is not on the agenda.

The need for attractive office spaces means that expanding and restructuring our campus center must be a top priority, so student groups are not pitted against each other and so community building can become truly inclusive. We should have a campus center that allows students to forge meaningful relationships with each other. The contest for space in Keefe and the consequent toxic and divisive battles between student groups can only be resolved once we radically reimagine the possibilities our campus center can offer us. We just need to realize that space really isn’t as limited as we think it may be.

Sonum (not verified) says:
Thu, 12/06/2012 - 01:20

But given that the administration is not prioritizing the wishes of the MRC and women now, who is to say they will do so when we re-envision Keefe? I completely agree that Keefe is a crappy structure, but it's also important to think about how Amherst has addressed marginalized groups in its re-allocation of Keefe. If we ever radically "re-envision" Keefe, I can just imagine people asking the same kinds of questions they are asking now, "Why do minorities need their own center? Shouldn't we create a space in which Amherst students are allowed to have fun without shame? Can we build more pool tables to foster community?" We cannot radically re-envision physical structure without radically envisioning societal structures.

an alum (not verified) says:
Thu, 12/06/2012 - 18:22

It is unfortunate that a building designed for a somewhat different purpose 25 years ago is now fostering division. But students should, as this editorial suggests, realize that there need be no conflict between seemingly competing interests, even if, in the short term, it may only seem that there will be winners and losers in any contemplated change. Rather, students should seek to rise above a turf mentality and work with the administration to clarify what a student center should be able to do. Should it house offices for all student groups? Some? None? Should it be for recreation? Study? A place to meet new people? Should it encourage the arts? Dancing or parties? Meetings of the whole student body? Should it do all or some of these things? Should it include or exclude non-student run offices? How do these needs compare to or complement other priorities, including financial support or construction for other goals (space for research, teaching, performance and exhibition, athletics, etc.)? Amherst is rich, but not unlimitedly so. What do the students really believe (as opposed to merely wanting now in opposition to either limited change or the status quo)?

The focus should be not on how to divide a now inadequate building, but on how the intellectual capital of the current student body can be harnessed to improve the lives of students in years to come. Without engaged, positive dialogue and input from students, any solution (including an entirely new building) will be limited by the perspectives of those charged with providing it. If students can work together to define compelling principles, effectively argued and presented, lasting change that works will be more likely.