My Amherst Vision

I know we talked about what our “feminist utopia” might look like, but I’d like to think more about what we want Amherst to look like. Professor P said that what Amherst students often lack is vision. I found this disturbingly true. We want things to change, but we don’t always know what we want that change to look like or how to implement it. Think about how sometimes we’d like for this place to be less awkward; how you should be able to walk by someone and say “Hello!” instead of popping out our phone and pretend to text someone. I know not everyone does this, and that maybe by writing about this I’m actually perpetuating this stereotype about our school. If you’re a person who always says hi to everyone they see, or isn’t afraid to sit at a table with a random group of people (or have a stranger randomly sit with you), then maybe my post may seem irrelevant to you.

This last semester, I’ve embarked on what I refer to as a “crusade” to end the athlete/non-athlete divide. I KNOW. Even just mentioning it might perpetuate its existence (or maybe lack thereof) and scare future generation of students to actually think that’s the way social life at Amherst works. And maybe my Amherst vision doesn’t have to apply to everyone. Maybe this athlete/non-athlete thing is just something I’ve made up in my little head because I’m a huge NARP (Non-Athletic, Regular Person) and I have like 2 athletes friends (and I mean actual friends and not just people I casually say hi to in the dining hall and every year post “happy birthday” on their Facebook wall). Anyways, back to my crusade:

I usually only try this during lunch because 1) I never wake up for breakfast and 2) dinner is my happy place when my friends and I have a bunch of energy saved up from having to be still in classes, so we go crazy in Val to the point where people always tell us to be quiet (there’s a special place in my heart for those people because they’ve faced the consequences of shushing us). So during lunch, I’ll grab my tray and go to wherever I see a lot of athletes sitting. I usually try to pick a table where I at least know ONE athlete so that I don’t come off as completely creepy (which, if you’re still reading, you probably think I am). I start by chatting it up with that one person and then ask if I can join the table. If the table is full, I don’t even approach it because I’m not about to pull up a chair and awkwardly sit at the end of the table where I’ll be in the way. But if there are a couple empty seats, that’s where I try to strike up the conversation.

If at this point you’re still reading, I commend you. This is a very stream of consciousness post that I promise is going somewhere! It’s not just ramblings that probably belong in a diary buried somewhere in my cat’s litter box.

The very, very awkward part comes when the one person I know at that table leaves and then I’m just sitting a NARP sitting at a table with jacked-up athletes. I know all of this is probably just in my head, but I like to think that this drama/awkwardness is actually taking place in the real world. In the past few months, I’ve actually made a ton of friends, athlete and non-athlete alike. Maybe my Amherst vision isn’t just for athletes to hang out with super awkward people like me, but for Amherst students to meet other students in general, WITHOUT the fear of Mr. Awkward lurking somewhere in the background.

My journey is problematic in so many ways. First, I’m making a lot of assumptions about the type of students that are athletes. For example, when I had lunch with the Lacrosse team the other day, I never, ever imagined that we would end up talking about a novel that one of the players is writing, or about Lord of the Rings, or about Harry Potter. I’m not sure what I imagined our conversations would be like, but it certainly didn’t involve these things (at least in my head it didn’t). But I HAD TO sit with athletes for me to even come to challenge whatever preconceived notions I had of them. Second reason why my journey is problematic: I’m just one person and it’s silly for me to assume I can change an entire campus culture, if there even is such a thing (like in reality, not just in my head).

Back to the so-called journey. When we had that conversation about what our utopia might look like, I started to think about what a great thing it would be for Amherst students to be able to sit at a random table with total strangers…and not only at Orientation! I know the recent “Social Cups” was one attempt at bringing students together but let’s be honest, the cups are now hidden by ice cream machine and hardly anyone uses them. So I continued my journey with another one of my professor’s advice: walk up to a table, sit down, and blurt out a random thought, such as “Oh my god, I was walking out of Seelye and started to cross the street when I slipped on some black ice! Suddenly the light turned green and a lot of cars started honking at me, and I’m just there in the middle of the intersection struggling to get to the other side. Ugh…anyways, how are you all handling the snow?” I actually tried this approach and found it was more pleasant. It got the other people laughing and the conversation just took off from there. Somewhere along the conversation I eventually tell them this is my social experiment, but by that point it doesn’t matter because I’ve already made like five new friends. And it’s great!

I guess the reason I’m posting this on the blog is to encourage all of you to step outside of your comfort zone and make a new friend every day. I’m sure you’re all perfectly capable of making your own friends without me being here babbling about my life, so if you’re already making friends, table-hopping at Val, etc…then sorry to have wasted your time. I can only hope to be the perfect social being that you are. If you’re like me, then join my journey! Sit with someone you don’t know, even without a social cup (my experiment started well before the social cup and continues even after its demise). The Amherst vision is one where anyone can sit with anyone at Val, or even in the library, where oftentimes one person takes a six-person table and you walk away because you don’t want to sit with that person. I don’t expect us to be the student body at the end of Mean Girls, where everyone seems to be everyone’s best friend. And I also don’t mean for us to start a bonfire every Friday night and hold hands while we sing Kumbaya.

We have the potential to achieve so many things as a small college and I don’t think we’re taking advantage of our “close-knit community.” If you’ve made it to the end of this post, congratulations. We’re now friends and we can totally sit together in Val, without having made any plans. Go sit next to someone you don’t know. Start off by sitting with someone who isn’t alone because trust me, it’s a lot easier to take on one person than it is to take on the entire football team.

If you’re going to use any words to describe my crazy, nonsense, joke of a life, I’ve heard “quirky” and “eccentric” as two euphemisms my friends use. Besides, I much rather be the crazy student who went around randomly trying to get to know as many people as possible during my time here than be someone who regrets not having stepped outside his comfort zone. I guess that’s my way of trying to sound sane.

Let’s really make this the close-knit community I talk about so much in my tours.


2 thoughts on “My Amherst Vision

  1. Try this with an accent.

    Part of the reason I like working at the post office is because I get to meet people all the time and they HAVE to listen to me and actually hear what I am saying. I do have some days when I am in a terribly good mood and instead of handing out the package directly, I prolong the moment and engage the person at the window in an actual conversation. Of course we then don’t talk to each other if we meet again somewhere else. (which is sometimes my fault because I am short-sighted and cannot see people clearly if I don’t have my glasses on.)

  2. Love this piece. And as a fellow NARP, I commend you on your boldness. I consider myself a fairly confident person, but I genuinely don’t know if I’d have the guts to do what you do. I also like how you mention the Social Cups. I liked the intention, but the results were pretty lame. I grabbed a social cup every day, and would have happily sat with some new faces, but I never went the extra mile of actually seeking them out myself.
    I think that when people envision a diverse non-awkward Amherst culture, they imagine it as this organic thing. We’re fearful of and annoyed by forced socialization. But if you’re truly committed to that vision, then you might just have to swallow your pride and put yourself out there. Maybe the organic culture comes after the forced one.

    Thanks for posting!

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