"The" Amherst Experience

As we approach the end of the year, the campus seems to be brimming with nostalgia. Suddenly, the weather is nice again and we remember what it’s like to be here on the really good days. Commencement approaches and the “end” calls us to turn around and look backward. What do we see when we reflect on our experience? What constitutes the Amherst experience, and further, is there even such a thing? With our diverse student body, it is quite difficult to imagine a single Amherst experience. Each person, holding different identities and life experiences, moves through this campus in their own unique way. We could never select a single student and say that they comprehensively represent the whole. However, we remain, in many ways, a collective. And it is worth thinking about what exactly makes us so, while we also remain so different.

One way in which difference might manifest itself is through our memory. If we were to ask each student, “What was your best memory at Amherst?”, how could all of the responses be categorized? An important memory could be anything, ranging from winning a game, traveling on a class trip, talks with friends or a specific walk in the bird sanctuary. Whatever the event, many memories would likely involve people, certain social groups or communities. Here, it is worth taking the time to think of one’s own memories, and think of who is and who isn’t part of your chosen moment. Why are some of your peers not part of your Amherst memory? Of course, each person cannot be expected to know or remember every single person they meet, but it is important to question how we fell into our specific versions of life at Amherst. To find true and close friends is a valuable gift — but imagine, for a moment, those outside of your circle. What will you remember of the people you only met or lived with in passing?

While we remain unique beings, a fundamental thing that can bind us might be the acknowledgement and respect for our peers’ differing experiences. Students, while cherishing their own memories, should think about the existence of other memories. Memories of the parts of Amherst they did not experience. This may sound like a simple or mundane task, but the Editorial Board would argue that is actually quite difficult to execute. While we remember in theory that others exist, it is harder to put our theoretical knowledge into practice, to love the memories of others as we love our own. In placing our own thoughts next to those of others, we might be better able to conceptualize our own life while avoiding being too self-centered.

In the current moment, it can feel as though Amherst is more divided than ever. This year has been eventful and polarizing, to say the least. The campus watched the unexpected victory of the new American president. We engaged in more discussions about social divisions on and off campus. We took on incidents of toxic masculinity, hate speech and other forms of prejudice. While it feels as though many students were brought together over mutual passion for engaging in the more difficult moments, it also feels as though, along certain lines, we are drifting further apart from each other. Specific groups — whether dictated by race, gender, political affiliation or athletic status — sometimes seem to move as if on fragments of icebergs in an increasingly larger sea.

Some in less privileged positions are forced to think about the other side all the time. Conversely, those in positions of power can choose to look away. How do we, regardless of position, continue to hold onto each other? We should remember that the Amherst experience is more than one thing — and certainly more than it once was many years ago, upon the college’s founding. The Editorial Board believes that the diversity held and remembered in “the” Amherst experience is only made possible when we chose to acknowledge each other, in the deepest sense. One experience does not define “the” experience — we do not want a single story, and by saying so, we show our love and respect for the many stories that make up our institution. The many stories create “the” Amherst experience, a community bound together, and yet a place where each person has the potential to be their full selves.