Bidding Goodbye to a Chaotic and Illuminating Year

Like any good, cheesy romance film, I stumbled across the news section of The Amherst Student by chance. At the introduction meeting I attended during the very first week of classes my first year, I was intent on writing opinion articles — a testament to the lofty goals I set at the start of my college career, naive enough to believe I had thoughts important enough to share with the world on a weekly basis. Something inexplicable shifted in me, however, when then-news editors Shawna Chen ’20 and Emma Swislow ’20 began pitching the importance of reliable, accessible reporting. By the end of that intro meeting, I had signed up as a news reporter and thought, “What did I just get myself into?” 

I didn’t know it at the time, but what I did get myself into was a nearly four-year long, deep infatuation with The Student and its work. There were a million reasons to quit this job from the get-go. Few people’s ideal Tuesday night is spent in a dark basement with only one half-sunk window, catching typos in an article you’ve already read 50 times over, with no end to the evening in sight. For many Amherst students, choosing to write as an extracurricular activity seems maddeningly unfathomable when our classes already require us to write so much. So it’s no surprise that whenever I complain about a stressful interview, an article gone awry or how little sleep I get because of The Student, people always question why I keep putting myself through this. I often ask myself the same thing when the going gets tough (most frequently in class on Wednesday mornings, after having gotten only three hours of sleep working on the paper the night before). But there’s something about The Student that’s hard to shake once you’ve gotten a taste of it. 

Whenever I forget why I do The Student, our college community always reminds me of this work’s importance. During my sophomore year, for example, I spent a whole Saturday talking to first-generation, low-income students about their experiences at Amherst in the wake of the college admissions scandal, then the next whole Sunday transcribing those interviews at Share Coffee. Anyone who’s ever transcribed an interview before knows that it’s a painstakingly tedious task, but the dread of playing back hour-long audio clips in 30-second increments dissipated when hearing the sense of urgency inflected in my interviewees’ voices as they called for better admissions and inclusion practices. Or take last year’s affordable housing controversy. For the first time in my news-writing career, I overheard people talking in Val about something I wrote and saw people mobilize en masse in response to something The Student published. Many of us, myself included, often feel as though we’re screaming into the void about the things Amherst could do better, or the ways we feel isolated by the institution. There is still so much work to do, but seeing The Student elevate otherwise unheard voices and effect meaningful change drives me to keep pushing forward. 

So when Shawna and Emma asked me to take up the post of editor-in-chief last summer, along with Olivia Gieger ’21, I couldn’t say no. The decision wasn’t an easy one: accepting the role meant turning down a semester abroad. Everyone in my life — my friends, family, professors and even summer co-interns —  saw the choice as a no-brainer. Who would choose a tiny student newspaper over four months of prancing around Europe? Choosing the editor-in-chief position over studying abroad didn’t seem rational to anyone around me, but when was doing The Student ever rational? As the saying goes, love works in mysterious ways, and the connection I felt to both the paper and to the college community felt inseverable, even if I couldn’t always deduce why. That next spring, Olivia and I traded our suitcases for The Student’s Morrow Dormitory office and got to work.

I can’t write about my time as editor-in-chief without alluding to the pandemic. When I stepped into this role in January, the atmosphere of the paper — and our campus — was deceivingly vibrant. In the first weeks of the spring semester, I remember jumping from panel to panel at Lit Fest, gawking at some of my literary heroes and scribbling notes for our staff writers covering the event. I remember sipping on maple lattes and gushing over the Oscars at Esselon Cafe with Olivia, Emma and Shawna during our celebratory transition-of-power brunch. And I remember coffee shop hopping in Northampton with friends as we tried to sugarcoat the imminent midterms doom with overpriced, watered-down pour-overs. Within six weeks of the semester’s start, however, these memories simply became just that: vignettes of a past out of arms’ reach. On the day after President Biddy Martin’s announcement that the college would close for the remainder of the semester, The Student’s staff found ourselves sitting on the floor of our Morrow office for our last in-person print night to date, silently and sorrowfully eating the Iya sushi we bought to numb our new reality.

Being a journalist is always hard, but it’s especially challenging in our current moment. In a year clouded by immeasurable loss and suffering, tuning into what’s happening on our campus and in the world at all times is emotionally exhausting (imagine doomscrolling on Twitter, but as a job). Pair that with writing, editing, keeping up with finances, checking in on the paper’s digital platforms, emailing back and forth with students, administrators and everyone in between, running The Student over the past year has felt like an impossible task. Oftentimes, we’ve had to let important stories fall through the cracks. There are times when we overlooked a crucial detail, or missed a key source. On weeks with an overload of news and a scarcity of writers, taking up one story meant passing up on an equally pertinent one. My tenure as editor-in-chief wasn’t perfect, and sometimes I wish I could go back in time to rewrite a certain article or make a different decision. It’s a gut-wrenching reality to come to terms with, but one that is felt so profoundly because of the great responsibility The Student has to our community. 

Meanwhile, understanding the gravity of the responsibility I have as editor-in-chief has made our accomplishments that much sweeter. It’s an indescribable feeling, knowing how much a story means to someone, that their experiences feel seen and heard for the first time. The influx of emails The Student has gotten in the past months from readers sharing their personal stories with us and engaging with the week’s articles have been overwhelming, and they’re always a pleasure to read (I’m exceptionally bad at email, but I want to take this space to say: thank you, thank you, thank you). Perhaps it’s because we’re all craving some semblance of human connection during these trying times, but I like to think that The Student has served as a way to engage in our community at a time when it has felt fractured. Sometimes that involves exposing wounds in hopes of collective healing; other times it means celebrating where celebration is due. I’ve been inspired by the #IntegrateAmherst series, which ran in the paper last spring and brought about meaningful change in driving the college’s Anti-Racism Plan, and encouraged by the multitudes of students, faculty and staff who shared stories of their Covid-semesters — the good, the bad and the ugly — for our articles. The bravery and vulnerability it takes to publicly speak out is not lost on me, and I thank everyone who has ever been interviewed by The Student for trusting us with your stories. It’s been an honor to facilitate our campus’ conversations. 

Lastly, I haven’t felt the social loss Covid has brought in any aspect of my life as strongly as I have with The Student. Though it is an absolute luxury to work on the paper from my bed, I would give anything for 5 a.m. nights in the office if it meant seeing our staff face-to-face. I miss racing to finish articles before Safe Ride’s 2 a.m. closing to evade the long walk back to my Seligman dorm room (and failing 99 percent of the time). I miss taking Schwemm’s orders for everyone, which usually consisted of fries with an ungodly amount of cajun seasoning and Oreo milkshakes. I miss Ryan Yu ’22 playing his harmonica and all of us laughing or groaning, depending on what point of the night it was, and Shawna assigning everyone their Myers Briggs personality type for the hundredth time. I’ve laughed the hardest I’ve ever had in The Student’s office, having worked with some of the most eccentric, fun-loving people on this campus. It’s these moments that made spending eight-plus hours in Morrow basement every Tuesday worth it. 

With that out of the way, I have some acknowledgments to make. 

Emma and Shawna, thank you for teaching me everything I know about journalism, for trusting me enough to take me on as managing news editor and editor-in-chief, for believing in me when I do not believe in myself (which is often) and for answering my frantic texts to this day even with full-time, real-world journalism and editing jobs under your belts. 

Ryan and Zach Jonas ’22, I could not carry the news section for two years on my own — we’ve built a team. Thank you for tolerating me when I’m picky with line edits or curt on suggestions. I haven’t repaid you both enough for the weight you’ve carried over the years. 

Dylan Momplaisir ’21 is an extraordinary web designer whose knowledge and good-humored spirit has kept The Student running. Because of Dylan, we’ve moved from a janky website with broken links and a 2000s style layout to something far more functional and always improving. Next time you’re reading an article on our website, know that Dylan is the reason why our reporting is accessible to you.

Every editor I’ve worked with this year, both old and new, have shaped me in more ways than they know, and they all deserved to be recognized: Becca Picciotto ’22, Scott Brasesco ’22, Lauren Kisare ’22, Theo Hamilton ’22, Arielle Kirven ’21, Jack Dove ’23, Ethan Samuels ’23, Anna Smith ’22, Julia Shea ’21, Emmy Sohn ’22, Sophie Wolmer ’22, Jae Yun Ham ’22, Camilo Toruno ’21, Seoyeon Kim ’21, Henry Newton ’21 and Connor Haugh ’21. 

Becca and Ryan, who will take the helm starting next semester, will be excellent editors-in-chief. I have no doubt that, under them, this paper will flourish into something greater than I can even imagine. 

Olivia is the greatest partner anyone could ever ask for. Thank you for being level-headed when I’m spiraling, sharing my guilty pleasure love of Taylor Swift and being the OG to my NDR. Working on The Student is such a particular experience that very few people fully understand and appreciate, but Olivia gets it. I’m so proud of the paper we’ve built this year — I couldn’t have done it without you.

Finally, thanks to all of you — everyone who’s read or engaged with our work, even in the slightest capacity. This paper would not exist without our community; you are the reason we spend those late nights working to make sure everything is right. You are what makes all that effort worth it. I feel indebted to each and every one of you.