Blurred Values

Last weekend, we celebrated the success of the Lives of Consequence campaign, a campaign driven by this mission statement: Amherst College educates men and women of exceptional potential from all backgrounds so that they may seek, value and advance knowledge, engage the world around them and lead principled lives of consequence.

The campaign exceeded the initial $425 million goal by almost $80 million, raising a total of $502 million, $202 million of which went to the endowment, $70 million to scholarship and access, $103 million to facilities, $27 million to faculty and curricular support and $66 million to Annual Fund, among others.

Even those who were oblivious to the existence of this five-year-old campaign could sense from the unusually widespread and exceptionally enthusiastic advertisement that the celebration of its successful conclusion was very much a big deal.
For most people who took part in the celebration, it was mostly about free food and taking a break from their studies. But for the Amherst community as a whole, it was much more than that. The Lives of Consequence Campaign Celebration Weekend was the culmination of the prolonged and collective efforts of myriad members of our community, and it was a substantial and visible manifestation of the bond that holds our community together through time and distance.

However, I’m not entirely certain whether the celebration can be considered a complete success. Yes, we did raise $502 million, we did enjoy the festivity and the atmosphere and we certainly did enjoy the good food. But what I found concerning regarding the celebration was the general lack of reflection and mindfulness, about what was actually being celebrated and what it entails.

The campaign was remarkably successful, and those who contributed should be commended. But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that the celebration of the campaign means the job is done, or that the money is an end to itself. The temptation to take comfort in what is essentially a statistic breeds complacency, a complacency we cannot afford, even with $502 million.

There is more to come and more to be done that could potentially be more challenging than the campaign itself, partly because we can no longer set a number as our goal or rely on our alumni and parents for its accomplishment, because our next goal has to do with our core values and how we use our resources to support them.

The first thing we see on the Amherst College website is: “You did it! Amherst’s campaign raised $502 million to support the college’s core values.” As farcical as it might seem, I think it’s worth mentioning the ironic moment that occurred around 7 p.m. on Saturday that those who were at the celebration and had their ears open could not have missed.

The DJs began to blast Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” arguably the most misogynistic song around, in the middle of the celebration of a campaign that will support our core values and proceeded to shout along to it, causing an invisible wave of confusion, amusement, contempt, disdain, joy and despair. Now, this is not a diatribe of the campaign or the celebration, nor should a song be allowed to bastardize what the celebration stood for. It could just be that the DJs were confused as to what college they were in or it could be that their core values didn’t exactly align with ours. Regardless, this was, or should have been, a sobering moment for all of us. We should have felt its obvious contradiction to Amherst’s core values. Then we should have asked ourselves what our core values are and wondered why we could only think of sexual respect and maybe one or two more. I dare to presume, most of us would have come to the realization that we do not know nearly as much as we should about our own community, let alone its core values.

Again, it is great that we celebrate, but we must also take a moment of humility and contemplation to figure out what our core values are and how we are to support them. Money can’t, unless we do.

There is no definite way of telling whether $27 million for faculty and curricular support is too little or whether $103 million for facilities is too much. But it doesn’t matter, for if the true aim of the campaign is to support our core values, it is our collective effort, not the numbers, that will make a difference.

If we are to support our core values, we must first educate ourselves about those values. And it is the students’ responsibility, as much as it is the administration’s, to define, clarify, communicate and, most of all, make a conscious effort to live out those values.