Breaking Ground

A little more than a week ago, the college opened the new Science Center after three years of construction. As reported in The Amherst Student in last week’s issue, the building features state-of-the-art teaching and research labs, a library, cafe and lounge spaces.

It was not long ago that a very different set of buildings existed on those grounds. This year’s senior class is the last to have experienced the Social dorms, which were central to Amherst’s social culture. After their demolition, students and the administration struggled to recalibrate the rhythm of Amherst life. Past editorials and opinion articles in The Student reflect overwhelming uncertainty, discomfort and even resentment among students regarding the social life at Amherst. The consensus was that the college did not hear them and was not addressing student demand for a Socials-equivalent replacement. The Greenway dorms, for example, offered suite-style living but are unconducive for the organic gathering that the Socials allowed. Alumni, seniors and even juniors can relate to the ever-continuing, tiring march to and from the Triangle, searching desperately for parties that remind us of Crossett or Stone.

The new Science Center feels like the administration’s definitive response to these grumblings. This particular impact is interesting because the Science Center is evidently an academic building, not residential nor social. Its completion — an impressive and flawless one, we would argue — has sealed any lingering thoughts we may have about the Socials and the practices, both good and bad, that they promoted. By presenting an attractive space, the college has succeeded in showing students that, perhaps, getting rid of the Socials is valuable for all of us. What is the lesson here? It is that we do not have to maintain the past; however, in changing, the college must continue to generate value for its students in a meaningful way.

This year seems to mark more intention on the part of the college. Schwemm’s now offers alcoholic beverages on weekend nights for students of legal age. The social spaces in the Science Center were planned, in part, by students themselves via the Design Thinking Challenge. These changes symbolize not only a new chapter of the college’s priorities, but also prove the college’s interest in student contribution and idea.

The long-term impact of the new building on campus culture is unclear, but the Editorial Board observes that students of all disciplines are frequenting the hybrid space. Thus far, there are only a few student complaints about the Science Center itself (namely, the lack of a 24-hour work space). The Editorial Board encourages the college and Amherst students to continue the collaboration and dialogue that has made the Science Center successful. We still have the challenge of creating a successful social dynamic on campus. In this procress, the dialogue must continue. The Science Center proves that the administration and student body are co-dependent: the college needs student support to maintain a vibrant campus, and students need the administration’s expertise and resources. We urge students to continue pushing for a more fruitful social life, and for the college to listen and be thoughtful in the way we have seen this semester.