Half Empty or Half Full?

On Sunday, we all received an email from Dean Larimore announcing the “Social Cup” initiative — yesterday, Val rolled out a set of fresh blue cups that indicate to fellow students that the user is open to sitting with people he or she does not know. The purpose of the initiative is to promote social mingling in Val and to help those who would like to meet new people express that desire in a clear yet fairly unobtrusive way. This initiative is creative and has the potential to dramatically improve our community at Amherst.

However, the initiative will only be successful if students adopt the right attitude. The effectiveness of the social cups is literally a self-fulfilling prophecy. If students believe that the cups are successful at attracting and helping build new friendships, they will sincerely use them. On the other hand, if students dismiss them as a pointless gimmick, that is exactly what they will become. We’ve been given a cup, and whether we choose to see it as half-empty or half-full makes all the difference. While Amherst students are too often inclined to be overly cynical, in this case, despite a few concerns and limitations, there is good reason to remain optimistic.

The biggest foreseeable hindrance to the effectiveness of the initiative is that students might be uncomfortable actually using the social cups, not because they are embarrassed that they wish to socialize with new people, but because other students might mock the initiative. No one will use the social cups if there is some stigma attached to them or the implication that the user “has no friends” or is in some way incapable of being social without this aide.

A persistent and vexing problem at the College is the tendency of students to self-segregate into, often monolithic, groups — squandering the opportunity to enjoy the potential educational benefits that flow from having a diverse campus community. The social cup program at Dartmouth (which uses red cups) was originally intended to help students avoid having to eat alone. It is in these situations that the Amherst social cups will most likely excel. However, as to whether the humble blue cup will affect broader social dynamics on campus, the answer is unclear. Even with blue cups, the prospect of sitting down at a long table monopolized by an already tight-knit athletic team or extracurricular group becomes no less intimidating.

Clearly, there is a strong desire among students for a more socially fluid campus. This initiative is, after all, brought to us by the Student Health Educators, who represent the needs of the student body. Who among us would not enjoy the refreshing company of someone not in our usual circle? This initiative has to potential to stir up our social scene and integrate our student body — but only if we let it.

It is worth taking a moment to remind ourselves what a unique opportunity we have at Amherst. Never again will we be surrounded by such a diverse and accomplished group of young people, and the fact that few students make a conscious effort to build expansive friendships and networks in the College is really a pity. So let’s all get behind the social cups initiative and actually use them.