Consider two issues.
Case 1: Most of us have received emails in the last few months about various sports games, parties, and items lost at said parties. A few days ago, there was also an exchange between Matt Fernald ’13, who requested with a bit of both humor and gumption that students stop abusing the leaked listserv, and a backlash by other students angry that he would dare to express a dissenting opinion — one that many of us held but had not publicized. In the immediate hour after his email, which attacked neither an individual nor a group, several students responded rudely to Matt, still addressing the massive listserv, even stating that we students should be glad to receive emails notifying us of various parties on campus. At the same time, students poured out their support for and solidarity with Fernald over Facebook. Neither side engaged the other in discussion, but Fernald straddled the fence, reaching out to the students that said hurtful things with the slightest provocation. Some of the students have since apologized to Fernald in private. Meanwhile, the email thread sent to the listserv was finally concluded with some poignant words from Smash Mouth: “Why can’t we be friends?”
Beyond the fact that these emails violate the Amherst College Electronic Resources Acceptable Use Policy, it’s just inconsiderate to email the entire school. Frankly, I don’t care to know about random parties on campus, the same way that students wouldn’t be very pleased if I hacked the listserv and sent everyone an email inviting them to the semester’s first Jedi Club Initiation Ceremony. (P.S. It will be at Mahoney’s Irish Pub tonight at 11pm.)
Case 2: In addition, many of us disregard the school’s facilities, and thereby disrespect the school’s staff. As I mentioned in a previous column, composting is a logical solution to otherwise-wasted food at Valentine. While it is incredibly simple for us to compost, I have lost track of the times I’ve seen students, discontent with untouched burgers and full bowls of soup, walk through Val’s disposal area without traffic, seemingly unable to pour unwanted food into the compost bins. This makes the dishwashers’ jobs harder, but because we can’t see the workers behind the conveyor belt, it’s easy for us to dispose of our refuse without thinking about its effects down the line — literally. The same can be said of our recycling habits. In many places around campus, recycling and garbage bins sit beside one another, yet students seem repelled from recycling. And although most of us eat at Val once a day, we cannot be bothered with returning our dishes and silverware, which often sit in fetid piles in our dorms for months before they are finally removed from our sight. Out of desperation, the College has started leaving bins in dorms, hoping that it can at least collect dishes from us so that it doesn’t have to purchase more Val-ware and thereby charge us more for room and board to cover our thefts. These are only some examples of facilities abuse; among the rest, the myriad of dorm damage speaks for itself.
Disrespect of facilities is direct disrespect of staff members who use and work in them. Last week, I had the privilege of talking with a staff member who has been an encouragement and comfort to me and undoubtedly to countless other students who have had the chance to meet her. She told me about the ways in which staff members were often treated as though they were not a visible, let alone valuable, part of campus life. Hearing her story, which was said with neither indignation nor anger, reminded me of past conversations I’ve had with other staff members who had felt equally disregarded by the school community. Staff members are an integral part of the Amherst community, and without their daily efforts, the school would not function. When we trash our dorms, we send a message to our custodial staff that we don’t care about them. When we decorate the campus with red solo cups on Saturday nights, we announce that we don’t care about the grounds crew.
Both of these cases highlight a sense of entitlement that I’m sure we’ve noticed on campus. Entitlement is a very offensive word, I realize, and I use it with hesitance. Still, it seems the only proper term to describe the attitude that plagues many of us students: we come to Amherst College believing that we have worked for about two decades to arrive at our destination — a four-year-long stay at a gas station where we can be filled by the school with the accolades, connections, job prospects, and wisdom necessary for our long, victorious flight into the comfortable lives we’ve earned.
Sometimes we do and say incredibly hurtful things to one another, excusing our behavior with the belief that we only have to bear with each other for four years. Sometimes we disregard and outright disrespect the staff members, who don’t write us recommendation letters or dole out academic consequences for our misconduct. Sometimes we trash our facilities because we believe that it isn’t our home, and that therefore someone else should clean up for us. Or perhaps we think that it is our home, and we’re accustomed to someone else cleaning up for us.
But what if Amherst College did not exist simply to titillate its ever-rising tide of students? The College is a place of community, but the service-oriented nature of community is not a one-way road. In order for the College to become a more unified body, as many of us have been requesting, especially in the last month, we must recognize our role as an integral part of the Amherst College community, not as passers-by, but as responsible, considerate neighbors to our faculty and staff, and as stewards of the College’s resources and facilities. Amherst College is not a bed-and-breakfast. It is a home that we have chosen for four years, and with our housemates, we share the honor of cohabiting this remarkable, transformative place. It has the potential to turn us into more aware, responsible, and compassionate people. If we allow it to transform us for the better, we will be surprised daily by its ability to exceed our expectations. It has certainly transformed me for the better.
(On a related note: one such step toward forming a more considerate student body can be taken this week in the Valentine mezzanine: the Everybody Has a Story Week, a part of President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, is currently providing a forum for some campus divisions and issues of personal faith and identity to be discussed and hopefully healed. Each hour-long discussion is a chance for one consenting student, faculty, and staff member — grouped without their prior knowledge of one another — to be heard and to listen to one another).
Some students have come back from time spent abroad with heightened sensitivity to the amount that we take for granted at Amherst College. I certainly felt it, too, and when I returned to campus after my time abroad, I recognized ways in which my own behavior exuded a sense of entitlement.
The remedy to our community’s collective inconsideration is personal responsibility. Each instance of inconsideration mentioned above was caused by the actions of individuals. Therefore, individuals have the ability to eliminate the College’s air of entitlement and transform it into a place where caring community is the norm.