Hi there! First off, a warm welcome to all the first-years from all of us more-weathered members of the Amherst community. Excited? Oh, definitely. If you’re anything like I was, you’ve spent the last couple of months looking up every factoid ever written about Amherst College on the Internet and questioning everyone who’s had some kind of experience here. You’ve probably been able to form a much better picture of life at Amherst. Still, without actually having spent time here, that picture is bound to be somewhat hazy and idealized. There are some aspects to life at Amherst that are too recent or tied to personal experience to have been documented by anybody on the Internet. Here, I’ve compiled a short list of some of the most important terms and factoids to keep in mind for an easier transition into being a member of the Amherst community. Remember that upperclassmen, your professors and faculty members are always happy to answer your questions, listen to your impressions of things or just chat. We’re all a part of the Amherst whole.
“Floating Duck Syndrome”: Have you ever wondered how ducks manage to glide so effortlessly on water? Well — they don’t. Under the mirrorlike surface of that water, their feet are working extra hard to keep them from sinking. It’s only from the outside that they look so perfect. A student who suffers from “floating duck syndrome” is just like that duck — they may seem perfect and happy on the outside, but under the surface they are suffering from stress, anxiety, low self-esteem and the exhaustion of keeping up a seamless façade. If this rings a bell, know that there are many, many students at this college and colleges all across the country who feel the same way. And that talking about it is nowhere near shameful or embarrassing. In fact, you would be spreading bravery as well as helping cultivate a culture of openness and sharing. Chances are, your roommate or the girl who sits next to in your first-year seminar feels the exact same way.
“Amherst Awkward”: This is a bit harder to define. As a first-year, I definitely struggled with my fellow first-year friends to figure out what exactly this thing was, something that supposedly ruled every interaction that took place here. “Amherst awkward” is an action, an unwanted third party to conversations, a general mood or a specific spoken line. It’s nebulous and hard to pin down, yet it’s there and people seem unable to stop talking about it. Eventually, my friends and I came to the conclusion that “Amherst awkward” lay in the way that two people passing by each other on the sidewalk avoided eye contact, or the way that a friendly “hello” and “How are you?” are actually pretty rare. In a way, “Amherst awkward” is created when we try to avoid awkwardness by pretending other people aren’t there. It’s a very counter-productive act, after all, trying to avoid awkward interactions. I’m a big proponent of saying, “Hello” and “How are you?” or even just making eye contact and smiling at the people we pass by. After all, it’s only awkward if we think it is.
Until recently, the Lord Jeff was our unofficial mascot (unofficial, because it was never declared or made official by any authority). Currently there are two large factions on campus (the challengers for the moose, the traditionalists for the Lord Jeff) along with a smattering of smaller ones (the Frost, the Purple Squirrels, etc). There’s too much to the mascot debate to tell it all in a short article like this—ask an upperclassman, and chances are they’ll be happy to tell you about it!
Val: a perennial subject of debates, discussions, and sigh-fests. First-years used to home-cooked food despise the disappointment that positively emanates from it. Upperclassmen who have come back to campus after a summer of trying to live on their own love it in September, only to remember their hatred of it in the ensuing months. A lot of people say that Val is actually pretty good, and imply that anyone who says otherwise is spoiled. It’s true that Val is repetitive — breakfasts are on a biweekly rotation, while lunches and dinners are on a monthly rotation. Foods on the Lighter Side are almost always underseasoned and overcooked. There isn’t much diversity in the cuisines represented. Still, Val tries. There are a lot of options if you look beyond the traditional menu items. If something feels lacking, try adding salt and pepper, or any one of the amazing variety of spices/spice mixtures available. Adjusting a food to your tastes can make all the difference. Take advantage of the salad bar, and the pizza! Don’t miss world cuisine days, or the iron chef competition in the spring. And check out the student cookbook on the Val section of the Amherst website! There are some golden ideas in that recipe book, including the triple bonus grilled cheese,the bulgogi stir fry, and the bananas foster waffle.
Biddy: the President of our College! She has an incredibly cute dog named Bo, who may or may not be even cuter than the Obamas’ dog, wears a pair of Harry Potter-esque glasses, and looks amazing in deep royal purple. Her popularity levels are likely higher than 99.9 percent of individuals around the world who hold the powerful title of “president.” Everyone, and I mean everyone, loves Biddy. And if they don’t (whether it be because divestment remains at a standstill or that they’ve been fighting to get off of the meal plan for months), they’re still at least willing to admit that she’s pretty chill.
By now, you’ve probably noticed that Amherst has a lot of student publications for such a small college. We’ve just got a lot of different kinds of people with different interests, and thankfully it’s pretty easy to get a club or organization going here. Read the Student if you’re looking for straight updates on what’s going on around campus, with a smattering of opinion pieces and sports news. If you’d like a more all-around subjective view of things on campus, check out AC Voice or the Indicator, both excellent places to find pieces on all sorts of Amherst-related subjects. Amherst Soul is a similar publication, but with a focus on themes of diversity, inclusion, and artistic expression.