Letters to the Editor

Police crackdown unnecessary

Considering some of the shocking events of this past year, it is difficult to indict the Campus Police for the overly aggressive stance they are currently taking against social life at Amherst. We have reached a point, however, where the well-intentioned actions of campus security are stifling any hope we have for a vibrant social atmosphere. Let’s face it: we all go to a small school in a small town in Western Massachusetts. Students here are almost entirely dependent upon an enjoyable on-campus life for entertainment. Although there are notable exceptions, the most traditional way in which we unwind here is to gather in large numbers and simply enjoy the company of our fellow students-usually accompanied by some form of alcoholic beverage. Recently, there have been several unfortunate incidents that caused campus security to look upon large social gatherings at Amherst as a threat to the safety of our students, buildings and reputation. This extreme mentality, however, is strangling social life on our campus.

Every weekend, hundreds of students are sent home early from parties across campus by Campus Police. Students are angry that their parties, most of which would start and end peacefully, are broken up for no conceivable reason. Campus Police are frustrated that the student body does not treat them with the respect and deference they feel they deserve. Regardless of whether the students hosting the party are members of a frat, a cappella group or even SoCo, no student wishes to see their fun ruined.

An egregious example of Campus Police overstepping reasonable levels of caution and exercising offensive levels of aggression upon student gatherings is the debate party of last month. Gathering in Hamilton for the one large-scale party that the Amherst College Debate Team holds each academic year, 150 debate students from 15 schools all over the Northeast came to unwind. Suffice it to say, before the party even began, the police confiscated hundreds of dollars worth of alcohol and ensured that no party would be held that night. I am not affiliated with the debate team in any way, but I am going to make the wild assertion that had Campus Police allowed this party to take place it would have been carried out in a respectful manner. No fights would have broken out, no windows smashed and, arguably, no student carried by ACEMS to Cooley-Dickinson to have his or her stomach pumped.

By continually shutting down an aspect of campus life that many students look forward to participating in, Campus Police fosters a sense of self-perpetuating disrespect among the students; this leads to a mutual distrust between students and the police. Although it is understandable that the school wishes to prevent the recurrence of some of the incidents that occurred over Homecoming weekend, we students must work together with campus security to find some sort of middle ground. It is absolutely unacceptable that such a confrontational atmosphere has developed between campus security and students. Amherst should be the type of environment in which an informed and considerate student body is able to work with the powers that be to resolve this issue. I am certain that if enough open minds congregate to discuss this problem, we can find some balance between safety and the perks of going to a school where the administration understands that it’s not a crime to have fun.

Ryan Park ’05

Alcohol misuse a result of boredom

Alcohol misuse a result of boredom

The recent article about the rise in campus violence highlights a problem with the way Amherst College approaches student life. In response to a rise in violence and vandalism the College has apparently decided to crack down. More disturbing are the consistent murmurs from faculty and administration about the need for a “new alcohol policy” at Amherst. What the administration fails to realize is that alcohol is a symptom, not the disease. What do we expect of students if they have no other choices? The war on drugs has shown that the most effective solutions are to provide alternatives to drug use, not to crack down with the force of the law or attack the use of drugs themselves. Amherst College could learn a valuable lesson from this.

The real problem at Amherst is that our administration has not made the commitment to improve student social and residential life necesary to guarantee a happier and more productive campus. Without other options, tired and over-worked students naturally take to the bottle to release their tensions, leading to the problems we have at hand. But many students will tell you that they don’t necessarily love to drink; they simply have no other choice. At Amherst we have the choice of either doing practically nothing or drinking hard (the third option that I have found to be very good is to get off-campus and enjoy the five college area, but it’s sad when things have to come to that). If the College was to direct more resources to create a productive social life then we would find a happier, less-destructive, student body.

Consider Homecoming for example. On Friday night, we offered a very constructive evening with live music in four theme houses. Numerous alumni came back to participate in the event as well. Although alcohol was offered in three houses and about a third of the campus participated, the night passed without incident. Compare this to Saturday night, a more traditional Amherst evening in which very little planned social programming was offered; that evening we had two knife fights on campus and rampant vandalism.

History has shown that well-funded, well-planned and organized events tend to be well-attended and enjoyed by Amherst students. It is possible to have a very good, probably even more enjoyable social scene, without dependence on alcohol. But such a scene requires money for live bands, fabulous games and more. The year after fraternities were abolished, the College gave the students $70,000 for social programming. With additional student funds the total was $100,000 for that year. Adjusted for inflation this total is about $145,000 a year. Last year’s social council budget was $38,000-a total that hasn’t increased in at least seven years!

I submit to you the notion that the college should give the social council (or other social programming boards) $100,000 more a year. This will make up for inflation and provide the amount of funding students are supposed to have for social life. I can assure you, as a SoCo member, that with such funding social council would affect a virtual revolution on this campus, enabling a social life that would be envied by other schools. The price tag might seem high, but in a budget of $97 million it’s a drop in the bucket. The amount of money the College would save in reduced dorm damage and vandalism would offset most of the cost.

Our school will spend $120 million over the next seven years to build absolutely fabulous dorms, but what good does it do us to live in palaces if we have nothing to do in them? If we’re going to spend $120 million for the dorms, can’t we spend $100,000 to make them fun to live in? Without a more constructive social life the violence and vandalism will continue, the campus will continue to be divided, tensions will continue to grow and our new dorms will be a testimony to the ineffective policies the administration has enacted in response to an immense misunderstanding of student needs.

Eric Osborne ’04

Gym security unnecessary

Gym security unnecessary

After a winter break spent binging on all of my favorite foods, and an entire fall spent avoiding the gym, my New Year’s-or should I say Spring Semester’s-resolution was not difficult to plan: be in the gym at least a few days a week. So far, I’ve been pretty good.

My newfound healthy lifestyle has, however, forced me to deal almost daily with what was perhaps one of the most idiotic policies our fair College instituted last year: making the athletic center The Most Secure Building on Campus. It’s now the only place (except for Valentine) that one cannot enter without an official Amherst ID. The dorms where we sleep and the buildings where we take classes are guarded by keypads-if by anything at all-but our gym, thank God, is protected by a sophisticated card-recognition security system.

I suppose the administration felt that the keypads on the gym entrances were not safe enough to keep out strangers, so now we have to prove that we are in fact members of this College. I for one sleep better at night, knowing that my gym is protected by a swipe-card security system, but that every pizza deliveryman in this Valley has a code that allows him easy entry to my dorm. Despite a number of break-ins during my time at Amherst-including ones in which students were asleep in their own bedrooms-the administration has done nothing to increase the security in our dorms. Instead, they’ve put tens of thousands of dollars to increasing the security of the gym. Well, that probably makes sense, right? After all, you’re probably much more likely to suffer some sort of assault in a public room full of athletic, in-shape students and adults than in the bathroom of your dorm at 3:00 a.m.

Ah, but there was a reason to create a fortress out of our gym: allegations of racial profiling. When these ridiculous new security measures were implemented last year, Black Men’s Group President Emmanuel Ashamu said that, “the [gym changes] address security problems in the gym, but in no way do they meaningfully address racial profiling.” (“Students, administrators address racial profiling, April 10, 2002) And he’s right: these changes have done nothing except force students to bring their wallets to the gym. Rather than dealing with what is likely a pressing issue all over campus, the administration opted for a knee-jerk, band-aid solution. Black students complained about racial profiling at the gym, so the administration secured the gym. Now we can all rest assured that the black students working out next to us are in fact Amherst students.

Thank you, Amherst. By making the gym the most heavily-guarded building on campus, you have solved a troubling social issue facing our campus and our nation. Or maybe it’s just time to clarify the issues. The entire community would be better served if money were put towards education about race issues, and increased security for the dorms in which we live. Keypads on the gym entrances are more than sufficient.

Mike Flood ’03