Editorial: On New Theme Communities

The Editorial Board reflects on the particular role theme communities play on Amherst’s campus in light of three new additions for the upcoming school year.

On Jan. 23, the Office of Residential Engagement and Wellbeing (REW) announced via email that applications for theme and intentional housing communities in the 2024-2025 school year were open. The email also announced three new theme houses: the Brooks-Vigil Theme Community for Native and Indigenous Students, Dar al-Islam for Muslim students, and the International Theme Community for international students.

Theme communities provide an additional space of belonging and relationship-building for students on campus beyond resource centers and clubs. They offer the types of casual interactions that are unique to communal living spaces, fostering a tight-knit group that is hardly possible to form in on-campus extracurriculars or classroom settings. This opportunity is especially valuable for students who want to find alternative forms of residential community outside of the normative campus culture.  

The nature of Amherst dorm living is informed by the exclusivity that has characterized elite New England education for centuries. Like many other college institutions that were originally built for the archetypal wealthy, white, male college student, dorm life often proves challenging for students that do not fit this image. For instance, many international students and minority students come from multigenerational households and cultures in which it is unthinkable that a young adult would live on their own away from family. This is to say that theme communities are another tool that must continue to be self-consciously employed to battle Amherst’s exclusive history. Theme communities allow agency to be shifted from the institution to students, who are ultimately best-positioned to meet the needs of themselves and their communities.

The addition of these three new communities is particularly momentous since it has been several years since the last new theme community — the Sylvia Rivera floor — was added in 2018. Indeed, affinity groups such as the Muslim Students Association and Native and Indigenous Students’ Association have been advocating for new theme communities for years. Still, it is unclear whether the establishment of these new communities is the result of student advocacy, and seniors who have spent years working towards the establishment of new theme communities, while pleased with these new additions, will not be able to experience the results of their years-long effort. The lack of clarification from REW about why new theme housing applications became available last year as opposed to other years may make it difficult for student groups to plan for the future.

It is the hope of the Editorial Board that this application process for new theme communities both remains available in the future and is communicated well in advance to lessen the burden on communities looking to establish theme communities for themselves. With an expectation for when applications will become available, groups looking to form new theme communities will be able to plan with the knowledge that their desire for intentional living will be considered. The continuation of this process in future years will allow campus housing to grow and change alongside the rapidly evolving student body.

Reminder: Applications for theme communities are due on Feb. 12.

Unsigned editorials represent the views of the majority of the Editorial Board — (assenting: 9; dissenting: 2; abstaining: 2).