The Powerhouse: Saving Our Social and Actual Lives

The eagerly awaited Powerhouse opened on Friday, Sept. 5, greeting a crowd of students and administrators with steak sandwiches and hors d’oeuvres. Since then, the Powerhouse Committee has demonstrated the versatility of the space, following up their opening event with a feast of wings and pizza for hungry Saturday-night partiers and a screening of the seminal 1980’s classic “Goonies.”

With plenty of email updates on its building progress, the administration has hyped the space as a much-needed oasis, the silver bullet to fix problems of student life on campus. Now, the question is: has it made any marked difference over the cramped suites and the large crowds that dominate the socials?

In the past few years, anxieties have risen among our entire community over the reliance on the socials, athletic suites and pre-gaming as the bedrock of campus social life. Will Savino’s now infamous 2012 article in The Indicator bemoaned the lack of alternate spaces in which to meet and actually talk to new people from different social circles. Often, the most vibrant social interaction students have is bonding over the shared experience of “putting your beer down and walking away” when parties are broken up by campus police.

Afraid of parties being shut down, students would drink too much too quickly in their dorm rooms and then run to the social suites, which the police can’t break up as regularly. This pattern created a toxic environment in the crowded, dark social dorms, which became a cesspool for dangerous alcohol consumption and potential sexual assault.

While the new party policy has been a great step forward for encouraging smaller parties — like formals, or events thrown by teams and clubs — the Powerhouse has truly been a game-changer for students of all different social circles to come together in a safe environment. The versatility of the space alone proves the fact that the Powerhouse truly has enormous potential to bridge social divides. The dynamic of the Powerhouse will continue to develop as the year goes on and it becomes available for weekday events. Until then, exciting evening events are lined up in the space, including the first TAP of the year: the newly renamed “Amherst Beach Bash.”

Because the Powerhouse is far more visible than dank, dark suites and the possibilities of socializing other than grinding are available, our campus community has become much safer. In terms of both dangerous intoxication levels and sexual assault, visibility means safety. Students throwing up over the railing or the stairwell of the socials can be easily ignored due to the nature of “suite-hopping.” The openness of this new space allows both police and students around to not only watch out for warning signs of a dangerous situation but also to send ACEMS to an easily identifiable place for immediate care. The same principle applies to bystander interventions. With the new training and added visibility, every student now has all the tools to help a friend, acquaintance or stranger from potentially damaging and irreversible situations. Ultimately, the Powerhouse is fantastically beneficial to us not only for all its social potential (and free food) but also for its openness making this campus a safer place.