Pumpkin painting, hot cocoa, live music and beanbag toss games attracted spectators to Amherst’s first-annual “Rock the Block” event Saturday afternoon. Members of the Amherst College community flocked to Valentine Quad in spite of the gloomy weather to relax and mingle with fellow attendees.
The event featured several performances by student bands and musical groups, including the Sabrinas, the Zumbeyes and Amherst College Gospel Choir. Rock the Block is part of a new series of student-focused events organized by the department of Orientation and First-Year Programs and overseen by the Office of Student Affairs.
Joanie Ly, Sophie Koff and Victor Diaz work on these programs in the Office of Student Affairs and helped make Saturday’s festivities possible. To find out more about Rock the Block and future programming, I spoke exclusively with coordinator of orientation and first-year programs Joanie Ly.
Q: What was the premise of creating an event like Rock the Block? My understanding was that it’s the first of its kind established by the department of orientation and first-year programs. What is the significance of an event like Rock the Block to our campus community?
A: You are correct. It is the first of its kind. This year is the year where we’re trying to establish something called a “first-year experience.” Basically, we are asking what are some of the moments and significant events that happen while someone is a first-year here on campus? What are some topics or areas that first-years experience (and really all students in some capacity regardless of year) when they are a student at Amherst College? Time management? Adjusting to being away from home? Making friends? The list can go on.
For Rock the Block, the inspiration really is a way to build and establish community across all spectrums of what it means to be an Amherst Student. We wanted to showcase students and all their potential and basically their awesomeness.
As Sophie, Victor and I continue to come up with programming, we are constantly thinking about an arc of progression. That is, as first-years move through the semester, our programming is also moving along with them as they go through what first-years go through. We’re trying to be as intentional as possible with all that we plan.
Q: Will the campus be seeing more events similar to Rock the Block in the future that will showcase student music groups, food, T-shirts, crafts or more?
A: I hope so. That would be amazing. My goal is to plan one large-scale event every month with little events scattered about every few weeks or so.
Q: Was the Office of Student Affairs the sole sponsor of this event or were there other sources as well?
A: Student Affairs (which is the umbrella under which orientation, residential life, student life and first-year program are housed) sponsored the event.
Q: What are the goals of your positions as the coordinator of orientation and first-year programs and, more specifically, your role in promoting student events?
A: My goal as the coordinator of orientation and first-year programs is to establish a sense of community for all students, but especially first-year students as soon as they set foot on campus. As you are probably aware, move-in day this year changed dramatically, and it was changed with the help of orientation leaders, resident counselors, and the amazing staff that work with us in Student Affairs.
I wanted to make sure that student leaders were front and center — for example, there was an amazing welcome dance that the orientation leaders choreographed — and student leaders from athletics to Resident Counselors to [the] Campus Activities Board to orientation leaders all came out in droves to help students move into their home for the next four years. I wanted new students to see and meet student leaders, since they are often the first resources that new students seek as they navigate what it means to be a student at Amherst.
And I also hope new students can see themselves in the student leaders they meet to establish the next legacy of student leadership on campus.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.