Sarah Weiner: A&L Editor Puts the Art in Living

From dance to Spanish to writing, Sarah Weiner’s interests at Amherst have spanned the arts and humanities. Her far-reaching creative pursuits are perfectly encapsulated within her role as Managing Arts & Living Editor at The Student.

After long filling our bylines, it’s about time that Sarah Weiner ’24 graces the headlines of this newspaper. Weiner recently stepped down from her role as Managing Arts & Living Editor at The Student, but she will long be remembered for her intellectual curiosity, bright wit, and devotion to practicing and promoting the arts.

As much as Weiner’s contributions to The Student deserve recognition, she has also made her mark on a variety of spaces on campus — from the Spanish department to dance group Intersections — and on the many students and professors who have crossed paths with her.

As her friend Callie Hundley ’24 says, “If you have had the pleasure of knowing Sarah, you would agree that her level-headedness, good humor, and general willingness to help others makes her one of the best members of our graduating class.”

College Before College

Weiner arrived at Amherst uniquely prepared for the rigors of higher education thanks to her high school, Bard High School Early College (BHSEC) in Manhattan. She explained to me that BHSEC grants a high school diploma after the first two years of high school and an associate’s degree after the last two. “Yes, I came here with an associate’s degree,” she laughed.

Noting that BHSEC helped her feel “really prepared for college-level work,” Weiner attributed the solid footing she quickly found at Amherst to her advanced coursework and teachers in high school. Within the associate’s degree program, she was able to take niche classes like “Gender and Sexuality in Latin America” and “Latin American Magical Realism.” It was thanks to these classes that Weiner first developed an interest in Latin American studies, which has continued throughout her time at Amherst.

Weiner told me she initially hesitated to consider a school as rural as Amherst. She loved her four years of high school in Manhattan and pictured herself continuing her education in a city. However, after visiting Amherst during a tour of New England colleges, she realized that it checked off many of the items on her list: small size, open curriculum, Latin American studies major, and a strong dance program through the Five College Consortium. Although Weiner had the opportunity to attend a much larger, urban university, she said she has no regrets about opting for the liberal arts instead.

Weiner has taken true advantage of the open curriculum and the liberal arts throughout her four years at Amherst, seamlessly weaving together her interests in Spanish, dance, and journalism, among countless others.

Estudios en Español

Latin American studies and Spanish have been Weiner’s primary academic interests since high school, and she has only grown more involved in the two fields since arriving at Amherst. While she initially thought she would major in Latinx & Latin American Studies, she ultimately discovered that her true passion is for language and decided to major in Spanish. Through the Spanish major, Weiner acquired applicable language skills while still being able to explore the culture, history, and literature of Latin America.

Weiner explained that the Spanish faculty have made a huge impact on her experience with the major, telling me seriously that Spanish is the “best department ever.”

Weiner’s professors return the sentiment. Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture Ilan Stavans wrote:  “I have been humbled by Sarah Weiner’s intellectual growth: her love of language and passion for literature, along with her conviction that we must learn from the past in order to face the complexities of the present, have filled me with joy over the years. Spanish and Judaism are keys. She and I have explored together the raison d’etre of dictionaries and the endless depths of Don Quixote de La Mancha of Borges’ labyrinths, among other topics. It is only partially true that teachers teach their students; more importantly, we learn from them, as I have from her.”

However, Weiner’s intellectual curiosity for Latin American studies has also led her far beyond our small campus in Western Massachusetts. During her junior year, she spent a semester abroad in Chile at La Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Santiago. With her signature conviction, she told me that she always knew she wanted to study abroad in Latin America. She emphasized that she appreciated the chance to attend a large university that was the “complete opposite of Amherst” in many ways.

As is often the case with studying abroad, Weiner said, the most rewarding part of her experience wasn’t necessarily her classes but her immersion in Chilean culture. Weiner lived with a Chilean host family, who happened to also be Jewish, which she described as a “cool, cross-cultural experience.”

One notable memory was celebrating Passover with her host family and accidentally becoming tipsy. Weiner explained that she had to follow the Orthodox Jewish tradition of drinking four glasses of wine before the dinner, which quickly led to chaos.

“It was a trilingual Seder because we were speaking Hebrew, Spanish, and English,” she said. “There were two five-year-olds screaming and I was just, like, ‘I’m drunk.’ So that was awesome.”

Weiner’s time abroad was not entirely defined by such revelry, however. She lived out one of her literary dreams when she visited former president of Chile Salvador Allende’s grave during her program’s orientation. His niece, the novelist Isabel Allende, wrote “The House of the Spirits,” the book that first sparked Weiner’s interest in Latin American literature.

Visiting Salvador Allende’s grave in person “was one of the most surreal things ever after loving that book for so long,” she said.

Talent at Tapping

Weiner, along with the rest of the class of 2024, arrived at Amherst during a strange and unprecedented time at the height of the pandemic. She noted that beginning her first year of college during Covid was a “really unfortunate circumstance,” especially considering how much she valued the residential college experience.

Yet, Weiner’s positivity and ability to take everything in stride shone through as she described the unusual experience of taking a dance class amid social distancing. Rather than characterizing the class as entirely negative, she found humor in the “weirdness” of the situation. She expressed gratitude that she “still got to dance in person even though we were dancing in the gym in taped-out boxes.”

Thankfully, Weiner’s dance career at Amherst has followed an upward trajectory since then. Her participation in Intersections Dance Company, a student-led dance group where she has served as senior social media chair, has been one of the highlights of her time at Amherst.

“Intersections has been amazing since I started my freshman year and have done it every year since then,” she said. “It’s a great community of dancers who support each other and root for each other as friends.”

Weiner has made her own impression on Intersections as well. She helped usher the dance company out of the pandemic and helped it reach its strong presence on campus today. She told me that when she first joined, there were only eight members, but now there are 25. Weiner is also “really proud” to be the first tap dancer in Intersections’ recent history — she was responsible for introducing tap dancing to their programming.

In addition to Intersections, Weiner has been deeply involved in Pioneer Valley’s broader dance community through Five College Dance, a collaboration between the dance departments of the Five Colleges. She has worked at Five College Dance’s communications office since her sophomore year, which has exposed her to communities outside of Amherst and allowed her to make friends from other colleges. She has performed in the Five College Dance faculty concert every year, which she said has been “so fun” and has allowed to her to work closely with a variety of professors.

“The only thing missing,” she said, “has been tap dance. And, of course, next semester there’s a tap dance class at Mount Holyoke!”

Putting Pen to Paper

While Weiner has nurtured many of her passions from high school and early life at Amherst, she has also fostered new interests.

On top of her Spanish major, Weiner declared the English major, which she described as an unexpected decision. She said that although she most likely will not pursue academia or advanced studies in English, she realized by the end of her sophomore year that she was “interested in doing writing-intensive work” and that the English major provided her the best opportunity to practice her writing skills.

“I honestly never expected that I would be an English major,” she said. “But I definitely liked it, and it was the right choice.”

Weiner’s love of writing has extended outside of the classroom to the pages of this very newspaper. She joined The Student as a staff writer her sophomore year and worked her way up to Managing Arts & Living Editor during her junior year.

I’ve gotten to know Sarah best in her role as a fellow Arts & Living editor, where we’ve spent endless Tuesday nights hunched over computers in the Morrow basement newsroom, laying out articles and chatting with our co-editors. We will sorely miss her wisdom, leadership, and knack for crafting punny article titles.

The Arts & Living section has allowed Weiner to apply her diverse interests to journalism. As our resident dancer, she has expertly reviewed performances like Yang Sun’s dance thesis, and as a committed Spanish major, she has covered events like the unveiling of a Latinx mural on campus. Weiner exemplified her love for languages and conserving Latinx culture by commissioning a Spanish translation of the latter article. Her strong writing skills and smart reporting have not gone unnoticed — last year, she won the college’s Samuel Bowles Prize for journalism.

Weiner reflected warmly on her time at The Student, saying that, because Amherst doesn’t have journalism courses in our curriculum, it was the perfect space where she could develop her journalism skills. She added that she appreciates how The Student is “completely run by students” and depends upon intensive collaboration.

The Student has helped unite Weiner’s academic and personal interests with her incredible talent for writing. Journalism seems to be a natural calling for her, and indeed, she told me she hopes to potentially pursue the field as a future career.

Weiner also had the special distinction of being The Student’s last remaining senior editor this spring. Although seniors typically retire from their editorial duties after the fall semester, Weiner demonstrated her dedication to the paper and remarkable lack of senior burnout by continuing to work until our second-to-last issue. I’m sure her “great colleagues,” as she described us under no coercion whatsoever, played no small role in convincing her to stay for so long.

Living the Arts

After graduation, Weiner will apply her expertise in arts and writing to the outside world, returning to New York this summer to work as a communications intern at the Whitney Museum. While she claims she has little experience with fine arts and art museums, she plans to apply her background in dance to the Whitney’s upcoming exhibition on Alvin Ailey, the dancer and choreographer. Weiner noted that this was a “serendipitous” opportunity as she can offer a knowledge of dance that isn’t necessarily expected of art museum interns.

Beginning in the fall, Weiner will pivot to the literary world and join Penguin Random House as a publicity intern. She will split her time in the position between Penguin Press in the fall and Knopf Doubleday in the spring.

After these two prestigious programs, Weiner would like to either continue in arts administration or enter journalism. She said she believes her plans for the next year will prepare her well for a future in journalism.

“Publicity is a great place to be,” she told me, “because it’s inside an organization but also interacting with the press.”

Beyond career aspirations, Weiner expressed an interest in traveling and named Spain as a destination she’s always hoped to visit. Her impressive grasp of the language will certainly come in handy.

Reflecting on her undergraduate years, Weiner said the “best part” of Amherst has been the “opportunity to spend four years pursuing classes, ideas, people, and things I actually care about.” She praised Amherst’s inclusive environment, saying, “It’s a chance you don’t often get in your life, to be unconditionally supported.”