Loneliness is a problem at Amherst College. The 2014 National College Health Assessment conducted last semester reported that 76 percent of Amherst students felt “very lonely” within the past year, compared to 56 percent nationally. But this isn’t a new issue for us: the Student Health Educators began their “social cups” initiative in 2013 to combat the stigma associated with going to Val alone. Additionally, with the abolition of fraternities last semester, many ex-fraternity members protested against the ban, referencing the isolation and displacement within the Amherst social sphere they had experienced before joining their fraternities. While loneliness and social isolation have unfortunately been facts of life at Amherst for a while now, the recent release of the NCHA assessment’s stark data has thrown loneliness into the spotlight as a “state of emergency” on campus that calls for immediate address.
Over the summer, a group of nine students, comprised mostly of ex-fraternity members and varsity athletes, resolved to tackle the issue of improving student life on campus. Their proposed solution is the “social club”: a system of exclusive groups bound together by a set of specifically articulated values. The committee, which includes Association of Amherst Students president Tomi Williams ’16, debuted their proposal to the administration and then the student body about two weeks ago in a Powerhouse town hall meeting.
Since the initial presentation, members of the committee have been doing a fantastic job seeking feedback from as many students possible. But the conversation has been limited. Very few students besides ex-fraternity members and varsity athletes (people already fully invested in exclusive organizations) actually took part in the initial construction of the idea. Regardless of good intentions behind social clubs, it is undeniable that the people who have the ear of the administration have a clear motive in continuing their way of life. A major structural change that will fundamentally affect the social life of every single member of the student body must include every single member of the student body.
Further, to make sure that social clubs have the support of the student body, we simply need time to consider all the options. We’ve so far only had a brief moment to consider the implications of this proposed change to our social life: Social clubs were only announced two weeks ago, yet many members of the social clubs committee and Office of Student Affairs want a pilot of this program to be launched next semester. While there are numerous problems with this timing, including the probability that the recently disbanded fraternities reform, the most pressing issue is the danger of imposing this universal policy on the student body, not as an option, but as a mandate. Whether or not we want to admit it, loneliness is a problem on campus. It may even be an emergency. But it has been one for a long time. This is not a new issue that can be addressed with a quick Band-Aid solution. Mending social issues at Amherst will require a long look at the structural issues that have affected this campus since before women were let on campus, much less before spring of 2014. We need to have a longer conversation about what a feasible solution is and what Amherst could look like 50 years from now. We simply can’t do that if the social clubs are already decided upon. The student body needs more time.