Social Clubs or Eating Clubs?

In a recently released video by the Social Project Work Group, “Jess,” a fictional first-year student having trouble finding her place at Amherst, finds a diverse group of friends in the “Coolidge Club.” Social clubs have generally been presented as a panacea for students facing the challenge of finding themselves and their place at college. The promise of instantaneous friends and an inclusive environment without the classic “fraternity problems” seems too good to be true. That’s because it is. In fact, social clubs have the potential to further divide an already fractured community.

Many students are worried that social clubs will devolve into something resembling a highly regulated fraternity system, but this concern was not addressed explicitly in the proposal. The main point emphasized in the new proposal was that social clubs wouldn’t revolve around a specific skill or interest. Instead, they would provide a purely social outlet to students. This is the purpose of Greek life on college campuses nationwide. In fact, the idea of exclusive “social clubs” was specifically banned in the board of trustees’ decision last year — an incongruity that has been brushed aside with assurances of a supposedly inclusive selection process that immediately calls to mind rushing at any state school.

The new regulations that supposedly differentiate social clubs from frats are a joke, plain and simple. No single class year can comprise over 50 percent of a social club’s membership, but DKE, Chi Psi and TD also had specific numbers of members from each grade, otherwise known as “pledge classes.” Though initially the proposal was for clubs to be single sex, they now must have the same 60:40 gender ratio required of Amherst dorms. The gender ratio is a step in the right direction, but it’s not nearly enough to disguise the fact that social clubs still look suspiciously like coed fraternities.

Especially in the wake of the demolition of the actual social dorms, social clubs hold the potential to reproduce the central role the dilapidated buildings played in our drunken Saturday nights. Once again, the very name “social club” reveals the hope that these groups and their events will dominate campus social life. Yet, by virtue of the clubs’ opt-in exclusive nature, someone who chooses not to opt-in their first year risks removing themselves from the cemented social circles at the heart of campus culture. Much like the eating clubs at Princeton, one must join a social club to have a social life or be on the fringe of Amherst culture. Furthermore, in assigning so much power and importance to social clubs’ events, the Social Project Work Group ensures that the nature and quality of campus traditions will be determined by a select few, instead of arising organically from Amherst culture. As the creators and arbiters of “tradition,” social clubs would remove the possibility that such a concept as campus unity could truly exist in reality.

Finally, social clubs are redundant in light of neighborhoods. The essential goal of social clubs is pretty unobjectionable: Put more diverse students in contact with each other and to allow first years and sophomores to have access to upperclassmen mentorship. While far from perfect, the neighborhood concept fills in a lot of the gaps social clubs leave. All students would be part of a neighborhood, creating communities based on inclusivity rather than exclusivity. The opt-out nature makes neighborhoods a benefit for all of campus rather than a boon for a minority as frats have been in the past.

Since both seek to function as an Amherst student’s central community, social clubs and neighborhoods are mutually exclusive. Most importantly, neighborhoods are backed by the administration. Social clubs have the dangerous potential to entrench and institutionalize the already existing divisions on campus. When the student vote comes around in early May, The Amherst Student editorial board urges you to vote no on social clubs.