Val Late Nights: A Sweet and Surprising Way to Build Community

Because of our open curriculum, diversity of extracurricular activities and number of athletic teams, Amherst students sometimes don’t have a lot in common. In many ways, we’re a community of communities. But one thing that is universal among us is Val. Regardless of your opinion of the food, everyone is brought together by the fact that (with the exception of the Zü) we all eat and socialize there. During Jamaican Jerk night or Asian Tuesday, when the pasta line extends out the door, food can spark up a conversation across almost any social divide.

While Val most often unites us through our complaints, Late Night Val continually shows us that there are plenty of untapped opportunities to strengthen our campus community. About twice a semester, Val throws open its doors late at night and treats us to ice cream, pastries and other snacks. Lines spew out into the quad and students brave the cold and the rain for a bite to eat. Frankly, students will do almost anything to get free food as an alternative to ordering wings or pizza from their dorms. But that’s the beauty of Late Night Val: it unites us in this common desire. Regardless of your year, major or team, it’s hard not to see at least someone you know: the neighbor you never quite got to know, that person from class you always say hi to but have never had a conversation with until now.

If Late Night Val and events like it allow the student to rally around a common experience and become a better community, why don’t we have more of them? That’s is the big question we should ask Provost Uvin, Biddy and the rest of the administration. Biddy’s Fall Festival, for example, has been a massive success that students consistently look forward to. The fact is that the Amherst community likes to get excited about things. We freak out over Macklemore. We pile into Val despite all our essays and midterms to bond over ice cream. Even a free t-shirt draws a huge crowd.

While strong small communities are a crucial part of the social life here, it can sometimes feel like the Amherst community at large doesn’t exist. While it sometimes may seem like know everyone on campus, other times it’s tough not to feel isolated. The need to have a “group” or defining activity in order to fit in is prevalent on campus. Mount Holyoke and Smith unite every semester to rampantly speculate as to when Mountain Day is. We all gather in the gym for Spring Concert once a year. Why don’t we have more opportunities to come together just for the sake of being a part of the Amherst College community? Why don’t we have Mountain Days or Community Hours or more Late Night Vals? These could be the key to the elusive collective Amherst we’ve been searching for.