The Power House
- East Drive and Barrett Hill Road
- Amherst, MA
- A REVIEW BY
I have a joke for you: Jesus Christ and Saint Thomas are playing basketball. Specifically, they’re playing a game of H-O-R-S-E. Outdoor court. Thomas steps up. He’s right inside the three-point line. He’s wearing a vintage Bill Walton Portland Trailblazers jersey. You know, the one that has “BLAZERS” written vertically on Walton’s/Thomas’s right side. He dribbles for a moment and then takes his shot. Perfect form. Nails it. Wetter than the Everglades. Jesus is up next. He’s in traditional garb: robe, trademark sandals, etc. He’s not as white as American portrayals would make you think—but he’s just as handsome. Instead of shooting, he throws the ball in the opposite direction. As the ball bounces, a narcoleptic peregrine falcon, completely out of its biome, dives and grabs the ball. The falcon proceeds to fly up, up, as high as he can, before he falls victim to his disease and passes out. He lets go of the ball. It falls down to earth and through the net. Perfect swish. Thomas looks over at Jesus. He says, “Are you gonna play ball, or are you just gonna fuck around?”
Cigarette between my lips, I walk over to the forthcoming student space known as the Power House. From David Zheutlin ’11’s series of articles in The Amherst Student to Matt Debutts ’14’s article in an earlier issue of The Indicator about the Mead, Amherst’s problems with space have been well-documented. The problems became even starker at the beginning of this year, when any party not in the Socials (a locale known as the poster-child for healthy, proper partying) was busted. As she has throughout her tenure, however, Biddy responded. Is this response sufficient?
The building itself is a gem. The front, with its contrasting brick patterns and white concrete circle, looks like a church boarded up for an approaching hurricane. The top of the building has tenement-like windows that would make Carl Sandburg shed a single tear. The sides are loading docks, but they won’t be when the building is redone. The parking lot will in due time be a patio ripe for eating Grab ‘n’ Go or just chillinnnnn. The façade yearns for gentrification, and gentrify it we will. There are some problems with location—what a cappella group wants to perform their concerts in a building that’s beside train tracks?—but on the whole it’s a step in the right direction. The Power House project seems like a social pastiche of the academic overhaul that is occurring on campus.
And yet, the recent stifling of this overhaul (see Biddy’s email about the “new direction” of the science center) says a lot about our commitment to enhancing various facets of Amherst. I am as far away from a “science person” as can be. If I were, however, I would not come to Amherst for its facilities. Merrill is old and dilapidated and miserable. The place has fuckin’ asbestos. It’s very obviously not up to the standards of a modern, elite LAC. Even the administration recognizes this. So what gives? Was this first phase of construction simply a complex conspiracy to tear down the undoubtedly most heinous dorm on campus (#RIPDavis #RIPLevels)? Where else could we possibly put a science center on a campus so condensed that people complain about walking for five minutes? Biddy cited finances and campus disruption due to construction. Do you think one of the myriad rich “science people” this college has produced wouldn’t be willing to donate (more) money to improve their alma mater? Do you think two years of campus disruption is worth a new science center that will give back to the community countless times over the next 50+ years? It seems to me that the administration has chosen a quick fix over the more substantial, comprehensive reworking that our campus needs to cure its maladies.
The same goes for our social environment. Even while our college commences the creation of a new social space, they continue to implement an alcohol policy that shows little regard for how to promote the safest drinking possible. Just ask anyone who was at the final Marsh Coffee Haüs, where an administrator was, for a period of time, going around and forcing people to pour out their nice beers due to a fear of…what? Blackouts? At Coffee Haüs? Ask anyone (thankfully not me) who’s going to be at next year’s dry orientation, because severely punishing public drinking will not only (clearly) keep everyone from imbibing in the safety of their own rooms, but will also create a culture where no freshman will want to drink anytime for the next four years!
Amherst is undoing with one hand what it is creating with the other. The problem is space on some level, but it is also much more fundamental. Space would be significantly less problematic if gorgeous, spacious common rooms from King to Hitchcock weren’t forced into disuse. Creating more space is simply putting a bandage on a perpetual wound. Amherst must address this wound, not just cover it up. Biddy wrote at the end of her email about the Power House, “The renovations in Keefe were a start. The power house is another, but not the only additional step.” The thing is we don’t need a step or two; we need a fresh staircase. We need new policies. We need to be treated like the adults that we are.
I like you, Biddy. Imma let you finish. But I have to ask: Are you going to fix the problems endemic to our community? You’re the king of the court. Are you gonna play ball, or are you just gonna fuck around?