A REVIEW BY
(Note from Todd: I had no interest in reviewing Keefe myself, so I opted to pawn off this job to an excitable new writer, Dean Fatemi ’16.)
I walk out of the back entrance of James and take a left. I’ve recently received my first assignment for The Indicator: Write a review of Keefe Campus Center. I doubt I’ll stay on staff too long (Between sabermetrics club, T.I. (Not the Christian a cappella group Terras Irradiant, but the recently created a capella group between a few friends of mine that only performs T.I. songs), Pre-Business Group, and Argentine Tango club, I’m spread as thin as that strangely named Sunday brunch cream cheese on an unevenly toasted Val bagel. Plus the editors are kind of weird.), but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write on perhaps the most dynamic and fascinating building on campus.
As I come down the set of staircases that connect the freshmen quad to Keefe, I just pause for the briefest of moments, take a deep breath, and survey the campus center’s pastel yellow exterior. I feel like Ernest Hemingway walking towards his gorgeous Key West mansion, or perhaps Hadley Arkes driving his Buick up the driveway of the Octagon. That’s what Keefe’s color evokes: nice weather and conservatism. These are great things to be reminded of on campus that has neither.
I walk into Keefe. Did you know that the center was supposed to be bigger: Amherst ran out of money during the construction of Keefe in the ‘80s. Instead of trying to fundraise more, the College decided to shrink Keefe. The architects literally went into a computer and scaled down the original design. This story adds a whole new layer of genius into the Keefe design. Though some people think Keefe should be (at least) three times bigger, I think its dearth of open spaces and host of compartmentalized rooms makes it both endearing and multipurpose.
For example, I played beer pong in Keefe earlier this year. This seems myopic until you consider the precariousness of drinking in the freshmen quad and the fact that large parts of Keefe go unused. My friends and I simply walked upstairs to some room. This room consisted of a table and a few chairs. It had no other furniture, no associated club, no ostensible purpose other than small meetings. And Beirut! The table was literally perfect! We went up there with a backpack of beer. We came, we ponged, we left. What other building allows you to make memories like these?
In addition, I doubt any other building reflects the true nature of Amherst quite as subtly and genuinely as our beloved Campus Center. The Schwemm’s sitting room promotes Amherst Awkwardness like nothing else on campus. Firstly, every time you go in there, you have to walk through the aforementioned glorious coffee shop. Any time you have the chance you to take in overpriced foods, stoned students, and napkin rolls, you have to take it. Once you successfully get into the room, however, the fun seriously begins. As opposed to sitting in the front room of Val, where you can easily be over-stimulated by awkwardly staring at a constant flood of people to the point where you consider simply eating your food and talking to your friends, the Schwemm’s sitting room allows you a window, literally and figuratively, into individual lives, a trickle instead of a flood. These people, when walking down the staircase, instinctively look up at the sitting room to see who’s drinking from the water fountain or gratuitously using the in-house iMac. Little do they expect that I’m sitting in a chair not too close to the window but close enough, awaiting their glance. Sometimes I’ll go to Schwemm’s, buy a bagelwich (Everything/sausage/cheddar/hot sauce, there is no other way), get into my favorite chair, and spend two or three hours doing my part to promote one of the foundational feelings that connect all of us Lord Jeffs. Every time a student descends into the basement, they feel a little more awkward and, thus, a little more Amherst.
Speaking of basements, the Keefe Campus Center basement! The basement is to Amherst white male hegemony what the Schwemm’s window is to Amherst Awkwardness. While offices, the Center for Community Engagement, and the game room (the last of which, we all know, is the most cohesive glue of the broken Grecian pot that is the Amherst community) get the prime real estate of the first floor, the Multicultural Resource Center, the Women’s Center, the Asian cultural room, and the Jose Martí Room (for the rest of this article, I shall refer to these four entities (which don’t really need to be differentiated) as “Political Correctness, etc.”) are all relegated to the dark, damp confines of the zeroth floor of Keefe. Sure, we could hide the bureaucracy that matters little to the typical Amherst student in the basement. There’s even been talk of overriding the democratic process and moving the MRC (and thus separating the Political Correctness, etc. triumvirate) to the game room and moving the game room (and Women’s Center) upstairs! While the change would put the game room closer to the heavens, symbolically showing its salience among people of all races, why change Political Correctness, etc.? If we’re going to treat everything outside of white males like shit in our interpersonal interactions and in our administration’s policies, procedures, and practices, we might as well treat them like shit spatially as well.
I knew I was coming to Amherst after I walked around Keefe during pre-frosh weekend. They had a room set up just for a celebration of my attendance. Even more impressively, it was one of the largest rooms in the whole building. I walked in and had a nice conversation with a young lady named Hannah. Though she had a scowling demeanor and was quite presumptive in my room, she told me she was excited that I was considering matriculation and told me she’d love to help me in the future. Conversations like this are the exact type of lip service I’d come to Amherst to experience, and Keefe Campus Center is an infrastructural extension of this lip service. Though I have never visited any other campus centers, it’s tough to imagine one that embodies the ethos of its institution quite like Keefe.