By Sam Seham
Volume XXXVI, Issue 3, December 13, 2013
This year, mid-September, I was assaulted at a party on the first floor of Crossett. I was attending a mixer and it was shaping up to be a typical party of its kind: a closed event with run-of-the-mill pong and slap cup games that would eventually devolve into a sweaty grind-fest open to the general public. A group of guys came into the suite around 10:30 pm. No one knew them. I asked them to leave; they didn’t take kindly to that. I insisted they leave and I got punched in the head. In the confusion my attackers slipped out of the room. Amherst College Police found them later in the night, confirmed that they attended a nearby college and escorted them off campus. An officer told me later that the students had promised to return to Amherst College the following weekend.
Although I had some fun showing off my black eye and retelling the story to anyone who would listen, I still feel that what happened to me was more than a little messed up. Looking back I do not see how I could have handled the situation any better. I was calm, collected, and thorough in my explanation of the closed nature of the party. Ultimately, however, my reasonable request was met with a shocking amount of violence.
I would like to think that I am no more averse to conflict than the next person, but the fact that something like this could happen while I am trying to have fun on a Saturday night is unsettling. My own experience along with accounts of similar things happening to other Amherst students make me look towards Crossett Christmas with some trepidation. The common rooms will be hotter than usual, the stairwells more crowded, and the number of Five College students higher. Perhaps now is an appropriate time to reexamine our relationship with our neighboring institutions of higher learning.
Amherst College certainly benefits from the Five College Consortium. Besides expanding course offerings, the consortium allows the several institutions to pool academic resources for everyone’s advantage. There are even social benefits to the Consortium. Student groups that would not have enough of a presence on any one campus are able to form across the colleges. These are all wonderful things, but not all interactions within the consortium are so desirable.
To be brutally honest, the real problem is UMass. Students from Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Hampshire rarely engage in destructive behavior at Amherst College. UMass students, however, are a common and sometimes unwelcome sight.
UMass is simply too big, too different, and too close. For all the hype about state schools, UMass seems to be stricter than Amherst when it comes to alcohol and party policy. In order to maintain some semblance of order the University must keep its expansive student body on a short leash. Strange though it may sound, UMass students come to Amherst College because we occasionally have better parties. I once heard a UMass student remark that if they gathered outside a dorm like we often do at the socials, riot police would be called in. When you combine this party policy disparity with the fact that UMass is only a short bus ride away, it becomes easier to understand why UMass students are so ubiquitous on weekends and why they sometimes seem socially frustrated.
I do not think UMass students are bad people, but rather that Amherst College is an environment in which there are not appropriate consequences for their actions. Although Amherst College Police do everything in their power to protect Amherst students, it is unclear what authority they have over people who do not attend this school—it’s not as if they could send a UMass kid to the Dean’s office. I saw a similar phenomenon when I went to the Amherst-Williams football game this fall. There was a general feeling of invincibility amongst the Amherst students and, unfortunately, many of us did not behave as we should have.
Five College students need to be held responsible for their actions on this campus. Currently, Amherst College’s social scene is significantly affected by people who don’t even go to this school. I speak from my own experience when I say that the possibility that Five College students will show up has influenced the frequency and the nature of events we are willing to host in my suite. The ability to make more of one’s own decisions is one of the great things about college. Five College students are a coercive presence and limit the range of decisions that Amherst students feel they can safely make.
The solutions proposed by the college to deal with this problem have been far from sufficient. Students are supposed to lock their common room doors, monitor the entrances to their buildings, and utilize the blue light system if they feel they are in danger. In short, we have been asked to we are forced to take protective measures from Five College students while it seems there’s no punishment for those that do commit crimes at Amherst. I am not sure what the proper response to this issue should be, but, whatever it is, it should deal with the root of the problem—the apparent invincibility of Five College students—rather than trying to mitigate its symptoms.