The Amherst student population received a fantastic email announcing the introduction of a new initiative aimed at stimulating what must be seen as an abysmal situation—our interactions at Val. The plan is to introduce social cups as a subdued signal that you are open to meeting new people, making new acquaintances, and sparking lifelong friendships, affairs, and rivalries. But like many of my peers, I found the holes in this plan. Here are some thoughts:
What if only one person in a group of people has a blue cup? Do I introduce myself and ignore everyone else in the group? Mixed signals!
What if we run out of normal cups and are forced to resort to social cups? How do I signal that I’d actually prefer to talk to no one?
If the blue cups are social cups, then what will their clear counterparts be known as? “Asocial” cups? The monk’s cup?
Will I seem like a brazen coquette if only use social cups? Get at me bros.
Can I use the social cup in a non-Valentine environment (thereby furthering the theft problem but that’s another issue)? Can I use it in my lecture class to show people that I’d welcome them sitting down next to me?
My friends hate the social cups and won’t sit next to me when I use one. Help.
How will we expand social cups to Grab-N-Go? Or is that the ultimate don’t-talk-to-me signal?
Will the Socials be painted blue?
How long is this going to last?
I appreciate the school’s attempt to foster a community. With such a small number of students, community should come naturally, yet as we often lament, we lack it nonetheless. Or do we? The school is trying to create a warmer climate for the student population but institutionalized measures to grow organic friendships inevitably fail. Once something stems from the administration, we reject it. But besides the institutionalized measure, the notion of a dean encouraging us to “socialize” is a paternalism, which we instinctually reject. It’s similar to the first day of move-in when our parents pressure us to go around the floor and introduce ourselves. Only now it’s a condescending email and a slight note of disappointment at our widespread isolation. Why would we follow this instruction? It’s the problem Orientation constantly faces. You cannot simulate this environment. But we ultimately cannot give up and simply continue bemoaning our supposed lack of community. At an MRC meeting I attended earlier in the week we discussed whether our discourse could ever reach concrete measures that could be implemented on campus. And here appears a measure, clumsy but well intentioned, and my first instinct is to reject it.
Tackling the tacit awkwardness of mealtimes is a large effort. But Valentine, for most of us, is the only option of receiving well-rounded meal. We collide with people because we have to; it is the only dining hall and a small one at that. For me, the small environment has been sufficient so far. I could go into Val alone and I could find someone to eat with or just eat alone. I felt free to do both of these but this was only after a long year of testing my own boundaries and pushing myself to adapt to the environment I was in. The social cups add another degree–you’re uncomfortable but ultimately making new acquaintances will bond you closer to your peers. This moment of sharing mealtimes is terrifying because it’s so close. But the social cups give us an option: we can sit and eat together, watch what happens, we can linger or we can rush out.
Maybe, I’ll embrace it. Today I saw the blue cups and realized they offered me a chance to be go out and talk to people I’ve admired and never had an excuse to talk to. I’m putting myself in a strange social experiment supported by the administration (it’s like reliving orientation again!). So I ask you, beseech you: say hi to me and come close. Firstly because I can’t see very well and secondly because I’d like to know you better.