AC Voice Appreciates: Keefe Campus Center

I spend a lot of time in Keefe: about eight hours per week, on average. You’ve probably seen me—whether or not you actually know who I am—sitting in the atrium on the circular red and yellow couches, usually between noon and two o’clock on any given weekday. If I’m not in the atrium, 75% of the time I’m somewhere else in the building: Schwemm’s, the MRC, the WGC, or the study lounge upstairs. I always get lunch from Grab n Go, even on the days I have enough time between classes to go to Val, including days I don’t have class at all. My friends make fun of me for it, and usually at least once every day someone will stop by on their way to the mailroom and ask if I ever leave Keefe (let this be a blanket response: yes, I promise I do).

It began as simple necessity (or laziness, call it what you like): when you live on the Triangle and have at least two classes a day, and at least twenty minutes between those two classes, you become incredibly aware of the available sitting space on campus, or lack thereof.

Frost, Val, and Keefe form the triumvirate of non-exclusive space available where students congregate during the Amherst school week. Less serious than Frost, and more comfortable than Val, Keefe seemed the choice of location for my casual between-classes hang out space. While Val and Frost have explicit purposes—food and study, respectively—Keefe is not as easily categorized. It falls under the ubiquitous name of the college “campus center,” the catchall building that fills student needs beyond and in between the dining hall and the library. It is a place for food, via Schwemm’s or Grab n Go, and potential studying—thanks to the enclosed study lounge upstairs.

Despite its prominence as a topic of discussion in past years, most people seem to have a fairly indifferent attitude toward this bizarrely, endearingly yellow building in the middle of campus. Walking around the brightly colored and well-lit hallways of Keefe today, it’s easy to forget—at least for those of us who were here to remember—that a year and a half ago, the campus center looked like a completely different building. Before the renovations and the addition of Grab n Go, I only came to Keefe to check my mail every couple of days or so, intentionally shunning the building for its worn couches and dim lighting. Upstairs, apart from the Friedmann Room, was usually deserted, and the basement was a dismal hallway filled with locked rooms and dark offices.

I could never have the relationship (yes, relationship) that I have with the new building with the pre-renovations Keefe. The campus center today is a testament to the possibility of real change on campus—maybe not monumental change, but change nonetheless. The original purpose of the renovations, increased visibility of the MRC and WGC (previously known as the Women’s Center), was for the most part successful: along with their move up from the basement, the directors and staff of both centers are incredibly welcoming, and have worked hard to reach out to the wider student body through tea times and collaborative events. With these changes, Keefe has gained potential as an active, versatile social space.

The addition of Grab n Go has not only increased midday visitors to the campus center but helped keep people in Keefe as well. Many—including myself—who come to Keefe for Grab n Go actually end up grabbing and sitting: in the atrium, in Schwemm’s, in the upstairs lounges, and hopefully in the under-appreciated balcony as well, once the weather improves.

Even during the lunch hours, when traffic is highest, it is easy to transition quickly between private and public space, depending on the atmosphere you’re looking for. Want a quieter space? Both the enclosed and open (the side without a door) study rooms upstairs are great for doing work or napping (yes, I have in fact slept in Keefe), and the back room of Schwemm’s is a more private lunch option. For those looking to engage socially, aim for the main room of Schwemm’s (with the fireplace) or my personal favorite, the atrium couches, complete with inexplicably donut-shaped tables. Other often-overlooked spaces of note include the beautiful McCaffery Room (on the right when you come in the front doors)—which has a TV that anyone can use—the second floor conference room (right next to the Friedmann Room, great for studying or club meetings), and the game room, which does, in fact, still exist (it’s just upstairs).

Although the Keefe-sit lacks the unlimited supply of food that often augments the Val-sit, it wins out in terms of social potential. There is no need for the Social Cup in Keefe: something about those couches draws strangers and acquaintances together better than anything I’ve seen on this campus. Maybe it’s the lack of pressure to sit down for a long conversation, a feature inherent in a building that is often simply a stop along the journey of the day, rather than a destination.

So the next time you’re walking through to check your mail, pause for a moment: admire the multi-colored fluorescent lighting in the atrium, grab some free candy from the club tabling in the corner, and say hi to me on the couch, because I’ll probably be there.