I fucking love the Octagon. Yes, the Octagon. That eight-sided yellow building that hides somewhere behind J-Chap. Yes, that building every reasonable person would assume is an observatory, but it isn’t, not any more. The building with creaky stairs, a door so massive you start to wonder whether Amherst used to be a school for giants. Bathrooms that will have you thinking its still the 1950’s and that right behind you might just be a man in a mask with a knife. The sound of wind rattling often interrupts class discussions. I’ve heard it called “spooky,” “strange,” or “just plain annoying.” But, trust me, it is so much more.
I remember arriving for my first squad meeting at the Octagon. I pushed open that door, ascended those creepy steps, and arrived in the octagonal room of my dreams. Here was the room I had always dreamed of. Light streamed in through the skylight, bouncing off the dusty books. The balcony seemed built for a musical number. I longed to skitter down that spiral staircase in a blue, chiffon dress, all the while singing like an angel. The giant wooden table with chairs built for the founding fathers took center stage. That dark wood geared me up for intellectual pursuits. “I’m here to learn, goddamnit!” I thought.
Needless to say, I was slightly disappointed by the content of that squad meeting, as we all tend to be. The Octagon had me amped up for some in-depth, giant wooden-table-worthy discussion and not the shaky ramblings of self-conscious young students trying to be cool. But I have rarely been disappointed with Octagon happenings since. Twice a week, I get to experience the intellectual hurricane that is Adam Sitze in that space. As the class goes on, Professor Sitze grows in both his enthusiasm and his gesticulations, filling the room. I sometimes sneak in to get work done, constantly feeling on edge, as if I’m not supposed to be there. I have spent hours looking through the books on the balcony, avoiding homework while sifting through dusty old course readings. The Black Lives Matter vigil held in the Gerald Penny Black Cultural Center had me in tears. There are poetry readings and worthwhile discussions, and the sense that something really important is happening. I love the Octagon because it feels built for significance. It’s a space for thought and reflection and discussion.
I also love the Octagon because it is old as hell. And not “old” like North dorm, shiny and repurposed. In the Octagon I can feel the weight of time and intellect. Sure, the stairs creak, but you can see in their indentations the steps of people who have come before. That massive door is out of a time in which it would be considered impressive rather than inconvenient. I’m pretty sure that balcony is a fire hazard, but it’s still fucking beautiful. We may not have a gorgeous, Hogwarts style library. But we have the Octagon. And that’s enough for me.