Dean Dean Gendron’s Party Tips by Jake May ’19

We here at the Indicator recognize that the rift between Amherst’s students and its administration is growing every single day. Given our reputation as the “Undisputed #1 Best Voice of Amherst College” (look it up), we, here at the Indicator understand that we have a responsibility to aid in the mending of this rift. That’s why this month, we, here, at the Indicator, asked Senior Associate Dean of Students, co-author of the infamous email, and potential lizard-person Dean Gendron to provide some tips on how to make Amherst parties “even more fun than they already are.” (His words, not ours.)

 

Hello. I am Dean Dean Gendron, but you can call me Dean Dean Gendron. You may know me if you went to the AAS Town Hall meeting about the Party Policy-I was the ghostly man who looked like he hadn’t been outside in 10-12 years. (I actually want to take a second to clear this up right now: I have been outside in the past 10-12 years; in fact, I go outside at least once a week. It’s just that I only go outside at night, okay? Not that hard to understand.)

Anyway, I have some tips on how to improve your parties here at Amherst College. These all come from personal experience.

1. Sit in a circle on the ground and get to know each other. Ask each other questions like “What’s your favorite color?“ or “Where were you on the night of the Summer Solstice?” Classic getting-to-know-each-other stuff.

2. While your in the circle anyway, go ahead and grasp the hands of the people sitting next to you. Look at the person to your left in the eyes (NOT the person to your right; be extra careful about this). Once you have made eye contact, look to the sky and, in unison, say “Great and powerful Uungatuu, we are ready.”

3. At this point, whoever has been designated as the Shaman should place the ceremonial Orb in the middle of the circle. The Shaman should then sing The Pitch. Join in and create the sacred harmony. The Orb will begin to glow-hopefully blue. If it is blue, the great Uungatuu has blessed us for another cyle. If it is red, you must accept your impending doom, for the great Uungatuu is our lord, our rock, our reedemer.

4. Instead of a drinking game, try playing a different type of game, like Charades or Mafia.

 

jmay19@amherst.edu

Misty by Lauren Weiss ’18

For my dog, upon her seventh birthday

 

She does not run as fast as she once did.

Still, her legs swing like furry pendulums,

Tiny chest seeming to graze the ground as

She sprints after a wayward tennis ball.

 

The sound of knocking at the door used to

Make her leap down from her favorite spot.

These days it takes more to coax her from this

Paradise, that sun-warmed patch on the bed

 

Where she snoozes through the day, waking when

Tantalizing smells from the backyard find

Their way up into the upstairs window.

She wrinkles her small damp nose and wonders.

A Brain Held Hostage of Expectation

 

You think you can do these things, but you just can’t, Nemo.” -Marlin

 

Follow your dreams off the edge of a cliff!

Coddle hopeless, nonsense notions.

Blind to what’s before us – even our noses;

Tears, like truths, are hard to swallow.

 

Block reality’s rays with rosy shades.

Duty and Zeal bind tightly: twin shackles.

New journeys lie beyond open doors, but

We ignore and reject perspective.

 

Sacrifice home for a fleeting fancy-

Like soldiers without a cause.

Martyr-like masochists; we’re bleeding out!

Sweat anointing furrowed brows.

 

Secure your success ‘til tenacity falters-

Dig hallowed holes for low grades.

Inflating bubbles with shallow breaths,

Destiny decrees: await your– POP!

 

Never stray from plans premade;

Share the worn-down paths they paved.

Lead us to sisters of fate or despair,

Known as Lawyer, Doctor, Engineer.

 

Dreams vanish in air; prisons BURST!

Prophecy is fulfilled.

Losers stall to hide their shame, but

Stripped bare we battle on still.

 

(Arrogance!) Leaves us blind and deaf;

No worldly being could pass that test.

Disarmed by bliss–oblivion’s kiss–

Will we then concede our ignorance?

 

mdiaz20@amherst.edu

Violence and Control by William Denzel Wood ’18

In the wake of the terrible shooting that took place in Florida a few weeks ago, I’d like to talk briefly about the difference between violence and control—there is no difference. Violence is control. Control is violence. Guns are violence, just as are hateful words. Telling someone they’re not good enough is violence, as is bombing innocent civilians on the other side of the planet through drone strikes. Unfortunately, the Left’s answer to this problem of control in the form of firearms is more control, and the Right’s answer is to bury their head in the sand while both cuddling and fondling the NRA lobby. Violence breeds violence. The attempt to control breeds further control. Does this mean that we shouldn’t expand gun legislation? I don’t think so. Ban guns. Ban all of them, sure, put on restrictions, make rules, take them away. I don’t need a gun—it’s not a hobby of mine, I don’t care (other Americans would care, which could cause its own sort of violence). Let’s be honest; people would find ways to access guns, but at least they’d be illegal. However, that still wouldn’t address the core issue of why The US of A has the worst gun violence per capita of any first world nation. I believe the roots to be that, as a culture, we are obsessed with power, control, and violence.

Why do most shootings take place in school? Is it because kids are inherently violent? Or, perhaps the issue stems from the systemic micro-aggressions these children experience daily at the hands of their teachers and peers? I’m not saying that these angry adolescent white males shouldn’t be blamed for the terrible things they’ve done in school shootings. Rather, they should receive counselling and individualized treatment to address their racist, sexist, violent tendencies. These people are conditioned to believe they have a disease, when in fact they themselves  are becoming ostracized—which better manifests their hatred. Ostracism is a form of control: it’s a way of excluding someone considered ‘off,’ which only makes them more off. School shooters are symptoms of a societal illness, and under these conditions guns only serve to facilitate more violence. We need to behavioral treatment for students, promote flexible classes, maintain better peer relations, and regulate youth gun ownership. We should treat the root and the symptom.

These white males that shoot up their schools clearly have some kind of evil manifesting in them, and it doesn’t come from nowhere. This evil derives from their peers, teachers, parents, strangers, and through the isolating culture of mass media. Of course, the choice of choosing to kill rather than reaching out for help requires mutual efforts, but our system of competition, politics, celebrity culture, movies, video games, and general society convinces young minds that power is a priority. And so, when you’re an outcast at school, an easy route to ultimate power is through a gun. Therefore, let’s treat the disease that infects people like Nikolas Cruz. We must reform the notion that guns are a means of empowerment for those in psychological pain, rather than try to approach these issues with polarizing be-all-end-alls. Because if we don’t do something to change our schools, using our power as voters, as political voices, then these tragedies will continue. I don’t want that on my conscience, and neither do you.

wwood18@amherst.edu

Flightless Bird by Ariella Goldberg ’19

It was about 6:15 a.m. on Wednesday, February 21st, and 61-year-old Don McCevoy was following the perimeter of the New Science Building. He walked with a slight limp, which he’s had for years, the result of some long-forgotten injury. Don wore old jeans and a bright blue windbreaker. He swept a cane from left to right in front of his feet, inspecting the overturned snow in its wake. In his left hand he carried a gallon-sized bucket.

“We didn’t find as many today,” said Don. “But that’s unusual. Yesterday we found over sixteen.”

Don has been collecting bird carcasses for almost twenty-seven years, and he notes the increase in deaths since the construction of the New Science Building. “It’s those huge glass windows,” he observes. “Birds don’t understand those huge glass windows.”

Don is a widely acclaimed and significantly published researcher of the American Association of Ornithology. Some of his most referenced articles include: “Handling Avian Specimens: An Evaluation of Preservation Methods in the Modern Archive” (1994, Vol. 134a, ISSN 0005-3857); “21st Century Migration Patterns of the Black-Throated Blue Warbler” (2001, Vol. 210b, ISSN 0003-5489); and “A Survey of the Shorebirds of Massachusetts” (2012, Vol. 32, ISSN 0031-4958). Don has been tracking recent changes in the populations of common bird species in western Massachusetts, and has discovered a 2.1% decrease in northern waterthrush counts since the window panes were installed in the New Science Building. He finds this figure alarming, considering that the main structure is far from complete. “It’s safe to predict a massive incline in mortality rate as soon as they install the remaining windows. Specular reflection. I can imagine their little bodies pinging against the great wave of glass in multitudes. And lying on the ground, tiny bird organs remain warm and full of vital fluids even as the legs stiffen with rigor mortis. A gory spectacle for anyone inside,” Don muses. “The unsuspecting sparrow wouldn’t notice anything’s awry until it’s right up against the glass, gazing into its own reflection.”

Don has an entire room in his basement dedicated to his menagerie, which he organizes on shelves by year collected and species name. Don has installed special LED light fixtures with UV filtering to prevent potential harm to his collection. Some birds have been stuffed, with their wings outstretched and held in place by wire structures. Others are preserved skeletons in glass domes. Don’s wife, Siobhan, is a local realtor. She and Don have hardly spoken in eleven years, except when they compare guesses during their weekly viewing of The Price is Right. Siobhan often spends nights at her sister’s house in Nantucket.

Don works a quiet job unrelated to his passion. The construction of the New Science Building has been a highlight of Don’s recent fixations. He spends long periods of time in his basement, adjusting his latest array of specimens in their various states of decay. Sometimes, during Don’s daily routine, he considers the gravity of his task and the future ahead. We have to ask ourselves: Why would Amherst portray itself as an institution dedicated to conscious ecological behavior, and yet take actions that seem deliberately in opposition to this initiative? Even the installation of the windows on the western side of the building seems aimed at posing danger to its unsuspecting feathered victims. Studies by the North American Avian Society show that west-side facing windows contribute to 16% of bird deaths worldwide. The New Science Building is near the heart of the Bird Sanctuary. “I don’t understand the design team’s mission,” Don shakes his head. He takes photos of the large glass panes and shows them to Siobhan, who stands at the kitchen sink and gazes out the window expressionlessly. She glances at the photos briefly and turns away. “It’s beautiful,” whispers Siobhan. “I’d smash into those windows too, if only to be closer.” Siobhan carries a Taurus Millennium G2 Pistol in her handbag.

Projected completion time for the New Science Building is Fall 2018. Early birdsong accompanies unseasonably warm temperatures. Don fears the future ahead. He can’t help but wonder if the unfriendly design decision was intentional. He asks us to look deeper. “It’s no secret that several higher-ups in the Amherst College administration devalue bird welfare.” In fact, we were able to secure minutes of recent Committee of Six meetings, and find that certain members express deep resentment of birds. We will list a few of the most shocking sentiments here. “This dialectic has formed the central problem of my scholarship” -Adam Sitze. “I fucking hate birds” -Biddy Martin. Other administrators are similarly bitter. Suzanne Coffey fills birdfeeders outside her bedroom window with birdseed laced with rat poison. Some students also display alarming behavior toward birds. An anonymous sophomore, whose name rhymes with floss, admits to incorporating birds in his sexual stimulation techniques. In general, it seems that Amherst is an anti-bird campus.

As this monument of avian death is erected, consider the birds. Don lights a cigarette and peers into his bucket of wilted, damp bodies. With a few hours’ work, their wings will be pinned, outstretched in a parody of flight. “Siobhan,” Don sighs.

acgoldberg19@amherst.edu

#MeToo: What Now? by Lisa Zheutlin ’21

On January 20th, I took to the streets of New York City, protesting alongside 200,000 other feminists, demanding equality in the second annual Women’s March. With the recent onslaught of sexual assault accusations, beginning with Weinstein and permeating out of LA and into our daily lives, the March could not have come at a more pressing time. These accusations have taken shape and gained traction under the #MeToo movement, but where do we go from here? When does it move beyond the, albeit heteronormative, “he said, she said” and into the realm of this is a fucking serious fundamental flaw in society that needs be addressed at every angle in every level of every human being in order to eradicate the ingrained notion that women are inferior to men? Why not, say, now? It seems daunting and irreparable; the system is broken.  I’m not saying that my suggestions in this article are going to eradicate sexual assault, but they need to be verbalized, or at least immortalized in the Amherst Indicator, for my own sake (if not society’s).

Put simply, what we need is a complete upheaval of our gendered socialization of children.  Easy, right?  Why, before a fetus is even born, are we purchasing pink “It’s a Girl” balloons or blue “It’s a Boy!” balloons, and why did society gender blue as male and powerful while pink is female and delicate? Why do mothers and fathers interact differently with their children?  Why do mothers treat male and female babies differently?  And how does this all translate into our adult behaviors? I’m not a developmental psychologist or sociologist (yet?), but it is evident that our sexual encounters (as with most encounters in our lives) are inherently dictated by our gendered socialization and the fundamental biases accompanying that. It is hard to imagine an eradication of gendered socialization, but we do not even need to revolutionize child rearing in order to better our current sexual encounters. What we need is communication, accountability, and empowerment.

Our sexual encounters could legitimately be revolutionized with communication. Women are taught from a very young age to prioritize the needs of others over their own, fostering the “nurturing” and “motherly” stereotypes. This is so problematic, especially in terms of sexual encounters, because it sets women up to struggle to voice their opinions and get what they want out of an encounter. But it also just hampers the entire sexual interaction; both participants should be enjoying themselves and making sure that the other is comfortable, and it should never be one-sided. Teaching women to speak up is not the panacea; it actually does nothing if men are not simultaneously taught to listen. What is especially jarring about the #MeToo movement is how many women have had similar experiences. It was impossible to scroll through social media without seeing a friend, family member, classmate, random acquaintance, or idolized celebrity voicing that, they too, had experienced sexual harassment or assault. How did so many women have such horrible sexual experiences? Why did so many men subject women to these experiences?  We are not getting what we want out of sexual encounters because we are not being listened to, and it is hard to discern whether this is a blatant lack of respect from men or a genuine ignorance. Due to socialization, men are in positions of power, so they are not taught to constantly worry about what women are thinking or feeling, whereas women must be perpetually aware of what men are experiencing. We need to teach boys and men that empathy, which starts with listening, does not correlate to a fragile masculinity, and the entire premise of a fragile masculinity must be shattered. While women need to be more vocal and men need to be more receptive, it does go both ways: if someone does not speak up in a sexual encounter, the other person can check in and make sure they are enjoying themselves, as well. And, and this is such a big and, a woman saying “no” is not a flirty way of playing hard to get, it does not warrant further pressing, it should not be turned into a half-hearted “fine” or “sure”; it should be respected, validated.

But if we are encouraging women to speak up and voice discomfort, while teaching men to listen, we need to ensure accountability when this listening is violated. These men need to be held accountable for their actions, whether that means removal from positions of power, judicial sentencing, public awareness, education. We cannot let this continue. We cannot let these men continue to violate women and remain in positions of power, coddled by the patriarchy.

This accountability and enhanced communication will directly translate into women’s empowerment. If women know that they will be listened to when they voice discomfort, if they know that when violated, their assaulters will be held accountable, then they will gain agency. I think women gaining power often threatens men, and there has been a backlash against #MeToo: people blaming the victims, saying it wasn’t assault and just bad sex, saying no man is safe from “the reckoning.” But it is not the men who are unsafe because they are at risk of being accused; it is the women who are unsafe from the abuses of men in positions of power.  We shouldn’t be scared for our men if we raised them in ways to ensure they would never violate a woman’s bodily autonomy, if we raised them to listen, to have empathy, to be aware of another person’s discomfort, to ask questions. And men shouldn’t be threatened by women gaining power; adding voices to the conversation will help everyone.

While the majority of this diatribe has been centered on underlying societal flaws, we cannot forget how gendered socialization is at the root of this. And it becomes especially interesting to analyze how gendered vocabulary in our everyday lives contributes to these stereotypes. The cliché statement of “words matter” that we learned in elementary school is applicable to this movement, as words have so much power in the systemic oppression of women. This is not some liberal agenda of political correctness, it is just common courtesy to think about the words we use and how they affect our own actions and perceptions while also influencing those around us. In terms of our everyday vocabulary, we can analyze the use of “pussy.” We are all sadly aware of Trump’s Access Hollywood tape in which he said, “Grab ‘em by the pussy.  You can do anything.”  This blatant entitlement to assault sparked outrage in the nation (not enough outrage to stop millions of people from voting for him), but we’ve heard “pussy” used derogatorily in our everyday lives. Children and adults alike use the statement “don’t be a pussy” to mean “don’t be a wimp,” goading their friends into doing something brave, for example. Why does the word pussy have a connotation of weak, something we shame men, and even women, out of being?  Meanwhile, the word “cocky” has the connotation of being overconfident. It symbolizes power and boldness, bordering on arrogance. So, to be fair, cocky is not always used positively; it can be insulting, implying a lack of humbleness, but compared to the usage of “pussy,” it is inherently more powerful and less derogatory. Why can’t we change the way we use pussy and say, “Wow! John was such a pussy today…he jumped off the waterfall, it was so cool!” Reading this, and hearing it said out loud, might seem ridiculous, even satirical, but it then becomes important to analyze why we think using pussy with a powerful connotation is funny. This leads us to the realization that we have internalized the stereotypes; we are a part of the problem, as it seems outlandish to view pussies as powerful. When we internalize the connotations of pussy*, it translates into women being perceived as weak, which contributes an entirely new perspective to the issue of sexual assault.

This similar line of analysis can be helpful when thinking about statements like, “be a man,” or “manpower,” or “man up,” or “grow a pair.” If we really think about what we are implying it becomes alarming: only men can be brave and powerful. This gendering of words shifts out of our vernacular and into our political and vocational realms with titles like “chairman” and “policeman.” When we think about why we do not have a sufficient number of women in politics, we can simply look to the overt gendering of titles, which shows how the positions were not made for women, they were made without women even in mind.  And how can we expect accountability if women have paltry representation in our legislative and judicial systems? 

The #MeToo movement has been so powerful in illuminating the revolting prevalence of sexual assault in our society. Yet it also serves as yet another example of the impacts of gendered socialization on our society. When analyzing the #MeToo movement, it all seems to return to the patriarchy. But we are a part of the system: we have been raised to internalize these stereotypes, and we continue to raise our children to inherently value masculinity and its powerful connotations. From here, there is so much that needs to be done. We need to empower women through the promotion of communication in sexual encounters. We need to ensure that men are listening and are held accountable. In our everyday lives, we can watch our word choice. While changing the connotation of pussy and using it positively will in no way eradicate sexual assault in our world, it will at least empower women rather than send subliminal messages that their sexual organs are symbols of weakness. We can think about the words we use and how they impact those around us, how they can validate certain behaviors and alter others. We need to continue marching, fostering awareness, promoting change. And this is only the beginning.

*It’s important to point out that the use of pussy in this example is not meant to be trans-exclusionary; women without pussies deserve to be treated equally to women with pussies.

lzheutlin21@amherst.edu

A Letter to Power by Zoe Akoto ’21

To Power:

saw you in my memories the other day. They were of my father and the stories he told me as a child, oral histories and old tales shipped express from his life in Ghana. I remember the Ashanti queens, such strong and powerful leaders, and the warriors with bodies coated in gold. I remember the witches, the healers, skin so dark and feet so quick that they looked like shadows; you could never touch them, they could never be caught.

It’s funny, how it all turns to dust. And suddenly, my stories are all pale and blonde and you are the shadow teller, my new narrator tucking me in. The best way to write someone out of a story is to not tell them that you’re doing it. So, you raised me on Ariel, Belle, and Cinderella; taught me to look through a broken mirror and not notice the glass in my eyes; fed me sand and told me it was butter. And as I followed you, let you guide me, my hand in yours, I realized that the dark-ugly wasn’t me, but you, and the world you’d given me was a cold tower where you’d locked me away. The best way to write someone out of a story is to never include them in the first place.

I’m coming into my own agency. I am out beyond your tower and rinsing my eyes to see for the first time in years. I’m remembering my mother and her mother and summers spent in Georgia, down the street from a peach-packing factory. Endless Sundays in hot churches, sweaty dresses sticking to pews, enough fans flapping to lift you higher than revelations. I’m claiming the history of my mother’s family, of generations not spent in Cameroon, resilience in oppression, digging roots in your dirt. The broken hair brush and the hot comb (with the burn scars) and the two-step. I’m learning that history is alive and your story isn’t mine. Once upon a time, I wished for milk and honey, and now I dream of gold-coated skies, my grandmother’s hands and endless Sundays.

But I can still feel myself within your design. I’m building a home inside your castle, putting my words inside your pages. You want me to claim my ancestors’ bondage, to glimpse the reflection of myself in your image and carry the shards of your mirror. To remember my grandmother but not Old Lady, the face I’ve only touched once, who speaks a language unburied, not given by masters, lives on land cultivated without blood and chains. I’m beyond your tower but locked in a shining city on a hill, and you’re omnipresent but visible, whispering in my ear as I walk down the street. I feel you in my classrooms, in my home, in my bed, delicately placing your hand back in mine. Sometimes, I still crave the sand; still flinch and shudder at my Black skin against white walls; see your shadow in the ghosts that go bump in my mind. Once upon a time, you haunted me  and now, you still do.

I wonder if you even know yourself. Do you see yourself? Do you know I see you?

You’re my high school required reading: thirty-five dead white men and Chinua Achebe; the twenty-eight girls in my elementary school class and the zero who looked like me. You’re the head turns the moment the teacher mentions race. You’re the bathroom tile, throat burning, head spinning, tears I cried without understanding why. You’re the institution. You’re the seat at the table. I wonder if your throat burns too, from all the voices you’ve swallowed. You talk with words you don’t understand and tell stories that don’t belong to you, spilling them recklessly out of your mouth until it’s truth. But truth is not a singular object you can stitch together from torn histories. You do not own it; it belongs to many.

So, I’ll speak on what I know and tell it like it is. I remember my father’s stories and I remember when I decided they were lies. I remember my mother’s weary, knowing sigh every time she found me crying, rubbing my back like her mother had done, and all the generations before her. I remember I used to stutter when I spoke, until I realized I had something worth saying. Old Lady taught me that some stories don’t need to be spoken to be heard, but some need to be translated to be understood. My grandmother gave me endless Sundays and showed me it takes many hands to make revelations. The best way to write a new story is to start with a memory. Once upon a time, you gave me sand, and I built a garden.

– Zoe

zakoto21@amherst.edu

Arthur Investigates: Elitism by Arthur Pero ’19

Amherst College: America’s #2 liberal arts college, turnstile to the upper class, well-endowed, but above all, elite institution. The notion of “elite” seems to encompass Amherst’s reputation, from its low acceptance rate to its notorious academic rigor. Describing the college as elite isn’t exclusive to its academics—the same is often said of its social climate. The student body is often referred to as entitled, even snobby, flaunting their privilege and position in the face of other colleges and the community at large.

Amherst has historically produced countless accomplished alumni. As a result, the current student body is widely considered to be future executives, politicians, C.E.O.s, even tastemakers. But does their reputation precede them? Do the students truly embody such an elitist and egotistic depiction? Do they view themselves as such? Or is this representation merely an inaccurate caricature painted by the college’s historical affiliations? Perhaps the answer is more nuanced. Put simply, does the history and association of Amherst College paint an unrealistic picture of its student body?

To find out, I decided to hit the streets and interview the some of the campus community to find out how they view themselves, their role within the institution, and ask, “What makes the college elite, and would it be fair to call you an elitist?”

My plan was to set down my recorder, pose one question, and let each interviewee express their opinion with no interruption, without any interjection. I would transcribe their words just as they spoke them and draw my conclusions later.

I posed my question online, and after putting out a call on Amherst College’s Free and For Sale Facebook page, I got several responses. Of these, only a couple were willing to meet in person to talk.

The first student who agreed to meet with me was Jenna Talia‘20, a sophomore Art major with plans to declare Russian as a second major. Jenna was small, but had a big presence. She wore thick glasses and a tie-dyed crewneck sweater with large denim overalls, which were cuffed high enough to make the little cacti on her socks peek out over her boots in the middle of her shin. This was my prompt to Jenna: “Amherst is unquestionably regarded as elite. Do you think this definition extends to the social atmosphere? And if so, how do you view your role in the college’s social scene?” This was Jenna’s response:

“I think you could say a lot of things that aren’t pleasant about the social scene here. I’ve made some great friends but I also think some of the social dynamics at work breed some sort of toxicity. But is it elite? I’m not sure. I think saying that the social climate is ‘elite’ would imply that the students at Amherst aren’t just perceived as being better than others, but they actually are. So in that respect, I’d have to say no. There’s a lot of money here, but besides that, socially, it seems pretty normal to me. But I’m not sure about my role here. It was pretty easy to make friends, though. A couple of the girls I went to prep school with came here the year before me, so I already had a few friends when I got here. I don’t think I fit in so well in the larger ‘social scene.’ Any time I’ve gone to parties they feel like a stage for loud men to do and say whatever they want. I went to a party in Lipton a month or so ago and there was this guy in a Hawaiian shirt punching the wall. Like an hour later he and his friends were all shirtless in the hallway playing beer pong. If that’s the norm, I don’t think I fit in or even want to.”

While I appreciated Jenna’s willingness to share her opinions with me, parts of her response left a bad taste in my mouth. Jenna went to prep school and planned to complete two majors. She had even been invited to a party. I felt like her negative characterization of men referred to me, personally. What’s wrong with Hawaiian shirts? Was I asking the right person about this, or was she, herself, an elitist? I found her opinion of who should and shouldn’t be allowed at a social gathering to be exclusionary.

Next, I met with Wayne Kerr‘19, a junior English major. Wayne wore a blue cardigan with brown elbow patches and had on brown horn-rimmed glasses. He said he had a lot of reading to do and could only talk for a minute. I asked Wayne, “Is there an air of elitism in Amherst College’s social scene?” Wayne bit his lip, contemplating only for a few seconds, and responded:

“I feel like your question presupposes that this is the case. I think it’s important to note that you’re putting Amherst in a category of its own and framing it in such a way that places it above or at the very least outside the rest of the world. Are there social cliques here? Sure. Do a lot of the students come from a very privileged background? Absolutely. But does this make the college different than anywhere else? Not really. It’s just part of a larger whole. I think you’re kind of fishing for something here and you’re doing your best to make sure your article or whatever reads the way you want it to.”

It was a shame Wayne decided to end the interview on such a tasteless note. I’m not sure what Wayne meant by his answer, but I could read between the lines. He used a lot of big words and spoke calmly and confidently. His response was an example of  something I’ve seen time and time again at Amherst—privileged students using their intellectual capital to systematically shut down the voices of those who challenge the college’s problematic social norms.

So if these two students accurately represent the opinions of the entire student body, what sorts of conclusions can I walk away from this with? It seems to me that elitism in the college’s social climate is alive and well. Is it possible that I misread the statements of these two students? I really don’t think so.

apero19@amherst.edu

Power in My Mother’s Hands by Siya Chauhan ’20

“I’m shutting down the business.”

A few weeks ago, I received the most crushing news. Recalling it still introduces a heaviness into my limbs, the weight of loss and defeat.

My mother told me her news casually, casually enough that I cannot quite remember the details now–was it over text? Were we seated at the kitchen counter? What emotions laced her gaze as she conveyed this new reality?

“I’m ready to retire,” she told me with a wry smile. Indeed, her body has finally begun to catch up to her age, straining under the weight of sacks of flour and aching after standing up all day. The job of running a business, especially a baking business, lends itself well only to the young.

My mother was young when she opened up the business in 2004, fourteen years ago. Her life revolved around taming her two young children–both of whom had their share of developmental and social difficulties, and both of whom suffered a host of food allergies. Back then, before the era of gluten-free trendiness, my mother couldn’t buy her children food from the grocery store, save for the most basic of oddly chewy pastas and painfully dry breads. Most everything we ate, from pizzas and soups to cookies and cakes, my mother made from scratch.

At this point in her life, my mother felt powerless. Her conceptions of the future crumbled around her: her plans to return to the MBA program she was a handful of courses from completing remained dangling, any chances of the career she had imagined for herself teetering along with them. Her life was reducing to a daily struggle of cooking and babysitting and stressing. Her individuality and agency caved to the greater well-being of her family.

My mother had immigrated to America just a few years prior, and that transition already ripped away certain parts of her. She left her social life, her family, her language, her way of life behind in India, and the pressures of being displaced to an unfamiliar country flattened the contours of her identity. The demands of her newly formed nuclear family stripped her of her last threads of independence. She was nothing, now, but a mother.

Powerlessness didn’t suit itself well to my mother, an incorrigibly strong woman, so, as time passed and her allergen-free cooking skills crescendoed, she decided to start up her own business. She had no experience, no employees, and no promise of much financial reward. But this enterprise served as a means for her to reform her identity in this new context, use the life circumstances that pulled her down to construct a new reality.

Over the years, the business grew, as did the symbolic role it held in all of our lives. The business physically manifested throughout our home, trays of cookies constantly filling our fridges and packaging materials littering the counters. The “ladies,” who my mother soon enough hired to work with her, would come in and out of house, their hours usually coinciding with school schedules. Our home became the business. The business became our home. My sense of family and warmth became tied up in the smell of baked goods and the crunch of packing peanuts and never-quite-cool ovens. I’m sure that the rest of my family, too, came to realize the intertwinedness of these two entities.

The business represented more than just a feeling of home for my mother, though. The business took over her every waking hour, the phone calls and unpaid invoices and unshipped boxes. Though the always put her family first (and emphasized this fact heavily), the business became somewhat of her child. She nurtured it and gave it her money, time, and love. And, just as motherhood comprised a central facet of her identity, so, eventually, did the business.

There’s a fundamental difference between her role as a mother and a small-business owner, though. The former comes, to a great extent, from an external society, its pressures and responsibilities communicated through various codes and practices ubiquitous in our lives. The role of “mother,” though individualized and claimed by my mother, did not call upon her agency or choice. However, the latter role, while shaped to some degree by laws and the local economy, came about completely through her own construction. My mother controlled how much importance the business held in her life, and just how much of her identity meshed into it. While the mantle of motherhood fell onto her shoulders from above, the business came from below.

While liberating and empowering, shaping one’s identity through their own actions lacks one major component–community. Society almost universally accepts, respects, and validates motherhood, for instance, but does anyone really consider the emotional and spiritual significance of small-business-ownership? Most people probably perceived my mother’s business as just a job, a way to make money or pass time. My mother’s identity as the owner of Pure Gluten Free Gourmet Solutions belonged to her and her only, so she had nobody to share it with.

I like to think that the business held a part of my soul, too, though it never comprised a part of my identity the way it did for my mother. I loved the business, and I still do–for in the business I saw nothing but my mother. All the hours I worked over the years, packaging and drizzling and rolling and loving, I spent alongside my mother. We bonded in a way few other mother-daughter pairs can replicate, I think. I, as time passed, gained access to this sacred and powerful part of my mother’s identity–it became mine to savor, if not share in.

My mother, my coworker, my friend. The business was our ritual, albeit a laborious one. The tasks it required of my mother, I often participated in, from the Costco hauls to the last-minute UPS rushes. We worked to the tune of Friends reruns when it was just the two of us, laughing and talking over brown paper bags. When I visualize my mother, I see her with her hairnet, its delicate lace pushing against her forehead, and one of her many garish aprons, hand-sown by my grandmother from garage-sale fabric. In my mind, my mother is a baker, precisely because she is my mother. And my position as her daughter rests upon our shared experiences with the business, to some extent.

But the business is her, not me. I’m not the one who often worked pre-sunrise and post-sunset to get orders out on time. I’m not the one who had to deal with unpaid checks and aggressive stores. A lot of the

things my mother did for the business came from a sense of necessity; my involvement, meanwhile, stemmed from a place of comfort and convenience. Though I felt a deep bond to the business, my identity did not hinge upon it.

Indeed, my mother’s identity grew into the foundation of this business, and in a gradual reversal of the dynamic in which it was constructed, the business came to have significant power over my mother. She could not escape its grasp, even when it exhausted or infuriated her. She found it hard to balance the demands of her business and the needs of her son, for instance; my mother ended up commuting back and forth from my brother’s apartment in New York City to our suburban home three or four times a week, in an effort to balance these delicate spheres of her life. The business drained her health, physical and emotional. The business overpowered her.

But powerlessness didn’t suit itself well to my mother, and she knew that it was time to quit. Unequivocally, her family came first. The business, too, had begun to slump: her stores had begun to drop away slowly. It didn’t matter, though–she didn’t have the resources to fill their orders.

I still can’t imagine my home without the business. I know that its time has come, but I wonder–what will fill this vacuum? I am losing more than an intermittent job. A piece of my life is draining away. But I imagine that the floods of loss wash over my mother to a greater degree than I can imagine.

A few weeks ago, my mother posted on her business’s Facebook page that the business would “have to take 8 – 10 months off.” When I asked her why she would say that–lie like that–she replied, coolly, “Just in case I hate retirement.” I don’t think she can return to her old life, honestly,  but I don’t think she can escape it, either. The business is her.

My mother, now an aspiring writer, spends most of her time with my brother in New York City. She thinks, relaxes, and rediscovers parts of her lifestyle the business had robbed her of–in the last few months, she has read more books than she had the time to over the last fourteen years. She’s reshaping her identity once more. Yes, she burned the old structure of her life to the ground, but my mother will never lose the experience and strength the business brought her over the last fourteen years; she enriches herself through this self-renovation. I trust my mother’s sense of identity will only grow stronger, as she undertakes this new adventure. I trust her power.

schauhan20@amherst.edu

Accommodations and Accessibility by Flavia Martinez ’18

Content warning: institutional violence

The following is a pastiche of content from The Amherst Student, exchanges over Facebook message, academic works, and thoughts. All quoted material appears in italics.

 

This year, ResLife is trying out a program called Early Room Selection. The goal of the system is to create “an ethical and transparent process of room selection for students who choose to use approved housing accommodations for their documented disability(ies)” that provides students with housing accommodations “the opportunity to choose a friend or friends who would live in the same residence hall with the student who has housing accommodations,” according to a document sent by Foley to students with housing accommodations.

The OED defines able-bodied redundantly and negatively as “having an able body, i.e. one free from physical disability, and capable of the physical exertions required of it; in bodily health; robust.” Able-bodiedness, in turn, is defined vaguely as “soundness of health; ability to work; robustness.”

When I was sick in late January, I couldn’t walk or sit in a chair comfortably. Going to Val or class was suddenly out of the question. I emailed the Office of Accessibility Services asking if someone could bring meals to my dorm room, which I thought was a reasonable request. An administrator approved me for “to-go meals,” but noted that a dining services employee could not bring me food. Someone would have to swipe my ID, ask for a to-go box, and bring it to my room.

Under the new system, students with accommodations will receive a lottery number based on their class year and will have the option to bring one or two friends to participate in Early Room Selection. This new system makes it possible for students with single-room accommodations to have friends live on the same floor as them.

I’ve known people who’ve successfully pursued and received the necessary accommodations to remain level… and people who’ve had outright negative experiences at every stage of their ordeals.

I hope the administration will stop jumping so quickly to pathologize its students and police how their bodies must function and perform.

Second, even though the language of “the normal relations” expected of human beings is not present in the definition of able-bodied, the sense of “normal relations” is, especially with the emphasis on work: being able-bodied means being capable of the normal physical exertions required in a particular system of labor. It is here, in fact, that both able-bodied identity and the Oxford English Dictionary betray their origins in the nineteenth century and the rise of industrial capitalism. It is here as well that we can begin to understand the compulsory nature of able-bodiedness: in the emergent industrial capitalist system, free to sell one’s labor but not free to do anything else effectively meant free to have an able body but not particularly free to have anything else.

The law does not naturally provide for bodies outside the norm and instead ensures their continued inequality.

These changes come after recommendations from Roosevelt @ Amherst, a branch of the Roosevelt Institute, which brings students together to research policy. Last March students in the group published an article in The Student that outlined their suggestions for how to improve life for students living with disabilities on campus. One of these suggestions was to create a “Buddy System” for students with housing accommodations, much like the one introduced this year.

The to-go box isn’t so bad if you’re sick for a day, but when you’re sick for a week, it becomes difficult to keep asking friends for meals, especially if you live on the Triangle or the Hill. Even though I knew I shouldn’t, I couldn’t help worrying that my friends were busy and didn’t have time to bring food or keep me company.

That said, some members of the staff and faculty go above and beyond to identify a student’s needs, find a suitable path forward (sometimes through trial-and-error), and coordinate the tricky parts of bureaucratic triviality.

When a psychiatrist at the Health Center prescribed me medication, they said I would likely need a low dosage because I was “high-functioning.”

Two years ago, an Amherst sophomore broke her foot. She suddenly found that her life at Amherst became much more difficult. Getting around campus, going up stairs, eating at Valentine Dining Hall— simple, everyday tasks were suddenly strenuous endeavours to navigate a largely inaccessible campus landscape. Unfortunately, Amherst’s Office of Student Affairs was less than helpful. As she described in a recent interview, “I got pretty much zero help … the administration was unresponsive and unhelpful, which I found infuriating.” When she called the campus police for assistance in getting to class, they were dismissive of her requests for help. One of her classes was located on the third floor of Arms Music Building, and the Office of Student Affairs said its location couldn’t be changed. “‘For some reason’; the administration didn’t let it happen,” she said.

When I finally started taking a medication that helped me walk comfortably, I would head to Val at 7:30am, 11am, and 4:30pm to avoid long lines. Braving Val by myself, I tried to smile. I would I ask for a to-go box, but I didn’t look ill. One of the Val swipe-in attendants moved to grab a box and added, “You must be in a hurry!” They could have just been making small talk, but I was vulnerable, and I wanted to cry. I was made to feel as if I were simply too busy to sit down and eat a meal.

Normalization drives the matter of corporeality underground, so to speak, in the press to flatten differences into the multicultural mosaic that continues to champion normative modes of existence while seeming to become more flexible and therefore in line with key facets of neoliberal adaptability.

I’m thankful for the tangibility of my illness and recovery period.

The process of securing Early Room Selection was not easy, according to Annika Ariel ’19, the current president of Roosevelt @ Amherst. After meeting with a variety of administrators in in October 2016, Roosevelt @ Amherst created a survey to research students’ satisfaction with housing accommodations. However, the survey never reached the student body, according to Ariel.

“When two of us [from Roosevelt] brought this up at a Presidential Task Force on Accessibility and Inclusion meeting, we were told Accessibility Services and ResLife didn’t feel there needed to be a survey,” Ariel said. “So Joshua Ferrer ’18E and I posted on Facebook about everything that had transpired, [and] AAS wrote a letter in support. Shortly afterwards, according to [Chief Student Affairs Officer] Suzanne Coffey, [President] Biddy [Martin] convened a meeting of staff to talk about changing this. And then the policy was finally implemented.”

Needless to say, it’s a complicated mess, and sustained attention is essential should any change ever manifest. Long-term advocacy is a problem within a community that regurgitates a part of itself on a yearly basis. Old memories (and they’re not even that old) should not be left to wither up and die.

The result was a humiliating experience that no student should have to go through: she had to be carried up the stairs. While some professors were understanding of her resultant tardiness, one professor was less than sympathetic and docked her final grade as a result.

The accommodations the administration makes for its students are insufficient, and this very instance shows an opportunity for the administration to help its students. Why not create a job, where students, like Safe Ride drivers, are on-call and paid to deliver meals to students who can’t make it to Val? Why can’t this be a volunteer network? Not only does this help people who need the service, but it has the potential to create jobs and allow for community members to step up and support each other. The operation seems simple.

Cited material:

Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. “From Liberal to Neoliberal Futures of Disability: Rights-Based Inclusionism, Ablenationalism, and the Able-Disabled.” The Biopolitics of Disposability, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015, pp 35-62.

McRuer, Robert. “Compulsory Able-Bodiedness and Queer/Disabled Existence.” The Disability Studies Reader. Davis, Lennard J. The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard J. Davis, New York: Routledge, 2006, pp 301-308.

Swislow, Emma. “College Updates Housing Accommodations.” The Amherst Student, issue 147-17, 2018.

The Roosevelt Institute at Amherst. “The Invisibility of Disability at Amherst.” The Amherst Student, issue 146-20, 2017.

Tripaldi, James. 21 February 2018. Facebook Message.

 

fmartinez18@amherst.edu