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(Matt DeButts)– The Keefe Campus Center is about to undergo a transformation. The Game Room is being bisected and relocated—the ping pong tables will move into part of the Amherst Student’s space, while the pool tables will occupy the northern second floor lounge. The Multicultural Resource Center will move into the Game Room’s current space. A whirlwind of changes is about to blow through our crusty Campus Center, and you ought to get wind of it, here, first. (Read Craig’s post for a primer on why space matters.) The changes are extensive, including a resizing of WAMH and a relocation of the Women’s Center.
However, the MRC’s move into the Game Room is the biggest change. Many students—perhaps even a majority of students—are in favor of the move. Advocates have argued that the MRC’s basement location is geographically and symbolically inadequate to the role diversity should play on this campus. By moving the MRC upstairs across from the CCE, the Campus Center will be flanked by the two pillars of Amherst College: community service and diversity. The MRC in its new location (with expanded staff, to be hired soon) will provide a space for students to come together to discuss issues of diversity on campus. Until the MRC moves, there simply isn’t enough space for the robust program of diversity that the College deserves.
Opposition to the proposed changes to Keefe is varied. Some students maintain that a second-floor game room will be inconvenient. Students will have to walk downstairs to retrieve and return ping-pong paddles, pool sticks, and board games from the campus center manager’s office. Some worry about the jukebox. Others wonder what the campus center will be when we move out a student space and replace it with an office: is it really the student center any more? But by and large, many objections seem frivolous compared to the importance of a more visible MRC.
However, there are two concerns that have received less attention.
First, we should worry about the way these changes have occurred. The proposed changes to Keefe have been developed in closed-door meetings with leaders in the MRC, Women’s Center, Amherst Student, and WAMH. The changes have been rushed through, in one month, and—despite the solicitation of student input in Keefe right now—the plan is set and construction will begin during Interterm. Interior decorators have been hired; the game room is moving. The remaining questions are “how much” and “in what way”—not “whether” or “should we.” Furthermore, there has been no student referendum on the move. In an ironic twist, the student center will be changed without student approval. This development is as comical as it is worrisome.
Second, and more important, we should question the assumptions that underlie this move. Proponents maintain that a new MRC enable the MRC to play a larger role in campus life. I would love to believe they are correct. However, I worry that the MRC will go the way of every other labeled space on campus: the CCE space attracts mostly students already involved with community service, the Rainbow Room draws mostly LGBTQIA students, and the basement-MRC is visited most often by students of color. Regardless of a space’s open-to-everyone aspirations, it is often used almost excusively by one particular group.
Because—and here’s the rub—when student spaces acquire a label, that label often if not always discourages some students from visiting. If we want to provide a space where students of all social groups can hang out, we should create a space where all students want to hang out. Frost Café is a great example. The Game Room, as it happens, attempted to be another. By removing the Game Room—an unlabeled space—and replacing it with a labeled one, how much are we really helping campus cohesion?
I do not mean to suggest that the move of the MRC is a bad idea. To be sure, a first floor office will make issues of diversity more prominent on campus and it will provide a better location for programming. But if the move’s approval process is any indication—where students have had no chance to express their desires in a referendum—then I worry that the student body’s wishes are not the administration’s priority. And if we seek a space for all students to use, then eliminating the lounge and moving the game room—two unstructured, heavily-used spaces—and replacing them with a labeled one may be a step in the wrong direction.