Before coming to Amherst, like most eager prospective high school kiddos, I contacted a lot of students and asked them questions about campus culture. One particular response stood out to me: “Amherst students love to talk.”
When a now alum answered one of my questions with that quote, I thought he meant that Amherst students enjoyed gossiping about each other (typical high school thought process). While this is true here, and virtually everywhere else for that matter, what this alum actually meant was that Amherst students are, collectively, very vocal and outspoken about campus issues. I have definitely noticed that students love to talk – online and in person. We students aren’t easily satisfied, and frankly, won’t shut up sometimes. That’s great, really. I genuinely believe that this is the reason why Amherst is constantly improving. The faculty and administration more often than not ask students for their input. In fact, consultants were on campus not more than a month ago to get feedback from students. They were hired by administration in anticipation of future institutional changes. Our input on certain issues carries a lot of weight and importance.
At the same time, it’s very clear that many students fear speaking up and feel silenced. Many reasons for this fear are psychological and/or personal so I can’t speak to everyone’s specific experiences. But generally, a fear of speaking up stems from the likelihoods of being rejected and/or deemed unintelligent. Those with more conservative views almost completely remove themselves from discourse on campus because of the overwhelmingly rude and negative responses. Obviously, I realize that not all Amherst students are jerks. Positive, open-minded and intellectual conversations happen, and more often than we think. But I truly think that one of the major causes for students not speaking up is seeing the backlash that some students receive for voicing their views. Let’s be honest: we can be pretty ruthless – especially online (but that’s a separate issue and perhaps another article).
The fact that Mr. Gad’s exists within this sometimes scathing environment is, I think, phenomenal.
Among other things, Mr. Gad’s is a great mode of campus discourse. For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Gad’s is an improv group on campus that performs almost every Monday at 10pm in the Friedmann room. During a typical show, Gad’s will “play” at least five improv games that are aided by suggestions from the crowd. Everything is completely unscripted. Sometimes, Gad’s becomes a platform to discuss issues that are difficult to discuss such as dating anxiety and awkwardness, consent, and cultural and socioeconomic differences. They make it possible to talk about these things in a civil, non-alienating way. For example, there have been scenes where characters awkwardly ask each other to dance at a school prom, scenes including the narration of erotica books that emphasize sexual consent from both partners, and characters representing different cultures and social backgrounds. Sometimes, it’s easier to grapple with these topics when they are presented in a radical and comedic setting (just look at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert). It’s nice having these subjects presented in a light-hearted environment without compromising their seriousness.
I recommend checking out a show for yourself before making any judgments. As a side note, I’d also recommend reserving criticism until you try improv out for yourself. Improv is incredibly difficult. I hadn’t realized this until I tried it in my Action and Character class. It requires immense concentration and quick thinking. After three months in the course, I still get fiercely anxious whenever my professor announces that we will be doing an improv activity. This experience has led me to appreciate the group even more. The Gaddies (how I refer to them in my head and now on the internet) voluntarily take on this anxiety every Monday night. The members are under the pressure to not only perform, but also to be funny. Unwinding and breaking down walls of self-consciousness truly takes a lot of courage. So, kudos to you, Mr. Gad’s.