Over the past three semesters, the Amherst social scene has become a testing ground for a slew of new initiatives and programs. We’ve seen it all: from the advent of Social Cups to the launch of Ask Big Questions, and from the abolition of fraternities to the grand opening of the Powerhouse. Student life has, for better or worse, become a place to experiment with new ways to bring people together and enrich the Amherst experience.
We know that some initiatives are better received than others, and all have certain particular goals in mind; but we contend that Amherst likes to implement these initiatives in a quest for a better community, a paradigm of sociality and togetherness. Shared traditions and experiences add flavor to our lives, turning moments that might otherwise be isolated and forgettable into vivid, collective memories. These memories gain in importance and blossom into “the good old days” as we reminisce on our activities and identities, remembering what we did and who we were.
The re-institution of Mountain Day, together with the naming of the Moose as the official Amherst mascot, has the potential to completely transform Amherst’s social climate. The Moose would embody a representative identity that all of us can support and cheer without guilt; meanwhile, the autumnal Mountain Day, during which classes are canceled and students are encouraged to hike a nearby mountain, would be a spontaneously fun and collective, communal experience.
The problems with having Lord Jeff as our unofficial mascot have become common knowledge around campus. Dissatisfaction with Lord Jeff as an embodiment and representation of our College has peaked for several years now, and all that is really needed for us to officially replace the genocidal colonizer with a lovable moose is a critical mass of student voices–and we need it soon, before the tide of advocacy declines and the widespread adoration for the Moose recedes into the ether.
On the other hand, critics of the switch argue that Lord Jeff’s time-honored affiliation with Amherst gives us a sense of shared history, and that his replacement by a new mascot would deal a blow to our already tenuous connection to traditions; yet with Jeff’s racist, colonizing connotations, the imperative to find a more unifying, inoffensive mascot grows stronger by the day. A paradox of sorts results: if we make the change, we sacrifice tradition; but if we don’t, we continue to be represented by a mascot who is fundamentally disuniting. But what better way to escape this predicament than to couple the replacement of Lord Jeff by the Moose with Mountain Day?
Mountain Day was a beloved Amherst tradition for over half a century. Established by College President Seelye in 1874, Mountain Day was intended to give students a respite from classes and an opportunity to commune with nature and each other. President Seelye considered this Day an important part of Amherst’s charm and natural appeal, and encouraged students “to know the beauties of this exceptional part of the Connecticut Valley.”
Several nearby schools, including Mt. Holyoke College, Smith College, and Williams College still have a Mountain Day every year. Not only would Mountain Day unite Amherst’s student body in experiencing the beauty of autumnal New England, then, but it would also unite the Five Colleges. Amherst, Smith, and Mt. Holyoke used to coordinate Mountain Day to be on the same day, a tradition that could be revived. Perhaps the colleges could collaborate to hold inter-College Mountain Day hikes, in which Amherst students would meet Mt. Holyoke and Smith students on Mountain Day and climb mountains together.
In 1933, as student interest in Mountain Day waned, the faculty voted to abolish Mountain Day; the day was instead appended to the end of Thanksgiving break. Amherst lost a time-honored, community-building tradition that year, one which many similar, nearby schools retained.
So Mountain Day would be a boon for those of us who wish Amherst had more unifying experiences that truly defined the Amherst experience. But Mountain Day isn’t just a panacea for the lack of tradition of Amherst. If Amherst is concerned about the mental health and happiness of its students, it would do well to revive Mountain Day.
Amherst students rank well above the average nationwide in terms of self-identification as feeling “lonely”, “sad”, and “overwhelmed”. I can think of very few ways to increase my level of happiness that would be more effective than canceling class and spending the day outside. Mountain Day wouldn’t just make us a stronger community–we’d be happier for it, too.
I think we’ve all had the familiar feeling, halfway through the semester, when we’re reading LJST theory and writing chemistry pre-labs when suddenly we’re re-reading the same sentence 2 or 3 times, the contours of the lines blending into one another. 20 minutes later we haven’t processed the paragraph and it’s only 3 in the afternoon. “Work a couple of hours and then take a break,” was something my basketball coach always used to say to the team and with it comes the simple logic that it’ll boost your productivity in the long run. There’s a certain novelty to goofing around on the internet, or taking a 20 minute power nap, or tossing a disc on the quad and then being able to take your fresh self into the library to pound out the paper due the next day.
Short breaks are one thing, but a longer break coupled with the serendipity of a surprise day off is something else. Mountain Day to Amherst students would be like a snowy Christmas morning, with students jumping up and down as they hear Johnson Chapel’s bells ringing away. Not only is the good fortune of a crisp, autumnal Amherst Mountain Day a chance to create memories and have fun, but an opportunity to relieve stress and freshen up for the upcoming weeks before Thanksgiving, because it’s a long period without breaks.
But the tide of demand for these changes needs to reach a peak soon in order for official action to result. We were promised a Mountain Day last spring, yet we are still fighting for it now. A quarter of the students who know the story of the moose firsthand have already graduated. In a few months, the next class will graduate, and soon the story of the moose that once pranced around our campus will become lost to time immemorial. The time is now to make the changes we need: to bring back Mountain Day and commemorate the Moose forever.