November 6th’s Town Hall Meeting was the first time that Baby Social Clubs was un-swaddled and introduced to the rest of the student body – to less than 5% of the student body, actually. It was explained that Social Clubs were created as a potential way to address the fact that in the Spring of 2014, “76% of students reported that they had felt ‘very lonely’ within the past year, compared to 56% of college students nationally” (2014 National College Health Assessment).
It’s interesting that Amherst students’ rigorous workload and the overall academic atmosphere weren’t mentioned as contributors to the loneliness that students face. Instead of focusing on creating ways for students to better manage workloads, so that there is time to actually participate in the existing clubs, the focus is on creating more ways for students to socialize. This is a good time to reiterate the fact that less than 5% of the student body was present at this Town Hall Meeting (due to a heavy workload?).
Social Clubs are supposedly not equivalent to fraternities. In fact, Social Clubs have “administrative oversight, zero tolerance for hazing, required bystander training, [an] open process (actively publicized to ALL students, formalized admission process, transparency in social club creation), inclusivity, and required campus-wide contributions (increased social opportunities for members and non-members alike)” (Social Clubs Oversight Council’s, SCOC’s, Slideshow).
Social Clubs are being presented by SCOC to the student body under the guise as a way to bring the diverse student body together and combat loneliness. This has proved too underdeveloped of a purpose to be the true central goal. How students actually choose to come together in a Social Club remains too vague and open to interpretation for it to be the true central goal of these clubs.
Social Clubs were proposed by SCOC, a group of students that began talking with President Martin and Suzanne Coffey, Chief Student Affairs Officer, last semester about alternatives to Greek life. This group has somehow evolved and gained a superior status to the rest of the student body. It left the entire student body out of the idea-generating process and then told the rest of the student body that Social Clubs will begin next semester. The rest of the student body has only been given the opportunity to show support or show disapproval. One group of self-selected students should not be dictating to the rest of the student body what the entire student body will be doing without any substantial prior collaboration. Half a semester’s notice is not enough time for collaboration. To add fuel to the fire, this council is nowhere near representative of the student body. It’s no surprise that students are not in agreement with the proposed Social Clubs idea.
When a black Hispanic gay male from a low-income background provided evidence, during the Town Hall Meeting that whenever these clubs are created in schools across the nation they are consistently dominated by white males, SCOC responded first in silence and then with the guarantee that Social Clubs will be diverse simply because the student body is open to diversity. Surely more time would have been spent on the actual methods to actually cultivate diversity had it been the central goal of Social Clubs.
Having a receptive student body is not the answer to Amherst’s diversity problems. There are already student groups on campus, with the exact same mission, that lack both consistent participation and diversity across all fronts. The only difference between the current student groups and the proposed Social Clubs idea is that the latter will receive both space and funding. But lack of space and funding aren’t the reasons why current student groups are lacking participation and diversity and have an air of exclusivity. In fact, current student groups are already more inclusive than Social Clubs because current student groups lack applications. In order to become a member of a Social Club, students will need to undergo an application process in which they may be turned away. This question of how Social Clubs will guarantee inclusivity and diversity proved unanswerable because the problems at the core of the exclusivity and loneliness problem weren’t addressed thoroughly by SCOC. This is because battling loneliness and embracing diversity is not the true central goal of the Social Clubs idea.
In actuality, the Social Clubs idea is a way to reinstate Greek Life under a different name so that the administration will accept it. There are too many similarities between Social Clubs and Greek Life to effectively argue otherwise. Students will have to rush apply, a student may not get a bid be turned away, a student will have to participate in a certain amount of sorority/fraternity responsibilities activities in order to remain active in the Chapter Club, and a student who joins a Social Club will be joining a group of students that want to create a sense of brotherhood/sisterhood community. The only real difference between the two is that the administration didn’t have control over fraternities. Now the administration is being presented with a way that it can have control over fraternities.
It is so upsetting that the 2014 National College Health Assessment loneliness statistic is being abused to further the agenda of those who are nostalgic for fraternities. If loneliness on this campus were sincerely being addressed, the rigorous workload and the overall academic atmosphere here would have been mentioned. It is so blatantly obvious that both are huge contributors to the loneliness that all of us experience. Students are constantly working. Breaks, that are meant for reprieves, are met with students writing essays and studying for the exams that await them once “Break” is over. Due to the lack of social time, students are prone to seek superficial bonding at parties under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. That is not how sincere intimacy is cultivated. This is why Amherst students are so lonely. Creating groups on groups on groups on groups on groups on groups on groups on groups is not the answer when students don’t have the time to participate in them. Further dividing the student body into smaller groups is not the way to fight loneliness. Until students’ inability to find the balance between being a living, breathing person and being a student is addressed, loneliness will prosper here. Using loneliness as a pretense to advance the Greek life agenda does absolutely nothing to fix this very serious campus-wide issue.