BackgroundInterview Date:April 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2020
High School Experience: Public school in Michigan with a graduating class of about 130 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: No
Majors: Double major in Black Studies and English
Extracurricular Activities: I’m on the club soccer team, I [have a leadership role] in College Democrats, and part of the Association of Students, which is the student government here.
Have any of your extracurricular activities had a particularly big impact on your experience?
The club soccer team definitely has been a core group of friends here on campus. For better or worse, I would say that’s pretty typical of the people who are on any kind of team because that becomes the way they participate in the social life on campus.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your majors?
I have a lot of reading and essays. Amherst doesn’t have any distribution requirements so I’ve been pretty much free to search out what I want to do. Recently I’ve actually been taking more quantitative classes so I do have problem sets.
Is there anything you feel your majors’ departments do especially well or especially poorly?
The Black Studies department I would especially recommend because they teach across a broad range of disciplines. It’s basically about taking all of the different academic disciplines that have been studied in the U.S. and going back and looking how we can account for racism and the history of racism in the United States in these fields of study. You get to touch on a lot of different subjects while you’re in the major and therefore gain experience with a broad range of disciplines, but at the same time take a deep dive into a cutting-edge field of study that changes the conventional assumptions about each of those.
With English, I really like the creative writing classes, but as far as the literature classes, I haven’t been particularly disappointed nor have I been particularly satisfied.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s competitive or collaborative?
It’s definitely not competitive. Everybody here tends to be pretty ambitious so everybody is competing with themselves. Between students, it’s really collaborative and really friendly. I’ve worked together with people I don’t know that well on problem sets and homework. It’s also a high-achieving school, so there is always pressure to always be doing your best in the classroom.
Do you feel people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
Definitely. Amherst has been in the news recently for being a place where conservative thinking is silenced, but, in my experience, that hasn’t been the case across all the different disciplines I’ve taken classes in, so Economics, Black Studies, English, and so on. In each one, all of my classes have had somebody from one school of thought and somebody from another and people really work together to find consensus rather than prefer one to the other.
How accessible are your professors?
Very accessible. They have regular office hours that are well-publicized ad easy to attend. They are also always willing to make time for you outside of their regular office hours and they encourage you to do that if you can’t make their regular office hours.
What has been your favorite class you’ve taken for your major?
In Black Studies, it was Black Panther Black Power, which was a history of those two political and philosophical movements through their predecessors in the ‘50s and ‘60s and through the ‘70s. In English, Writing Poetry was my favorite. It is a creative writing class that is an introduction to writing poetry.
Why did you pick your major? Are you happy with your major choice?
I’m happy with my choice. Amherst has an open curriculum so at the start of your freshman year you can choose whatever classes seem interesting. For the first year and a half, I chose a class that grabbed my attention and then when it came time to pick a major I took a step back and looked at what disciplines I took the classes in and what classes I wanted to continue to take. If I were to go back, I think I would force myself to choose one of the majors instead of trying to complete the coursework for both because, although it has been enriching, it has limited the opportunities that I could seek out in other disciplines.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: South College Hall with one roommate.
Sophomore: Stirn Hall and I worked as a resident adviser.
Junior: Mayo-Smith Hall and I work as a resident adviser.
How was transitioning from living in Michigan to Amherst, MA?
Location-wise it was fine. They actually happen to be at the same latitude so climate-wise it was exactly what I had been used to. Culture-wise New England is more preppy than Michigan and that came as more of a culture shock than I was expecting. One thing that is pretty shocking is, if you’re not familiar with elite private school culture, how wealthy some people are here. In my town, if your parents were doctors or lawyers that made you wealthy, but here there are classmates of mine who are multi-millionaires who have been inheriting family money for generations. That hasn’t really affected me, but that was the biggest difference from my high school to here. [Socioeconomically, 4.4% of students come from the top 0.1%.]
Can you describe the level of safety you experienced on and around campus?
It’s very good. There has been the occasional incident, like recently there was somebody from the town is unwell and maybe had a gun, but each time the campus police have responded quickly and effectively and have let everyone know. For the most part, it’s a pretty quiet town where no real crime happens.
Pros and cons of being in Amherst, MA?
Pros: (1) You’re in the center of a community of five colleges because there’s the Five College Consortium. There are always academic and social events going on there and you can take a bus to them.
(2) You’re in a quiet town so you don’t have the busy and distracting city life.
Cons: (1) It’s a small and rural town, so you don’t have a bunch of restaurants to go to and you’re in the middle of nowhere.
(2) If you want to go anywhere, you need a car.
(3) There isn’t a ton of interaction between the five schools, so, because the school is so small and the town is so small, you can feel isolated in that way. I actually spent the summer here and when there aren’t a lot of students on campus it can feel really lonely and isolated.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
That is a constant issue that a lot of Amherst students have with the school. There is a decent party culture here, but Amherst encourages students to live on campus all four years, the parties take place in dorms and are therefore subject to college policies. A lot of people think that is restrictive. There are rules like you can’t play drinking games, you can’t have hard alcohol and so forth, but really the party that can’t happen is the stereotypical large fraternity party you’d see at a place like the University of Michigan. Anything that gets rowdy gets shut down pretty quickly.
Mixers are pretty common and the club soccer team will have one or two mixers a weekend with another student group and over the course of the night those tend to turn into parties. People will inevitably go from one mixer to the other and eventually a couple will turn into what you might picture from a college party.
What is the impact of sports teams on the nightlife at Amherst?
Huge. They host most of the parties, if not all of them. Amherst doesn’t have fraternities so sports teams have become the organizing institution of nightlife. You don’t necessarily have to be on a team to go to a party. If you’re talking to somebody about what party they’re going to, they’ll say what building the party’s in and what team is hosting it.
What is an alternative to going to a bar or party that you like for a night out?
The other campuses are a really rich opportunity for this because Amherst is one of the smaller schools out of the five colleges. If you really want to get off campus and do something different, there are always shows and performances to go to. As far as Amherst’s campus goes, there are a ton of programs the school does [through AC After Dark] where they take students rollerblading on a Friday night and they also screen movies. But, after maybe 10PM, there isn’t much else going on other than parties.
How happy are you with the nightlife at Amherst? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I wouldn’t complain about the weekend options that much, but I do think I’m a bit of an outlier in that respect. I think most students, especially students who don’t have a team to help organize a social life for them, feel a little bit left out of the culture or feel like there isn’t a place for them in the nightlife. The one thing I would personally like to see is more people able to live off campus because then there could be more of a house party environment. Because all the parties have to be in common spaces in dorms, the only party that can exist is a big party with all the people in the same common space. There really aren’t any house parties with 10-15 people in a place drinking beer and hanging out. [98% of students live on campus.]
How did you meet your closest friends?
I think we all met during orientation week. There was a big group that hung out together outside of teams etc. because orientation is small enough you see everyone in your class. We had seen each other around and it was clear we had similar interests. That big group broke up into smaller groups, and that’s how I met them.
How would you describe the social scene?
I think it’s a pretty happy place and the social scene is fine. I’m personally really happy here. I think, compared to other institutions, it can be more isolating because you have to be part of team or organization to participate in the nightlife and also because Amherst students are really, really busy during the week. To use myself as an example, between extracurriculars, jobs, and school, I only have an hour or two at the end of the day to socialize. That is probably pretty typical of students at Amherst. Everyone has a good-sized group of friends, but you don’t get to hang out with them that much. This is a bit of a more work and less play environment.
To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
People who aren’t on varsity sports teams mix across all of those identity boundaries a lot. I’m on the club soccer team, and most of my friends aren’t on that team and most of my friends are people of color, as well as Queer people. But, I do think there are people who hold marginalized identities tend to feel more isolated on campus. Amherst does have a really diverse community, but they don’t always mix that much. [About one-third of students are athletes. About 45% of students identify as students of color. See Daily Hampshire Gazette article, “Report finds divide between athletes and non-athletes at Amherst College.]
How do you like the size of Amherst in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has that impacted your experience? [Amherst has about 1,900 students.]
I really like it. It’s given me the opportunity to at least know of most people at the school and know what their interests are and that sort of thing. It’s been a really good opportunity to collaborate across a broad range of experiences. It’s also small enough that it’s given me the opportunity to distinguish myself and feel that I have a stake in the community here and make actions that impact the whole community rather than a small subsection of it.
Do you think people are generally happy with their choice of Amherst? Do you think people leave loving Amherst?
I think freshman year people are really happy with it, sophomore year people tend to hate it, and then by senior year they come back around. I think that’s a pretty typical trajectory. I know a lot of people who thought about transferring or taking time off during their first or second semester of sophomore year, but those who don’t tend to be happier through their junior and senior years. [In the Class of 2016, about 85% of students graduated in four years.]
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
Yeah, I’m interning at a place this summer that I found out about through an alum and was probably nudged through the interview process by that alum.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful are they?
I’ve gone in and met with career advisers for different fields and different professions to talk through what my interests are and what my concerns about certain professions might be. Nobody has really tried to push me in a certain direction but they have done well in telling me what to expect from pursuing work in this field and here’s what you may like and not like about it. Once I had narrowed down the things I’m interested in, they were really helpful in pointing me in the right direction as far as internships and editing my resume to tailor it to the industry. If you’re interested in business and finance, I think the career center can be really helpful, but I think the resources aren’t as great for careers in the humanities and non-profits.
Have you learned any computer programs or languages through your coursework that will be helpful to you professionally?
I haven’t learned anything through Black Studies or English courses, but through other courses, I’ve learned Excel and Stata in Econometrics.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how easy is the office to work with?
Yes, I’m on financial aid. The office is really generous. The financial aid policy is a plus because they promise that all of their aid is awarded in grants and no loans are part of your aid package, so if you can meet the difference of your aid package and full tuition, you’ll graduate without any student loan debt. This is what happened for me and I’ve been really satisfied with it. I’ve heard of other students having issues where their financial aid package significantly changed after their freshman year, which causes big problems for people. But, I think most students are very satisfied with it. [See Amherst Student article, “Raises in Family Contributions Surprise Students.”]
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Amherst before entering as a freshman?
I wish that somebody told me that even though there is an open curriculum and you can pretty quickly decide what you want to take classes in that, to spend the first year and a half taking classes across the board. Because there aren’t distribution requirements, it’s easy to completely neglect certain aspects of your intellectual development because you can graduate from Amherst and only know how to write a paper and not know how to do any kind of science and math.
What is something that a student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
There is Memorial Hill right by the first-year quad and it has a beautiful view over the mountains and is one of the most scenic spots on campus. To get a sense of what Amherst is like, I think prospective students should go up to the second floor of the library and down to the basement to get a sense of the study culture because that will be something that will be a big part of their time.
Reasons to attend Amherst:
1) It has brilliant professors, excellent instruction, and brilliant classmates. Anybody who graduates from Amherst will have learned so much, not just information but also how to think and how to make decisions. Intellectually, I think Amherst has been the best experience in my life.
2) It’s a beautiful campus, especially if you’re into the New England red brick architecture.
3) We have a strong alumni network that can help you think through your career path and will help you avoid other mistakes alumni have made or find other cool opportunities alumni have done. With that, there is an Office of Fellowships that is really supportive. The school is really serious about helping you develop before you graduate.
Reasons to not attend Amherst:
1) The farther your background is removed from the White, New England, private school, jock atmosphere, the harder your transition to Amherst will be. Mine was not too difficult because I’m a White guy who has family from New England and went to a well-funded public school, but I have friends who come from poorer public schools in cities and are people of color and their time has been harder. I would encourage students to compare their background to the typical student at Amherst and think about the challenges they may face that other Amherst students won’t be facing, and think about how they’ll cope with those challenges.