Justin Barry '18 - Introduction

Justin smiling nicely for his blog photo Hi! My name is Justin and I will be a senior next fall. I come from sunny San Jose, California and hope that someday I get to make the trip across country by car, but unfortunately I am running out of time. I am majoring in English and Environmental Studies. I run on the cross country and track teams at Amherst, and I have worked closely with others in the athletic department through the Council of Amherst College Student Athletes of Color, as a class representative on the cross country team for the upcoming year, where I will be the captain in the fall. I have worked as a Resident Counselor in a first year dorm and an upperclassmen dorm, but have since embraced retirement from the job to live with friends in Cohan, the best dorm on campus. I am the managing design editor for The Amherst Student, the school’s student run newspaper. In my free time, I enjoy playing basketball, playing volleyball, editing videos, following Bay Area sports teams, playing music for people, using the school bike share, and looking for reptiles to share with friends.

From catcing butterflies in Wyoming, to running through airports in North Carolina with professors to catch a flight, I have experienced many of different sides of Amherst over my 3 years here. I hope I can help give you a sense of the different paths and people you might find on campus, and help you understand if Amherst is a place where you want to be. I am really grateful that this is where I get to spend my four years of college as I have grown and learned in ways that I did not expect. The challenges here leave me feeling prepared for life beyond campus, and the relationships that I have made with peers, professors, and staff provide an incredible support network that has been a highlight of my experience.  If you have any questions about anything I write or have not written, please reach out at jbarry18@amherst.edu and I’ll be happy to get back to you!

The Incredible Wildlife of Amherst

As you might get from some of my previous posts, I am a pretty big fan of wildlife. For those like me, I want to briefly highlight some of the more exciting fauna of the Amherst area. For those who consider themselves emancipated youth from mother nature, please don’t worry. Most of the exciting animals are hard to find if don’t go looking for them.

 

A tree swallow

Picture: A tree swallow. Credit Clotfelter lab. 

Great shot of a tree swallow captured by one of my @AmherstCollege students on her phone pic.twitter.com/yntniGL4Hm

— Ethan Clotfelter (@ethanclotfelter) June 22, 2017

Tree Swallow: Professor Ethan Clotfelter of the Biology Department conducts research on tree swallows over every summer. I was able to join him and his team over the weekend as they took measurements of 10 day old birds and tagged them. The bird sanctuary is just about a 5 minute walk from the tennis courts by the Greenway dorms. The birds live in tree hollows, which are hard to find. This means they quickly adopt the boxes he puts up as their new homes. They dart around during daylight hours, filling the summer days with their happy chirping.

Turtles: These incredible reptiles are a bit harder to find, but if you head east of campus on the bike path for about a 15 minute bike you’ll find yourself by some swampy ponds where they can be spotted crossing the path. The bike path spans just over 10 miles, and during the fall turns into a gorgeous tunnel of fall foliage.

Green frog: There was day last week where a thunderstorm rolled in as I finished up work, so I had to wait until just before dusk to be able to bike. As I rode past the place where the turtles normally are, the air filled with the happy croaking of these frogs. I got a bit too distracted, since I barely noticed the frog sitting in front of my on the path until just before I was about to hit it. Luckily I was able to swerve to avoid squashing it.

Peregrine falcon:

Many people know these birds of prey for the incredible speeds they can reach while diving from the sky. A family of peregrine falcons nests on the Umass library roof, and others live in the trees around campus. On rare occasions, a falcon will be spotted streaking from the sky towards a squirrel or rabbit. I haven’t yet seen one in the middle of hunting, but twice I have seen a falcon with its captured prey. Other hawks can be found around the bird sanctuary and surrounding trails.

Rabbits: These are pretty easy to find year round. Usually not in the claws of the falcons or hawks, but sometimes yes, it happens.

Eastern coyote: Last year I went for a run with a teammate and decided to explore a new portion of the Robert Frost trail. In a clearing we found what appeared to be two coyotes calmly walking about 150 yards away from us.. The Northeast also has a decent coywolf population. Coywolves are much less scary than they sound. They are wolf-coyote hybrids. Most eastern coyotes have some wolf genes in them, and some also have some dog genetics. This makes them sized a bit larger than a western coyote, with howl that sounds more like a wolf, and they are adaptable to both forest and developed areas.

Black Bear: Last fall, I drove out for a run at the Quabbin, a quarry town that has now been turned into a reservoir. Along the trail some teammates saw a black bear cross in front of them. I haven't seen any other black bear, but it's defintiely the most intimidating megafauna I've heard of in the area. 

Foxes: I have seen a couple small foxes while running in early mornings. The slink along the grassy areas like cats in a hurry. My sister likes foxes a lot, but the sightings have never overlapped with her visitting. 

Bobcats: Bobcats are pretty amazing animals. They are the size of an overgrown house cat, but have incredible strength and athleticism. They are also normally shy and avoid humans. Unfortunately, the only bobcat I have seen around Amherst had been hit by a car and was dead on the side of the road.

A deer on campus

Deer: I actually have not seen a deer around Amherst. I see them all the time back home, and I have seen them staying with friends in New Jersey over break. I know people hunt deer in some of the woods in Western Massachusetts. My girlfriend recently saw one while working with a professor in the bird sanctuary, then another by her dorm that same day.

 

The wish list:

Water Snakes: Don’t worry there aren’t any venomous water snakes in Massachusetts. But apparently they can get big. They are harmless, but it makes me avoid swimming in the swampier bodies of water around campus.

Fireflies: I grew up spending sometime every summer visiting around Baltimore and loved catching fireflies. I have been hoping to see some this summer, but they haven’t started coming out yet.

Moose: The moose is a larger than life animal around campus. The year before I came to Amherst, a moose wandered onto campus causing gaining quick popularity. After it was transported off, some students rallied behind its image to campaign for a new mascot. Though we are now the mammoths, the moose lives on in lore and in a large metal statue that showed up in Frost library randomly one night. The moose has been my favorite animal since I was young, and I hope one day to see one around campus.

 

 

Partial Eclipse/ Giving off Sparks

Before starting this post, my loyalest followers may have noticed that some of my previous posts are now out of order. I had to update some of the media pieces, so I apologize. I'm sure you all are as devasted as I am. 

A heart pictured with the sun over memorial hill

Image courtesy of the Amherst website.

Earlier this week I learned that an Amherst alum wrote and produced Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler. I also spent the afternoon watching the sun partially disappear between the moon in the first total solar eclipse in the US since 1991. Both pretty exciting things I’ll remember a while. 

A bunch of the people who are on campus this week gathered on the first year quad to watch the eclipse with some professors from the physics and astronomy departments. Personally, I had saved some eclipse glasses that I found on campus last semester and was able to safely stare into the sun as it slowly was eaten by the moon. We weren’t in the totality region, but it was still eerily and beautifully impressive.

Watching people come together from across campus was also pretty cool. Most of our admission office took a break to head up the hill and check out the sights. As the peak approached, the crowd grew in size and density. I recognized administrators, staff, and students from different sections of campus. Some of the athletic department also walked up the hill, residential life took a break from the resident counselor training to join, student affairs, museum staff, thesis students, recent grads working for departments, and others I didn’t recognize all gathered as well.

Watching the people gather, I was struck by how people from different departments stuck to their groups with some overlap with the people near them. During our informations with prospective students and their families, we also talk about how the diversity of the Amherst campus and the community that forms in this diversity set Amherst apart from other schools.  I think one of the challenges about having a small diverse campus is that 10% of the population is 180 students, which when divided into 4 classes gives 45 students per class. Students often form friend groups spanning multiple class years and the types of identities that can be fit into statistical categories. On the other hand, this statistic can also be flipped where a group of 20 people becomes almost 5% of a class year. Divisions can be more apparent on a small campus especially when identities overlap. For example, sports teams are less diverse than the student body as a whole. This is a challenge that schools across the country face, and while Amherst leads most of it’s NESCAC peers in this regard, the difference between the athletic community and the non-athletic community stands out. What may be inevitable groupings of people by team then become groupings by race, and often by class. It’s complicated to sort through the intricacies of how we have gotten here, and what can or should be done, but many people at the school are trying.

Watching the campus community as a whole, a campus that includes people beyond students and professors, it looked apparent that division is ingrained into how we socialize. When I think about schools with unified fronts, I know much of it hides people left behind. Still, I think of images of large stadiums packed at football games, or schools with a specific mission tied to religion or a field of study that people unite behind. When characterizing Amherst, what sets us apart is our diversity, open curriculum, and demanding academic atmosphere. I don’t expect to see students chanting any of these at sporting events anytime soon, and each piece has different levels of importance to different people. Furthermore, diversity is not something that is easy when looking at a history and present with deep inequalities tied to identity.

Watching a staff/faculty community that is less diverse than the student body appear as equally grouped by the people they are familiar with, I felt the enormity of the challenge Amherst faces. Does facing this challenge make college more valuable and leave people better off for it? I would say yes. When things are going well it is enriching, exciting, and liberating, but it also means being in a place where feelings of shame, fear, guilt, resentment, jealousy, and even hate can bubble to the surface. Having places to find comfortable community are essential to navigating this effectively, but permanent escapes or bubbles are no help to anyone. The challenge facing the school now is how to find a balance when it feels that the emotional, and physical, stakes are being raised. People regularly overcome these challenges, and have plenty of positive experiences as students. Recognizing the challenges along the ways is also important as the school continues on its mission to educate the best and brightest from all backgrounds in both the classroom and outside. 

 

Will.I.Am.S

Will.I.Am, the front-man for the Black Eyed Peas  Will.I.Am, singular edition. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

During my first semester at Amherst, the Amherst LEADs branch of the Amherst athletic department brought former NBA player ML Carr in to speak to a group of students. The most memorable part of the talk was his advice of how to think about our rivals. His advice was to refer to the Williams College Ephs as Will.i.am.s (pronounced Will I Am Ess). Williams has been our rival school since the first day Zephaniah Swift Moore left Williams College to found Amherst with money, students, books, and faculty from Williams.

Beyond my one teammate and me who found this idea memorably absurd, I have not hear anyone use this reference. Maybe this is a shame, Probably not though. Despite being big rivals with Williams, we do not have too many jokes about them around campus. Mostly they center on the fact that they are located in a more isolated area than we are, which goes back to why Mr. Swift Moore decided to start Amherst.

A profile of Zephaniah Swift Moore  Zephaniah Swift Moore

This past weekend, a small group of us from the admission office made the trek up to Williamstown to see their campus and explore the area. I have been a number of times for meets before, but had not really spent time looking at the buildings or walking through campus. Like Amherst, the campus is scenic, and small without feeling cramped. While we were there, we ran into a surprising amount of Amherst people. A couple students were on campus after participating in Overland trips over the summer, and were using the campus as a base camp. We also ran into one of my good friends who had biked the 60 miles from Amherst before continuing on to climb Mt. Greylock, the highest point in the state, and then finishing the day by heading back to campus. We also saw a professor getting lunch nearby. It was a day of wild coincidences.

Besides seeing all the Amherst people, the two highlights of the trip we getting a TomaHawk sandwich and the view from Mt. Greylock. The TomaHawk sandwich was named after one of the Admission Deans at Amherst who attended Williams College as a student. He and his friend would come to the deli most days and split a sandwich, so the owners named the tuna, lettuce, tomato specialty after their combined names/nicknames. The top of Mt. Greylock provided incredible panoramic views of most of Western Massachusetts into Connecticut.

While I enjoyed the trip, I am still glad to be at Amherst College, and living in the Pioneer Valley. The schools have many similarities both physically, and from my understanding, in the student experiences on campus.

 

Better Zs than Ls

Four students asleep on a coach

 Passed out in Costa Rica

Somebody on tour the other day asked me what students sleep cycles are like at the college. It was my first time getting that question, but I remember when I visited schools as a senior in high school it was something that weighed heavily on my mind. When I heard from my friend at Amherst that he slept more at Amherst than he did in highschool I’ll admit I was pretty excited. Especially the end of high school, sleep cycles can turn into a mess, which was definitely the case for me.

Me and a sleeping student Me and a sleeping friend.

My first semester at Amherst, I found myself sleeping at 8 or more hours most nights, feeling like I had space and time to be thoughtful about my work and activities, and enjoyed always having people around. Having a roommate with an incredibly disciplined sleep schedule helped too, since our lights were around before 11, and I didn’t have class until 10 most days. During the busiest times of the semester, my great habits faded a bit, but I still felt pretty happy with where I was at with sleeping.

As time has gone on, I haven’t always done as well as I would have liked. I typically log my sleep through my phone, I find myself averaging between 7.5 and 8 hours in the fall, and between 7 and 7.5 hours a night in the spring. Admittedly, the median in the spring is a bit more on the 7 hour side. Still pretty decent, but there have been stretches of struggle. This past semester I fell into a bad habit of staying up until 3 am Wednesday nights and then struggling through a loaded class schedule on Thursdays. To entertain myself, I made a habit of posting a favorite reptile to a Facebook page Incredible Reptiles.

Other friends I have lived with have been inspirations regularly getting between 8-9 with a regular schedule. I also know other people who regularly spend sleep with patterns that resemble  what I consider my bad weeks. Some people find themselves more nocturnal than diurnal. Others embrace the 5 hour a night life by choice.

imageimage

 

As a resident counselor in charge of making sure everyone was happy with how the dorm was being used, I surveyed my residents to find out when they were headed to sleep.  The 22 responses showed a range of habit, most falling into a reasonable time frame. Of course, these are self reported times from the beginning of the year and might be more goals than reality. Most of these responses are from seniors, so I think at this point people are probably pretty realistic about where they are as sleepers.

 

imageStress definitely builds as the year goes on, and as a campus I think that we can pay more attention to building healthy, sustainable habits. For those that remain committed to healthy habits like regular sleep, balanced meals, active lifestyles, and time spend on the important people and interests in their lives, it pays off. There is that space to do that at Amherst. At times, the amount of opportunities that turn into commitments can make students like myself feel like they pulled thin in different directions by the things they care about. It’s not possible to do everything at Amherst. Not to mention all the distractions of modern life from social media, on demand entertainment, or endless streams of content and conversation to follow about important social issues.

Many of my favorite classes at the school have classes at 8:30 am. I make sure they are the classes worth getting up for, and since they almost always are, I’ve never regretted one. Discussion tends to stay lively, and the students care about being present. 

Camp Amherst

For all my avid readers, I apologize for not giving you a heads up as I took off last week. I took my vacation time to travel home and work at a summer camp I have been working at for a while now. In honor of a great and exhausting week, this post will be on the the casual side of living at Amherst College,  “Camp Amherst.”

Picture at camp with camp kids. Camp (my cabin last summer) James 2 Amherst (my floor the year before last)

This has been the first summer I have spent on campus, but previously I have been here over Thanksgiving break, January interterm, and parts of spring break. The academic year can become a grind here at Amherst, so the times when academic priorities fade become a nice reprise. As one would expect, school at Amherst is a bit different than a summer camp. Camps are often so great because they provide a retreat from the real world. Names change, people unplug from electronics, and divisions often disappear. At Amherst, people are preparing for the “real world” beyond college where they will look for jobs, address social issues. Still, people leave behind their families and communities for stretches to take the time to learn and grow. The goals are different, but some parallels can be fun.

What is it that makes camps great?

Bird versus weasel Summer wildlife (the bird) and a friend (the guy)

First is the people. Most camps have some ending song about looking back nostalgically on friendships. As covered in my previous posts and by other bloggers, the people at Amherst often top the list of what people appreciate about the school. I spent my previous post reflecting on the way the relationships forming at college feel different than other places because people come from across the world to attend school for four years. At camp, even though you know it is impossible, you hold onto hope that will see (almost) everyone the next year.

Camps are also structured to make the most out of the time you are with people. You play name games, live in a cabin together, perform skits and other bonding activities. This takes place at college too. Especially during the first year, Reslife and student affairs make a concerted effort to build community in the halls and create space for fun.

Food

Someone else cooks most meals for you, you eat in a communal setting. Someone else who does not necessarily know you plans your meals and you have to adjust your schedule a bit. What's nice about the Valentine Dining hall is that there is a lot of flexibilty to use the ingredients available to create your own dishes at the stir fry stations. 

Bodily functions and routine

Changing routine and communal living both make one more aware of one’s bodily functions. Waking, going to bed, snoring, sleepwalking, going to the bathroom all change. Diets change, and it takes some adjusting to get into a stable order. People talk about the freshman 15 when they head off to college, which I do not think is much of an issue here at Amherst. I do know that it took me and other people I am friends with timing to get our eating and relieving habits into a stable place. At summer camp, the counselors make a consistent effort to normalize bodily functions. With more communal living at college, this happens also.  

Darkness

Pranks on campers

Something I always appreciate about going to camps or camping, is the darkness that comes at light. The stars come in clearly, and sleeping becomes a lot easier. Amherst’s campus stays well lit at night even though the surrounding area is darker. If I had to chose one thing that has disappointed me about coming to Amherst, it has been that the stars aren’t as clear as one would expect. There is a decent amount of nighttime fog that settles in, and there is enough light from Umass and Northampton to disrupt the darkness. For walking around campus it is nice. For star gazing, you have to go to the outskirts of campus and find a place that faces away from light sources on a clear night.

Homesickness

Albino redwood tree  An incredibly rare albino redwood tree

At camp, homesickness can derail the week for some kids. Moving away to college like all students at Amherst do can be tough as well. People worry most about getting along with their roommate, fitting in with the social scene, adjusting to the environment, and being away from family for months at a time. Each student experiences these differently, but there are similar places people can go to for help. My work as a Resident Counselor in a first year dorm has been somewhat similar to that of a camp counselor. My job was to look out for the first students and talk to them about issues that come up. The RCs are also tasked with building community on the floors and making sure they have strong enough relationships with all their residents so that they can be a resource when they notice problems.

While the RCs can handle many issues, part of our training connects us with the network of other resources where we can direct students for assistance. The counseling center is one of the best utilized resources on campus, and they have some great staff who can help students sort through a variety of challenges. Students will often schedule one or two appointments to help sort through respond to a something that has arisen. The resources centers in the campus center are also great place to find support and community around different identities. The multicultural resource center, queer resource center, women’s and gender center, and office of international student engagement all provide space and programing for students to find community, and better understand the experiences of Amherst students, including themselves.

There are times where the fun of being away at college makes it feel like a summer camp in a great way. Other times, being away can make people long for returning to their own beds at home. In either case, the people at Amherst help students find their way through their experience to grow and become more comfortable as time goes on. 

 

Four years

As I am sure you are interested in learning, my team did well at trivia. We sat in first place at the first stoppage giving us some Chipotle gift cards as prizes, and eliminating us from future prize considerations. We ended up second overall behind Team Only 90’s Kids Will Get It, who ran away with the competition late. This week will be an off week from competition, which will be fine since Little/Better Jack and another team member have finished their research and left campus for the summer.

As the summer hits its second half and people fade off, I am appreciating the passage of time here at Amherst. Heading into senior year, this the last summer break I have guaranteed. Being at a place like Amherst where many people, including myself, travel far from home to attend, gives a slightly strange experience of building community for four years with people who I may never see again after we graduate. Perhaps we will end up living or working in the same area, or maybe see each other at alumni meets ups and reunions. I know that this won’t include everyone I care about though. This past winter when I was critically evaluating my Amherst experience, I mapped out the different types of relationships I had with people from acquaintances, to people I am happy to see, to people who I will go out of my way to keep in contact with, and those that I know I can count on for the any challenges I might face.

With study abroad so popular at Amherst, time together often becomes a year or half year shorter as well. Some of my friends who were sophomores this past year will be abroad the entire next year, and I realize that we will most likely not be students together again.

Earlier this summer, I spent an evening celebrating a friend’s birthday with a small group of people, some of whom I knew well, others who I had just met. Our conversation turned to comparing the relationships we had to the other students around us at college to those we had in high school. I count myself incredibly lucky that in high school I had a very close knit group of friends with whom my interests and creative energy blended together beautifully. We have been able to stay in touch while at college and meet up as much as possible over breaks. I knew when we graduated that these would be a life long friends. Other people noted varied experiences depending on the culture of their school, from feeling like they were isolated academically, to not connect with other people over what they really cared about. These people talked about how much more comfortable they felt making friends at Amherst. When students here ask each other what they like about Amherst, they often add “besides the people.” It’s the easiest and most common answer. The campus is filled with passionate, caring, hard working, and interesting individuals. It can be exhausting being a student here, and sometimes it requires making a conscious effort to make time for time to focus just on friendships, but I’ve never felt there weren’t people for whom it was not worth it.

With only two semesters left at Amherst, I look back and feel best about the relationships I have formed here with friends, professors, and staff around campus. I feel that I have made the communities I have been a part of stronger, and they likewise have helped me. Preparing to leave feels different than the experience of doing so in high school. In his school I expected to be back in the local area over the summers or after school. I knew the people who would be coming into the school after me, or at least where they would be coming from, because it was my home area and I felt a deep sense of loyalty to the school.

College feels different. I care about the school and the students moving forward, but I do not know what my relationship to either will look like. Entering college as a newly minted adult, and leaving as a slightly less young adult, there are some relationships on campus that form with faculty and staff as something like peer relationships. I feel like I could run into them years later and it would feel the same. Other relationships seem like seem more business-like where the four year limit is central to the how we interact. In some ways, administrators need to have a perspective beyond the four years a student is here and that’s understandable. In other ways, it can be frustrating when it feels like students are less involved in decision making processes. I have spent a significant amount of time this past year working closely with administrators in a couple departments as they work through transitions. At times I have been thrilled to be included in conversations about what might happen. Other times, I have felt like the final decisions have been made without much attention paid to the student interests or knowledge.

Thinking about what I want to set myself up to do after I graduate, I am reflecting on what type of impact I have had on the campus community and which relationships I will carry forward with me. I have spent time talking with recent graduates who have spent their next year working around campus for various departments. So perhaps I’ll have more time around Amherst, but not as a student. It exciting considering the future and reflecting on the past three years that I have been here.

 

The Next Episode: Week 7, the late 90s , and Shutesbury

The big news is that my team won the volleyball tournament last week by going undefeated through out two matchups. We had a great time competing against the other teams, many of the people having been at the practice session the night before. Since there were only a few teams that made it out, the tournament went pretty quickly. Afterwards, we mixed up the teams and played some variations of 4 on 4 and 5 on 5. My serves were on for the most part, I had some clutch digs, and a few sets I was proud of making. My team had some great synergy, strong all around energy, and a lot of consistent play. Big Jack and Little Jack both delivered equally now that they got to be teammates. We had a great time.


  An image advertising trivia night This week, the competition will be a trivia night. Since learning the theme from the person who organized it, our team has hit our late 90s to early 2000s review hard. Student Activities hosted a  trivia night a couple weeks ago, and our team earned one of the prizes at the midway point for being in first place. This time, we’re hoping to hold that position until the end. The week has been a stressful one for a number of us and we could use a big win in something meaningless. 

Staying busy in the meantime, I went for a long bike ride yesterday morning with one of my friends who I first met through being his RC when he was a first year student. He cycles pretty seriously, regularly heading out for 50+ mile rides that include climbing mountains, so I was a bit intimidated. I have spent a decent amount of time this summer biking since I haven’t been able to run as much as I want as I rehabbed a shin injury which gave me some hope that I could survive.

An old picture of the meeting house We made plans to meet up at 6 in the morning. When 5:55 hit, we texted each other from opposite sides of campus to confirm it was still happening. A few minutes later we rolled out of our bed on opposite sides of campus. After each attempting to meet each other at the wrong dorms, we finally connected and headed out just before 6:30. It had rained overnight and there was still the occasional sprinkle coming down, but it kept us cool. We started by travelling north through Umass. I quickly realized he had a burst I couldn’t match, but on the hills, I held my own. The route took us up into Shutesbury and up a climb to an old meeting house. We grinded our way to the top, and about halfway up the sprinkles turned into a decent downpour. We made it to the top with a surge on the last stretch, paused for a water break, and regrouped. The way back was a smooth flight down the hill, hitting up to 28 mph (safely) weaving through the sloping curves. From the bottom of the hill to campus we rode a gradual down hill that gave us a chance to relax and catch up a bit.

A picture of a large home

The route covered a beautiful area north of Umass. We passed the turnoff for Puffers Pond, and another turnoff that goes through Jugglers meadow past where the enourmous property of the man who founded Yankee Candle is tucked away. A couple scenic reservoirs lie in the woods a bit farther East. The woods out here aren’t dense, but they are everywhere. The homes fall regularly enough to obscure the lack of buildings behind them. The area around Amherst includes farms and woods, definitely making it rural, but activity of the people associated with the schools and the proximity to cities like Northampton give it a thoughtful energy that keep young people looking to slow down a bit from cities plenty to keep them enjoying the area.

Volleyball Preparation

As I write this post, I am a bit groggy, sore, and have some sand in my ear and eyes. Later today the summer Student Affairs staff has organized a volleyball tournament, so my team and I spent two hours last night practicing out on the sand court to prepare. Our team roster is not yet finalized, but based on the performance from some members yesterday, I am feeling pretty confident we will have a strong showing.

The Greenway dorms that opened last academic year include a variety of common spaces that can be used by  students. Inside, they have different styles of lounges with TVs and board games, large open kitchens, study spaces, and a large ballroom style hall for larger events. For outdoor spaces, the design includes a smooth central patio with amphitheatre steps, outdoor basketball courts, and a beach volleyball pit. When the weather is nice and students have free time, these spaces provide a great place for fun and meeting new people over casual activities. The summer works as a perfect time for this, especially in the long evenings as the sun goes down.

Volleyball at Greenway Not us, some other students. Image credit: Amherst College

Yesterday, my friend Sydney, who I know through being RCs, played the main role in organizing about 15 or so people who showed up to the courts. The mix included people from all three class years, different sports teams, different interests, and different levels of comfort playing volleyball. We spent most of the evening playing 6 on 7 so that everyone who wanted to play had a chance to be on the court. In the first set, my team dominated early and won the first two games handily. Even with the one member of the team who embraced the idea of trash talking to his friends about the score, it was a very positive game with the type of supportive clapping you'd from parents of  middle school basketball players. Actually probably more supportive than that. The trash talk was solid though. My personal favorite was, "Take your score. Double it. That's the first step. Now add one." Stone cold and math based.

We mixed up the teams for the next set, and this time I found myself on the losing side. I still had just as much fun. Ok, almost as much fun. The competive highlight of of this set was the battle between my two friends named Jack (well John and William, but they both go by Jack on the rare occasions when they aren't going by some version of their last names. But they introduce themselves as Jack so that's what counts here). At one point, the younger, smaller Jack had a spike blocked at the net by the other Jack, who then pointed to himself saying he was Big Jack, then identifying the other Jack as Little Jack. Breaking their next huddle, the other team cheered "Big Jack" to rub it in. Little Jack struck back though, and came up with a couple nice plays down the stretch. Our team broke our next huddles with a "Better Jack" cheer. We still lost in consecutive games, but we brought  passion throughout and named one of our juniors as most improved player of the night. So overall, pretty successful.

After the games ended, a few of us stuck around and played some 3 on 3, which exhausted us, but closed the night with a lot of fun. It also contributed the most to the sand still stuck in my body as I spent too much time diving after balls. I'd like to think most of them were worth it, but you'll have to ask my teammates. Since the tournament will take place indoors, I'm glad to have gotten my time hitting the ground out while the sand cushioned my falls.

If my next blog post does not include an update on how our team does, assume that we suffered a devastating loss. For now though, I am feeling confident about our chances. Next week, Student Affairs is sponsoring a trivia night for which we should be able to rally a great team. My friends and I really enjoy the chances around campus for lighhearted competiveness in things we don't necesarily prepare for regularly. Throughout the year, we find different chances for this, or set them up ourselves, and it adds a sense of fun to what can be stressful stretches of the academic year. During the summer when stress is minimal, it just adds healthy fun for the sake of enjoying being at Amherst with other people.






Cohan Dorm

Cohan dorm is one of the upperclassmen dorms at Amherst with the most character.  Some other people avoid it because they worry about getting lost, but the unique layout and hidden spaces make give it a fantastic personality that can create a really strong community. In honor of the place where I will live next year, where I am living this summer, and where I lived last year, I present 3 and 3 half reasons why I love Cohan — one for each floor in the building.

Reason 2: The suites


Moving out I’m starting with reason #2 because the main entrance of Cohan brings you to the second floor. So already, this throws some people off. This is the floor where I lived last year with five other friends. As the Resident Counselor (RC) of the building, I was placed in the suite to the left of the entrance, and got to choose 5 RC buddies to live in the hallway with me.  We each had our own single, and then share a common room which we got to decorate how we wanted.  It became a space we shared with many of our friends who would drop in as they walked by. Cohan has four suites, and the other hallways have a similar set-up without the attached common room that can be closed off. 

Picture: One of my suitemates moving out our furniture at the end of the year.

Reason 2.5: The maze

If you go up a half flight of admittedly missized stairs, you will find yourself on a half-floor common room. The half floors are small, so they are rarely used, but one week some teammates  and I played a game of Snapchat “assassin” where each person had a target who they would take out by photographing and sending the picture or video to the other players on Snapchat. During one morning, I camped out on this floor for an hour so I could watch both entrances to the building for a sign of my target, who lived in my hall. By the next afternoon I was out of the game  after blowing my chance in a botched video recording. Through avoiding my neighbors that week, I realized how easy it is to move through building without being followed.

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 Video: Myself and a friend camped out to ambush a neighbor during Snapchat Assasins. 

Reason 3: The familiarity

I get to live on the third floor this coming year with five other friends who also lived in Cohan last year. Though we won’t have our own suite, I am looking forward to being in the same building with the two dedicated and friendly custodians who have worked in Cohan for 20 and 30 years each, with the campus police officer who covers the area and knows us all by name from stopping by to talk sports, and near so many strange common spaces for studying and socializing.

Reason 3.5: The creative potential

The top of the building is a sky lounge that felt too many stair away to visit often last year. The most memorable use happened when some teammates organized a scavenger hunt across campus and my team of classmates won with our last clue taking us here. The sky lounge has a skylight above it, some tables and couches, and has a view through the center column of the building down to the basement. Without a suite this coming year, I might end up spending more time in this common space.

Ok, so now we’re going back down to the lower half of the building. There are between 2 and 4 different ways between each floor so we can take our pick. The stairs are steeper than normal though...

Reason 1.5: The people


Co Rcs The other RC in the building, Zoe, and I would host dorm events on this half floor. Our most frequent event were casual “tea times” where we baked cookies and hung out with any residents who had time to stop by on Sunday evenings to chat. We also planned events outside on the front lawn and in the TV room that brought people together to meet other groups than their immediate neighbors. 

Picture: Myself and Zoe, at a formal event. 

Reason 1: The memories


A gingerbread house In addition to individual rooms, the first floor has the kitchen, dining room, and laundry rooms. My favorite memory on this floor comes from when one of my neighbors and one of Zoe’s neighbors staged an impromptu wedding in the dining room one weekend. We dressed up, took photos, held a ceremony,  had someone play trumpet and harp, and bought a wedding cake. It came as a welcome break in a stressful time of the year, and highlighted some of the close friendships I made during my time living in the building. 

Picture: A gingerbread house from a contest that took place in the kitchen.

With the bride at the wedding. With the groom at the wedding

Pictures: Some photos from the wedding

That’s all I can fit into this post, but I may follow up with more later. From this bottom floor you can go out the back entrance where there is a parking lot, and easy access to Leland house (a popular place to live) and the main street of town. Attached is a video a suitemate made for a film project showing some of the dorm. If the strangeness of Cohan is not to your liking, there are plenty of simpler dorms to choose. For me, it’s just Cohan forever (or at least the next year).