Lauren Tuiskula ’17 and Spencer Quong ’18 sitting on the floor discussing the open books that lay between them.

Spencer Quong ’18

Major: English
Before Amherst, lived in: Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada
Music playing at photo shoot: Kendrick Lamar

On the idea of belonging:

I plan to write my thesis a little bit about my connection to my home, since I kind of have a complicated relationship with it. I left at pretty young age for a boarding school. I was back this summer for the first time in a long time. I’m learning to drive, and while moving around the city, I realized that even though I had been away for so long, I knew so many specific things about this town. I have this very precise knowledge of where to turn, and it really kind of astounded me how much detail I know about the place I grew up, which—I guess everybody knows a lot about the place they grew up, but that wasn’t really something I’d think I’d hold on to, but I did. You could plop me down anywhere, and I could find my way back to my house. It’s like second nature. I was thinking about belonging in the sense of establishing patterns.

Now, going into my fourth year at Amherst, I just feel everything feels very familiar and I know people really well. I can go walk around campus, and there will be certain places and people, and you expect that you’ll be having intimate interactions with them. I think belonging is just a very physical feeling.

On being photographed:

I like the photo a lot. I’m glad with how it turned out. It took us a long time to warm up to being photographed, because at the beginning it felt very artificial and staged. I think that Lauren and I both know that we don’t necessarily feel comfortable in that type of setting, so it wasn’t an awkwardness that felt incredibly uncomfortable, because I think that I knew I was going to feel weird about it, and Lauren knew that. So we both were supporting each other. 

It also felt like the books were an important part of it, because we’re in the habit of sharing books and specific passages with each other. It was kind of staged, but I was also actually showing Lauren certain passages that I liked in the book because I hadn’t talked to her that much about this particular book. We build our friendship from sharing certain passages from books that we love and talking about them. So it was very like us to do the photo shoot in the way that we did. 

Lauren Tuiskula ’17

Major: English
Came to Amherst from: Leicester, Mass.
Music playing at photo shoot: Kendrick Lamar

On the idea of belonging:

Over the course of going into my fifth year here, I’ve seen that, even within small-group belongings, there’s a way that all those smaller groups work together to create a larger scale of belonging. So, even though you have those identifying things inside of a small group, they work outside of it. There’s more possibility for the groups to interact, I guess. So, you can maintain that smaller sense of belonging, but it doesn’t prevent a larger sense of belonging. I think that’s unique about Amherst. It didn’t happen at my high school, and I think that it’s something that does happen often here. Not all the time, but it happens. 

Amherst Student [newspaper] was a huge part of my time here. That’s a group where we’re definitely coming from different majors. There’s a lot of English majors, but there’s also a lot of pre-med students. But we put aside all that, and then, on Tuesday night, we focus. We have this very unique community there. We can laugh, even though we’re in this high-pressure situation. We still can come together and have that space.

I was also involved in Amherst Splash, a group that puts on an educational day of learning, one in the fall and one in the spring. We bring local middle and high school students to campus and teach them fun classes. That was another group that involved people with that one interest in education but who came from lots of different places within it to work together towards that common goal of putting on that best Splash possible and having tons of fun along the way.

You can’t do this work without thinking about people that feel like they don’t belong in a lot of different places on campus. When I first got here, I felt like I didn’t belong. I was like, “I shouldn’t have gotten in; I’m not smart enough, I’m not rich enough to be here.” All these things. And then slowly, over time, I was lucky to find those things like softball, newspaper, Splash and the English department: smaller places where I did belong and I could grow. Now I feel like I can go anywhere, for the most part. I think, for me, it started off when I first got here and slowly, over time, all those feelings started to go away. But they do creep up in some moments.

On being photographed:

It took us a lot of time to sort of get used to what we were doing. And we were in a studio, so we were just not used to that. We were kind of nervous. When we did the shoot, we both hadn’t seen each other in a while. I think it was during the time that I was finishing up my thesis. So we hadn’t actually been able to talk in person. Once we settled in, we actually caught up. That definitely helped to make us feel more comfortable. 

Also, Spencer and I are really good friends now, but we only met last year through working together in the English department. I think that’s why we grabbed our books. Most of our bonding happened over literature, so that felt more natural. I was really happy with how it turned out.