Article by Adam Gerchick ’13
Photo by Rob Mattson
[Faculty] You and three classmates are dining privately off campus with a distinguished Amherst professor. What do you discuss?
Finding your way around campus. “When I was first here, I would ask older faculty, ‘I’m going to this dorm; where is it?’” Professor of Psychology Catherine Sanderson told her dinner companions in October, commiserating with their occasional struggles to navigate campus. “They would say, ‘Oh, that’s the Sigma Chi house!’ or ‘the SAE house!’”— fraternity chapters that no longer existed.
“So not helpful,” she concluded.
With that, an hour and a half of freewheeling conversation began in earnest.
Take Your Professor (or Staffer) Out Program
• Groups of students invite out a professor or staffer.
• The college pays up to $14 per diner.
• Discussion topics are not proscribed.
Sanderson and four members of the Class of 2014—Lauren Belak, Allison Merz, Anna Pietrantonio and Keegan Watters—were sharing a table at the popular Fresh Side restaurant on South Pleasant Street, an outing paid for by the college’s Take Your Professor Out program.
Founded more than 10 years ago, TYPO provides funds to groups of students who wish to invite professors for modest meals off campus. It is one of Amherst’s most popular community-building efforts—so popular that the college recently created a sister program, TYSO, for students to take out college staff members.
After ordering tea rolls and Pad Thai, Sanderson and the students, who were all enrolled in her “Health Psychology” course, turned their conversation to heavier topics within the class, including suicide. With advance notice and an opt-out policy, Sanderson had recently shown the class portions of a documentary that featured footage of a suicide attempt, as part of a broader discussion on injury and injury prevention.
Now she solicited advice on the wisdom of her decision. “Do you think there was worth in seeing that,” she asked, “or did the [emotional] costs outweigh the benefits?” The students offered their perspectives. Sanderson said she would consider each.
The variation between lighthearted and serious talk is a hallmark of TYPO, which is administered by the dean of new students and the dean of students. Both offer funding to groups of three to seven students enrolled in a course with the professor they wish to invite. The offices pay up to $14, including tip, per diner. The college does not ask participants to consider particular discussion topics or to report back on the event.
At Fresh Side, Sanderson asked her companions why they chose Amherst. At least two had barely heard of the college when they started their searches. All wanted a school that combined academic rigor with a respected athletic program—three of the four are on Amherst’s swim team—and a campus small enough to support a true academic community.
It may not be strictly academic, but dinners like this help Amherst to fulfill that vision.