Mr. Gad's Performs for Inaugural Community Hour

Submitted on Wednesday, 3/6/2013, at 2:14 PM

By Daniel Diner '14

Community. It’s the sense of togetherness that defines us as a college. It’s the connection between students and alumni several generations and thousands of miles away. It’s the understanding that all which is achieved here, no matter how unique and innovative, is done in one place, under a common roof. It’s the one thing about Amherst that we can all get behind, communally.


So when Jessica Mestre ’10 determined that the sense of collective Amherst belonging could be yet stronger, she set out to extend its scope. Mestre—who since her graduation has taken on the role of student life fellow for the dean of students office—has been developing and championing a new Community Hour initiative for more than a year.

The inaugural event took place on Feb. 23 in Stirn Auditorium with an hour-long show by the student comedy group Mr.Gad’s House of Improv. To encourage mingling among groups, the seating was arranged so that students were beside professors or staff members, not other students.


The Community Hour originated with Mestre’s efforts to extend more support to students from lower-income backgrounds, which is a central objective of her job in the dean's office. When, during a focus group that Mestre held, one such student expressed her concern that the campus lacked an overall sense of community, Mestre was surprised. “I never thought of that,” she says. “I felt connected both as a student and as a staff member. It was interesting that something I felt quite strongly was lacking in someone else’s experience.” Mestre, after researching initiatives at other institutions, concluded that a regular community hour would help emphasize the college's inclusiveness.

Then, this past November, the college held a day-long community meeting in response to a rising concern about sexual disrespect on campus. That meeting led many to ask for more campus-wide events, and so Mestre, together with Association of Amherst Students President Tania Dias ’13 (whose candidate platform last year largely pivoted on the creation of a campus common hour) and Brendan Burke ’13, who holds the AAS position of all-campus tradition coordinator, drafted a formal proposal for the community hour. They won support from faculty, staff and President Biddy Martin.


At the inaugural event, Martin made a surprise appearance in one of the skits. Two more Community Hours are planned for this semester. Like the Mr. Gad’s performance, they will aim to foster a common community experience, to encourage dialogue and to highlight internal talent.

Mestre, whose term at Amherst ends this year, is delighted to see so much interest in Amherst community cohesion. “I hope that this becomes a more central, celebrated and beloved event,” she says. “I’m excited to see how this facilitates a larger sense of community on campus.”

To submit an idea into the Community Hour Suggestion Box, click here.


Let’s Hear It for Soundfest

Submitted on Sunday, 3/3/2013, at 12:25 PM

Article by Katherine Duke '05

Photos by Cole Morgan '13 and Rob Mattson

The sunny afternoon of Sat., March 30, certainly looked and felt like spring—and sounded like it, too. But I was on campus to immerse myself in the more unusual auditory stimuli of Soundfest, a featured event of the 2012–13 Copeland Colloquium: “Art in Place / the Place of Art.”

As Wendy Woodson, the Roger C. Holden 1919 Professor of Theater and Dance, had told me the previous day, this year’s colloquium is designed to make the arts more visible (and audible) at Amherst College; to allow for interactions between the academic realm, Copeland Fellows from around the world and the many artists who are active in the local community; and to encourage greater cross-disciplinary collaboration by the college’s Departments of Music, Art and the History of Art and Theater and Dance, as well as the Mead Art Museum and Frost Library.

“I think all of us in the different art departments feel very energized by this interaction. It’s been a huge amount of work, but we’ve all gotten to know each other and are having, I think, a really good time,” Woodson says of the yearlong colloquium. “We are fervently hoping that we will be able to continue this dialogue and interaction and initiative—that there’s more of a sense of ‘The Arts’ at Amherst, rather than, ‘Oh, there’s this department, that department, that department.’”  

Tim Eriksen '88 points to shape notes on a chalkboard in the Babbott Room of the Octagon, where Amherst's first music professor, George Cheney, led singings 150 years ago.

Soundfest, in particular, was set up to prompt students and community members to traverse the campus, experiencing various indoor and outdoor sound installations and performances along the way. The afternoon began in the Babbott Room of the Octagon, where acclaimed Americana musician Tim Eriksen ’88 led local shape-note singers and “church bass” (bass viol) player Loren Ludwig in renditions of 18th-century American hymns. Publication of these hymns flourished in Northampton and Amherst, Eriksen explained. In the mid-19th century, the college’s first music professor, George Cheney, was involved in a revival of them—he would lead, in that very room, “Old Folks” concerts involving students and townspeople.

A visitor to the Rim light installation lies on the floor of Studio 1 in Webster Hall.

Colloquium Coordinator Phil Dupont ’12—dressed in a black tailcoat, as if for a formal concert—then led the Soundfest audience over to Studio 1 of Webster Hall for Rim light, an installation scored by Woodson and local composer/percussionist/sound artist Jake Meginsky, with lighting design by Kathy Couch ’95. We took off our shoes and crept into the dim blue light of the studio. Out of four speakers on the floor—first in one corner, then in another, then in several corners at once—came the recorded voices of California-based artist and former Copeland Fellow Zeina Nasr ’06 and Assistant Professor of Theater and Dance Ron Bashford, reciting poetic texts by Woodson on a 12-minute loop. ( ) The effect was both eerie and calming. Woodson had told me that, after creating Rim light as part of a Mellon Seminar in the summer of 2012, she staged it again in November, and “the audience came in, and all of a sudden they started performing in the space, and this was really interesting to me.”Sure enough, I saw a few audience members around the room begin, without any prompting, to lean against one another in strange poses, curl themselves up in seated positions or drag themselves across the floor on their bellies. While taking notes, I dropped my pen, and as I reached down to pick it up, I wondered, “Does this look like a performance? Am I performing as part of this installation?” There was, of course, no clear answer.

Visitors pass through Jake Meginsky's Secret Beach in a hallway of Holden Theater.

Eventually, we emerged back out into the sunshine, and Dupont directed us to Holden Theater for Meginsky’s Secret Beach. To my surprise, the installation was not in the black-box stage area itself but in a narrow hallway behind it. We passed between two steel sheets through which transducers were sending low-frequency vibrations. “If you listen along the surface of the sheets,” the artist had written, “certain areas contain patches of higher volume as these collisions create standing waves, while other areas of the surface suddenly drop in volume as juxtaposed waves cancel each other out.” Secret Beach was Meginsky’s attempt “to to recapture and formalize [the] early aesthetic experience” of leaning in close to the foundation of an interstate highway and listening to the vibrations from passing vehicles.

Eric Leonardson sits near his Springboard during his Similaria performance in the Mead Art Museum's Rotherwas Room.

Listen to an excerpt from Similaria:

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The fourth part of Soundfest, Similaria, took place in the Mead Art Museum’s historic walnut-paneled Rotherwas Room. The audience sat in a square around Chicago-based artist Eric Leonardson, who was positioned with a laptop computer and his original invention the Springboard—“an electroacoustic percussion instrument made from readily available materials” such as metal springs, pieces of wood and what appeared to be a dish rack and an elderly person’s walker. While recorded “sounds from around Amherst” played from four speakers, Leonardson coaxed sounds from the Springboard by touching it with bows, mallets and his fingers. In the resulting “sound collage,” I heard noises of heavy machinery and plumbing, but also hints of a string quartet and vaguely humanoid voices; it led me to ponder both the construction of the Rotherwas Room and the artistic uses to which it is now put—its past and its present.

Just outside the Mead, in and around Stearns Steeple, was the final installation, by electronic sound artist Steph Robinson, a visiting lecturer in theater and dance. Isosteeple featured amplifiers playing highly processed recordings of the carillon located inside the steeple (the carillon player being Campus Utilities Engineer Aaron Hayden). As Robinson wrote, compositional elements were based on the medieval and Renaissance technique of "isorhthm" (listen to a sample stereo rendering here). Thanks to motion-detection software written by Mark Santolucito ’13, we visitors could change the sounds subtly with our movements. Santolucito—a computer science and music double-major on his way to study computer music in a Ph.D. program at Yale—also designed a video projection inside the steeple that cast swirly colors onto a plaque. (You can check out Isosteeple between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day through April 4.)

As we headed away from Stearns Steeple, I overheard one Soundfest visitor ask another, “Shall we proceed to the real world?”

I knew what he meant. What I’d seen and heard on the Amherst campus that day was positively otherworldly.

College Republicans Bring Scott Brown to Campus

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February 18, 2013

By Daniel Diner ’14

Weekend Amherst snowstorms usually draw thoughts of fires and lazy afternoons, not formal attire and certainly not anything that involves students leaving their dorms. But contrary to these conventions, Johnson Chapel found itself teeming with a smartly dressed and enthusiastic crowd on Sunday, Feb. 10. The crowd was composed largely of Amherst students who braved the aftereffects of the February snowstorm to witness, among other events, a speech of former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

Brown—along with former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, armless “toe-picking” guitarist Tony Melendez, and conservative producer and activist Bill Whittle—was commissioned to speak by the Amherst College Republicans, in an event to mark the group’s revival. The event, appropriately named “The Resurgence,” was originally scheduled for Saturday but had to be moved and restructured because of the weather. On Sunday, it featured Brown and Melendez only. 

Former U.S. Senator Scott Brown addresses Johnson Chapel

Senator Brown focused largely on his personal narrative, starting with a difficult and abusive childhood that culminated in his being arrested for shoplifting a record. Curiously, Brown described the incident as being rehabilitating rather than punitive, as the judge was kind but firm. He eventually won a basketball scholarship to Tufts and subsequently attended law school at Boston College.

When describing his professional and political life, Brown referred to himself as having a “Type A” personality, keen to take on challenges as they presented themselves. He said his motivations for getting into politics hinged largely on problems and inefficiencies he thought he could correct in the system, and he called for young leaders in the audience to follow his example. He told the crowd, “One of the reasons I wanted to come here and speak [was to] challenge you and see what you would be doing.”

Sunday’s event, along with the return of the Amherst College Republicans, owes much to the work of Robert Lucido ’15. In October, Lucido attended a viewing of the second presidential debate in Converse’s Red Room and found absolute himself the “the lone conservative voice” in the room. He says that the "resurgence" of the Amherst College Republicans was initiated on that same day, when the event’s moderator, William H. Hastie ’25 Professor of Political Science Thomas Dumm, approached him after the viewing and said the college needed a Republican student group.

As membership grew, Lucido planned the February event. “I wanted to organize an event that would not only mark our official return to campus,” he says, “but that would also create a venue to promote a greater level of political diversity on our campus.” For months he worked to organize, promote and raise money for the event. He tapped the college's alumni network and wrote to many politicians, commentators and entertainers, including former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Brown.

After settling on the four speakers, Lucido had to raise roughly $25,000 for their combined fees. He met his fundraising goals through a combination of private donations and grants from the Association of Amherst Students, the political science department and the student activities’ office.

Future plans for the College Republicans include rescheduled events featuring Rosario Marin and Bill Whittle, as well as a debate with the College Democrats about gun control.

More information about the Amherst College Republicans may be found at


Rose Olver Becomes First Woman to Have Portrait in JChap

Submitted on Tuesday, 2/5/2013, at 11:18 AM

Article by Emily Gold Boutilier; photos by Rob Mattson

Rose Olver came to Amherst in 1962 as the first woman to hold a tenure-track position on the faculty. More than 50 years later, she is the first woman to have her portrait hang in Johnson Chapel.

Rose Olver with her portrait

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Some 130 colleagues, friends and admirers attended the portrait’s unveiling at 4 p.m. on Jan. 22. Olver—the L. Stanton Williams ’41 Professor of Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies, Emerita—sat in the front row, next to the artist, Sarah Belchetz-Swenson.

The portrait hangs just to the left of the stage (when facing the stage). In opening the ceremony, President Biddy Martin explained why she chose such a prominent location: Olver’s portrait joins those of college presidents and alumni (including President Calvin Coolidge, Class of 1895). “But there is no portrait,” Martin said, “that tells the story of what is foundational to the college”—the faculty.

Until now. In the portrait, Olver is wearing a red academic gown and holding the faculty mace, a symbol of her longtime role as faculty marshal. “She represents the significance of faculty to the success of an academic institution,” Martin said.

Olver was the first woman to chair the psychology department at Amherst, and she served on the committees that guided the transition to coeducation. She also chaired the committee that created the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.


Board chair Cullen Murphy ’74, Olver, artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson (front row, l-r) and the crowd view the new painting. Additional images from the celebration can be viewed on the Amherst College Flickr site.

Other speakers at the unveiling included Cullen Murphy ’74, chairman of the college’s board of trustees, and Dean of the Faculty Gregory Call. “At Amherst, we are all linked to you in so many ways,” Call told Olver. Murphy remembered watching Olver, in her role as marshal, placing ceremonial hoods over the heads of honorary degree recipients—even the very tall ones—with “a flick of elegant athleticism.” He said, “She never broke a smile, and yet you could tell there was an undercurrent of amusement.”

Professor and Associate Dean of the Faculty Rick Griffiths gave his tribute in verse, while wearing a laurel wreath. (Among many other highlights, he rhymed “not surprising” with “gender theorizing.”) He thanked Olver for “so gently” leading the college’s transformation.  

Olver herself also spoke, describing Amherst in the early 1960s. “Back then, the idea of a portrait of a woman in this hall was unimaginable,” she said. As she recalled, her arrival put the Amherst College Faculty Club in a bind, as it had no official rule barring female professors. The club, she said, sent a senior colleague to “issue an invitation but request I decline.” Looking out at the crowd in the chapel, Olver said, “Well, I didn’t join that year, but I did join the following year.”

The crowd cheered for the portrait and gave a standing ovation to Olver. At the end of the ceremony, Marie Fowler, secretary and office manager to the dean of the faculty, presented the guest of honor with a bouquet of pink roses.

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Long-time Dean of Financial Aid Honored

Submitted on Monday, 12/10/2012, at 11:52 AM

Since its founding, Amherst has championed the idea of providing access to the college for talented students from all backgrounds. Today, Amherst’s financial aid program is regularly cited as one of the nation’s best, thanks in large part to the vision and commitment of Joe Paul Case, the college’s long-time Dean of Financial Aid.

On November 15, the Amherst community honored Case as he prepares to retire after 31 years of defining financial aid best practices and guiding principles for Amherst and, in many ways, for higher education institutions around the world. In a fitting tribute, Dean of Admission Tom Parker announced the creation of the Joe Paul Case Scholarship Fund, which was established by Charles Myers ’88.

Joe%20CaseJoe Paul Case

Amherst signaled its modern-day leadership in this area by being one of the first U.S. colleges to adopt a need-blind admission policy where an applicant’s financial need is not considered as part of the application process, and every admitted student receives financial aid that meets demonstrated need. In 2008, the Board of Trustees voted to extend need-blind admission to international students.

Similarly, the college demonstrated its leadership in financial aid policies when in 1999, the college replaced loans for low-income students with grants. Again, Amherst extended one of its most generous practices in 2008, when it eliminated loans as part of the aid package for each and every student on financial aid.

When the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) honored him with a Meritorious Achievement Award in 2004, it noted that Case "has devoted more than 35 years of his career to developing and maintaining the principles of need-based aid. Through his work with the College Board, the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, the Massachusetts Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, and NASFAA, he is one of the principal architects of the current financial aid system. In addition to his participation in the financial aid conversation at the state and national levels, he continues to maintain daily contact with students. He believes that the opportunity to touch students' lives is one of the most important and rewarding aspects of the work he does."

A prolific writer on financial aid topics, Case is regarded as an expert on everything from the technical aspects of need analysis and the specifics on federal student aid legislation to the public perception of college endowments and the roles of government, colleges, and families in paying for higher education. In 2004, as part of the 50th anniversary of the College Scholarship Service (CSS),  Case was chosen as a first recipient of the John Monro Memorial Award. The honor recognizes education leaders who have contributed to CSS and to the financial aid profession, particularly by recruiting talented, low-income and underrepresented students for higher education. One of the founders of CSS, John Monro was the long-time dean of Harvard College who crafted the basic principles of need analysis in the early 1950s. Case was also among the first inductees into the CSS’s 50th Anniversary Hall of Fame.

 “Throughout his career, Joe Paul Case has advocated for students—not just on the Amherst campus but worldwide,” said President Biddy Martin. “His dedication to access has transformed higher education, as well as countless lives.”

Myers counts himself as one whose life was changed by Case. “I would not have made it through Amherst without Joe’s help, and I imagine many other alumni feel the same. His commitment to students over the years always impressed me,” said Myers. “I wanted to celebrate his legacy by creating the Joe Paul Case Scholarship Fund.” Myers hopes others will contribute to the endowed fund so that the scholarship support given in Case’s honor can be expanded.

A Commitment to Educational Access

The majority of Amherst students—55 percent—received need-based financial aid in the 2011-12 academic year. Amherst provided $41 million in scholarships and grants or 91 percent of the total aid offered to students.


Thanks to the generosity of Amherst alumni, parents and friends, the college has more than 400 endowed scholarship funds. Last year, these endowed funds provided 26.2 percent of the overall aid from Amherst and are guaranteed to provide scholarships to students in perpetuity.


Amherst Splash Program Acquaints Students with Teaching

Submitted on Wednesday, 12/5/2012, at 3:06 PM

By Daniel Diner '14

Amherst is accustomed to playing host to all sorts of scholars. But recently, the college entertained a collection of students rarely seen on campus grounds: preteens. On Saturday, Dec. 1, members of student group The EDU hosted the second “Amherst Splash,” an all-day event in which Amherst undergrads teach hour-long courses to local middle and high school kids. For a $10 registration fee, the local schoolchildren were invited to courses on topics ranging from Harry Potter to “How People Make Money,” from beat boxing to “Masks of the World” to “Instant Chinese,” all taught by Amherst students enthusiastic about public education.


Students in "Faces," a session taught by Alex Hettwer '13 

Setting up headquarters in a lounge, the EDU volunteers labored from 8 a.m. to turn Chapin Hall into a temporary secondary school. In between sessions, the halls would fill with students rushing to such lessons as “The Art of Fanfiction: Creativity and Plot,” taught by David Desrosiers ’14, and “Let There be Light!,” a flashlight-making session led by Sabrina Song ’13. Volunteers decided on the lesson topics in advance and then posted a list to the event’s website, from which the 131 attendees decided their day’s schedule.

Some parents reported that their schoolchildren were far more excited and receptive on Saturday than they normally are in class, perhaps because they had the agency to choose what they studied. ‘ “Splash is all about exposing kids to new fields of knowledge and making that exposure a very positive one,” says  Nifemi Mabayoje ’13, co-head of student recruitment for the event,  “so that learning new things becomes less threatening and daunting. It becomes something exciting.” She hopes that attendees will now be more inclined to explore and research hobbies and topics that they find interesting.


Lizzy Austad '16 taught a class on the Rubik's Cube.

he event was also rewarding to the teachers. “When you teach a one-time, 50-minute course, it’s important to be as versed in your topic as possible,” says Eirene Wang ’13, another of the volunteers. “I always wanted to get some teaching practice, since I am considering several teaching programs for after I graduate.” Daniela Fragoso ’13, one of the event’s organizers, says she was especially pleased with the diversity of Amherst students that stepped up to teach. “We have freshmen, sophomores, who are teaching and organizing for the first time. It introduces them leadership.” 

Julia Kim ’13, another organizer, says she was taken aback by the level of support the program received from Amherst volunteers. “We had friends waiting out in the snow all morning to guide the students,” she says. “We had peers teaching back-to-back courses. We had students willing to come and just clean up.”

Organizational support for Saturday’s Splash came from Learning Unlimited, a nonprofit devoted to bringing together college and pre-college students for Splash-like instruction. Started by MIT students, it oversees similar events at schools all over the country.


Meet Me After Class

Submitted on Monday, 12/3/2012, at 3:35 AM

By Adam Gerchick '13

You and a handful of your 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 tells her dining companions, 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 concludes.

With that, an hour and a half of freewheeling conversation begins in earnest.

Sanderson and four of her students are dining together at Amherst’s Fresh Side restaurant, a meal paid for by Amherst’s Take Your Professor Out (TYPO) program. Intended to strengthen academic relationships and facilitate open discussion between instructors and their students, TYPO funds groups of students who wish to host one of their professors for a modest meal off-campus. (The college has just announced a new, similar program, TYSO, that allows students to take out staff members.)


Founded in 2002, the program is one of Amherst’s most popular community-building efforts. For Sanderson and her student hosts, Class of 2014 members Lauren Belak, Allison Merz, Anna Pietrantonio and Keegan Watters, TYPO provides an opportunity to discuss classes, college news and personal interests at a restaurant on Oct. 15.

After ordering a dinner of tea rolls and Pad Thai, Sanderson and her students, who are all enrolled in her “Health Psychology” course, turn their conversation to the heavier topics within the class, including suicide. With advance notice and an opt-out policy, Sanderson has recently shown her students portions of a documentary that featured footage of a suicide attempt, as part of a broader discussion on injury and injury prevention.

Now she solicits advice from her dining companions on the wisdom of her decision. “Do you think there was worth in seeing that,” she asks, “or did the [emotional] costs outweigh the benefits?” The students offer their perspectives on the screening. Sanderson says she will consider each.


Though TYPO casts the instructor as the guest of honor, professors are often as inquiring of their hosts as those students are of them.  Sanderson spends much of the evening probing her companions for their perspectives on, among other things, the college’s efforts to foster a community of sexual respect. “So you went?” Sanderson asks in reference to a recent campus forum.  “How many people went?  Were people [there] all of one view?  Did people think differently?”

The variation between lighthearted and serious conversation is one of the hallmarks of TYPO, which encourages such open-ended discussion. The college does not ask participants to consider particular discussion topics or to report back on the event.

TYPO is administered by the offices of the Dean of New Students and the Dean of Students. Both offer funding to groups of three to seven students who are currently enrolled in a course with the professor they wish to invite. The offices pay up to $14, including tip, per diner, through charge orders that the students provide to their servers at the ends of their meals.

At Fresh Side, Sanderson asks her four companions what motivated them to choose Amherst. At least two had barely heard of the college when they started their searches. The students all say that they 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.




Student publishes new novel

Submitted on Wednesday, 10/3/2012, at 10:44 AM

By Emily Gold Boutilier

Lindsay Stern ’13 was visiting Amherst during her junior year of high school when she stopped in Northampton with her parents and noticed an awning for “The Rug Doctor.”

“The next morning,” she says, “I wrote a few paragraphs on a rug doctor who loses his shadow.”

That rug doctor is now the main character in Stern’s debut novella, Town of Shadows, published by Scrambler Books last month.

Stern read from Town of Shadows at Amherst Books on Sept. 27.

Lindsay Stern '13

After writing the initial paragraphs, “I left the story alone,” says Stern, who is from New York City. She picked it back up the summer before her sophomore year at Amherst, when an editorial internship fell through and “I was left with three months of empty afternoons.” Back at Amherst, she took a Special Topics class on poetry with Writer-in-Residence Daniel Hall, adapting many poems she wrote for the course into book chapters.

“I sent the book out to a few small houses one night on a whim,” she says.  “I didn’t expect to hear back, because I didn’t have an agent or many connections.” She was surprised when not one but two small presses expressed interest.  She chose Scrambler because it “offered the better contract” and would publish the book more quickly.

The book is a dystopian novel set in a town with a tyrannical mayor who banishes vowels and declares mathematics the national dialect. Stern took inspiration from books such as Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie, in which the protagonist disappears.


Which brings us back to the rug doctor who loses his shadow: “The book,” Stern says, “is about how he uses language as a way to withstand” the town’s absurdity. “In the end, though, erasure becomes a theme of his work.”

Stern was also inspired by her own writing: As a younger teenager, she compulsively recorded the day-to-day events of her life. In the book, she says, “I wanted to test the idea of language as a bulwark against transience and to see if my characters could find a sense of meaning in impermanence rather than permanence.”

Stern is already at work on her second book. “It’s about an astronomer,” she says, “who discovers the night sky is speaking in Braille.” The book will be her senior thesis in English. She’s writing a philosophy thesis as well,  and after graduation, she hopes to make a career as a writer. 

Since her initial visit in high school, she’s returned to Northampton many times, but she’s never seen “The Rug Doctor” awning again. She can find no record that it ever existed.



Remembering David Foster Wallace ’85

Submitted on Thursday, 9/13/2012, at 4:56 PM

By Emily Gold Boutilier

David Foster Wallace ’85, the author of Infinite Jest and The Broom of the System, died four years ago, on Sept. 12, 2008. This past Wednesday, 20 people gathered at the War Memorial to commemorate Wallace’s life and work and to mark the somber anniversary of his suicide.

Daniel Pastan '13 reads passages from the work of David Foster Wallace

Daniel R. Pastan ’13 organized the informal memorial, which drew a mix of students, professors, staff members and others. “I found Infinite Jest at a time when I badly needed to interact with a representation of reality that felt true to my experience of this fucked-up world,” Pastan said in opening the service. Someday, he added, “I plan on reading IJ out loud to a child, either my own or someone else’s.”

Dressed in a purple hooded sweatshirt and jeans, Pastan offered coffee to the group and invited others to speak. A few students read excerpts from Infinite Jest (with one describing “the point at which I decided not to stop reading”). Another student read from “This is Water,” the much-forwarded Commencement address that Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005.

Professor Dale Peterson recalls personal experience with David Foster Wallace

Dale Peterson, the Eliza J. Clark Folger Professor of English and Russian, described the “cascade of pages” that greeted him whenever he and Wallace met to discuss the young man’s senior thesis in English. That thesis—one of two that Wallace wrote at Amherst—became his first novel, The Broom of the System. Peterson also recommended the new biography of Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, by D.T. Max (Viking). “To read the book from cover to cover,” Peterson told the group, “was an enormously emotional experience.”

I first met Pastan a few weeks ago, when I interviewed him for an upcoming Amherst magazine article about the month he spent in the Wallace archive at the Henry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. Pastan plans to turn his archival research (which he did with the help of an English department grant) into his own senior thesis in English.  


Free Speech: Feingold Talks Campaign Finance at Amherst Colloquium

Submitted on Thursday, 5/3/2012, at 2:46 PM

May 3, 2012

by Adam Gerchick ’13

“Speech doesn’t corrupt. Money corrupts. Money isn’t speech.” So argued former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold during his keynote address at an Amherst political science conference on April 20.

Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, spoke to about 100 Amherst faculty members, students, alumni and guests as part of the college’s Colloquium on the Constitution and the Imagining of America, a twice-yearly conference organized by Amherst’s Department of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought (LJST).  Each conference explores a different aspect of the character of the U.S. Constitution and its relevance to modern legal, political and social debates.

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold addresses
the audience at the Colloquium on the Constitution
the Imagining of America on April 20.

The senator’s message fit neatly within the focus of the colloquium’s spring conference, which explored corporate influence on American politics. Feingold, who with Sen. John McCain cochampioned the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act of 2002, argued that unchecked campaign spending by corporations and other special interests corrupts candidates and undermines democracy. He said that large corporate contributions in support of political candidates, including when given to partisan groups officially unaffiliated with the campaigns themselves, are “transactional situations,” given with the hope that successful candidates will feel beholden to those donors and vote in favor of their interests.

Speaking at Valentine’s Lewis-Sebring Dining Room during a colloquium dinner, Feingold excoriated the Supreme Court for striking down much of the past century’s campaign-finance law in the 2010 Citizens United case. In ruling that private spending on political activity, with certain exceptions, constitutes free speech protected by the First Amendment, the court struck down most limitations on political spending and contributions. 

“It was essentially a lawless decision,” argued Feingold. His assessment of the decision, together with others by the current justices, was unequivocal: “The court is in danger of losing its legitimacy.”

The colloquium—which was organized by Austin Sarat, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science and chair of political sciencecame on the heels of the semiannual Colloquium on the American Founding, held one week prior by fellow faculty member Hadley Arkes, the Edward N. Ney Professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions. Sarat’s conference provides something of a liberal alternative to Arkes’s historically more conservative gathering; that event explores the philosophies of the Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln regarding the concept of natural law.

At the colloquium, Feingold accused both major parties of allowing contributions to corrupt them. In particular, Feingold cited the deregulatory Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the normalization of trade relations with China as two laws for which campaign donors essentially ensured their passage.

He even went so far as to argue that corporations risk becoming partisan entities, with consumers having to consider whether their purchases advance policies they oppose.  Feingold suggested the Citizens United decision could give rise to “Democratic and Republican toothpaste,” with consumers picking their preferred brands based on the politics of their respective manufacturers.

Despite his dire assessment of the current state of American campaign-finance law, Feingold expressed hope either that the Supreme Court would reverse itself—it recently accepted a case from Montana that would give it such an opportunity—or that the collective impact of small donors could mitigate the new power of special interests.  After all, Feingold argued, it was the strength of individual donations in 2008 that motivated corporations to strengthen their political efforts. Said Feingold, “The corporate powers saw the face of this democracy and it terrified them.”

Several dozen students were invited to attend the dinner and a preceding cocktail party at which the students chatted with professors over drinks—soft ones for the under-21 set. After the speech, a few students took the initiative to meet Feingold individually, lining up to introduce themselves. The senator engaged them, asking their thoughts on his remarks. And he didn’t even follow up by soliciting a contribution.