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September 28, 2016

It’s hard being fresh

As a Resident Assistant, it is in my nature to be somewhat of a psychologist. I can’t help it. It’s just who I am.

With the advent of first-year/mixed-year housing, I am reminded of my experience in the English Talent Advanced Program (TAP). The glory days: the days when everyone was as clueless and insecure as you, the days when cliques formed faster than planets in a big-bang flipbook. I am reminded of many things, but most of all I am reminded of what happens when you put a bunch of freshmen together – by themselves.

But we’re not talking about hallways. We’re talking about halls, about towers. And as much as there is the increased risk of rioting, and of the brand-new renovations having to be re-renovated, the biggest problem with this new housing arrangement is that it diminishes the first-year living experience.

If freshmen are living with each other and taking classes with each other, then when do they have the opportunity to interact with upperclassmen? When do they have the opportunity to talk to people who know the layout of the campus, who aren’t checking their online profiles religiously, who have actually gotten through a semester and turned the “freshman 15” into muscle? They don’t.

Wait. I lied. If they weren’t dropped too many times when they were little, they might notice the four seniors carrying 30-racks on their shoulders. And if they can muster up enough courage before the screen door slams shut, then maybe, just maybe, they could stick it to the man.

But honestly, are we to believe that first-year housing will deter underage drinking? I’d personally like to give freshmen some credit. They are people after all.

Let me be clear, I’m not here to condone drinking. However, if 18-year-olds can no longer figure out how to get their hands on a handle of vodka, we’re most certainly going to be in another recession when they’re running our country.

And yes, they will be running our country, as will the rest of us. This will probably sound cliché, but we don’t have the option of being leaders – we already are.

Sometimes you simply have to turn around to see who’s following you. But if you’re a freshman living in a first-year hall and everyone’s following someone else, you’ll forget that you’re an individual and you’ll mistake college for an expensive version of high school.

Unfortunately, Residential Life (Res Life) has forgotten that it is not here to educate us but to foster an environment conducive to education. The new CORE class has shifted our growth as leaders from the dormitory into the classroom.

Rather than actually enable our maturation in residence halls by surrounding us with a mélange of perspectives and experiences, Res Life has departmentalized the student body. And rather than actually allowing freshmen the opportunity to develop into true individuals, the department has made personal growth something distant and ethereal.

So, in the end it’s up to you. Do you want to be an individual or do you want your face to be obscured, effaced, and forgotten?

You don’t have to walk in droves. You don’t have to drink the beer your friend hands you or go to the dining commons when you’re not hungry. You don’t even have to pretend that you know who you are if you don’t. Eventually the sun is going to set and when you take your shades off we’ll all know what’s in your eyes.

But if you’re brave enough to be honest with yourself and you realize that home isn’t on the map – it’s inside you – then you’ll find your time here so much more rewarding.

This is a great university, and there’s never been a better time to be a freshman, despite the housing debacle. Southwest is looking less and less like it was made in communist Russia. The Recreation Center is scheduled to open later this month. And the administration’s consistent message of perseverance and excellence is empowering.

So milk these four years for what they’re worth, and don’t wait for anyone to teach you anything. You’re going to learn a lot on your own.

Welcome to UMass Amherst.

Elie Feinstein is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at efeinste@student.umass.edu.

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