Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Coming to terms with Amherst culture

Amherst is not a judgment free zone – if you don’t fit in with local culture, you will be judged.

And local culture isn’t something easily defined. At any given point in Amherst, you’re bound to be disappointing one group or another.

If you don’t fit in with the majority of University of Massachusetts students, you will likely have footballs and other sports-related paraphernalia thrown in your face (or maybe even, at you). Amherst can be a most intimidating place, yet one which allows you to explore a dynamic culture that makes for a “liberal college town.” Finding my niche here as an out-of-state student and as someone who detests the sports scene, pretentious political language and self-righteous behavior, the task of coming to terms with Amherst culture has proven a tumultuous endeavor, to say the least.

When people ask me, “How do you like living in Amherst?” too often a wide-eyed and narrow-mouthed stare exposes the truth opposed to the happy facade I’m striving to maintain. I have mixed emotions and an unsettling feeling when navigating this region. What follows are a few experiences in our picturesque “happy valley” and a few facetious suggestions that can perhaps aid in finding oneself within the chaos that is a college town.

Firstly, always keep an eye on your car and pen and paper in your pocket. No other location I have lived in has the self-neighborhood patrol or passive aggressive note writing that thrives in Amherst. In a 24-hour stint, I collected several notes on my car’s windshield, which was parked legally, where I always park it. The notes read, “Move your car, you parked here AGAIN.” I suggest collecting these notes. They provide great party talk, in which you can compare the severity of the notes you have received with the notes received by your friends. If you keep an eye on your recyclables, trees, cars, front doors and other locations, perhaps you can even uncover their identity and confront them in person – a scenario I imagine many ‘anonymous note leavers’ are unprepared for. If you can’t confront them in the act, try leaving some notes in return and beat them at their own game.

Second, brush up on your geography. I have been asked a myriad of ridiculous questions regarding my place of origin (which is Chicago), including “Why don’t you have a southern accent?”, or “Chicago … that’s in Colorado right?” Even though many northeastern college students have been unable to navigate middle America enough to locate one of its largest cities, college courses, professors and Amherst residents will snub you when they realize you lack the knowledge of where Namibia is on a map

Thirdly, living in Amherst can be like perpetually walking on egg shells — even while writing this article, the hypersensitive nature of this community feels imposing. Amherst is a popular domain for the hypercritical. Though sensitivity and critical analysis are integral to the functioning of a progressive community, too frequently I witness its utilization as a tactic to gain a social or conversational position of power — in which language and discourse fiends battle each other for verbal smugness. Identity politics and political correctness are valid components of sensitive communication but chastisement and the ‘game of political correctness’ fail to foster a cohesive community.

Amherst is most certainly one of the oddest conglomerations I have ever seen, home to a disparate population of locals versus college students. As an outsider coming into a place like Amherst, it’s easy to dismiss the experience here as one with disgruntled and hypercritical folk in an ultra-liberal landscape, or on the other hand,  insensitive college students who refer to every passing cyclist as ‘Lance.’ I have come to find however that this region can’t be dismissed according to one fell swoop of stereotypes. It almost admirably functions as a dynamic and versatile culture. Though staying afloat amidst a sea of criticism, sensitivity and entitlement can be rough, one is sure to benefit from the legitimate awareness and communication styles inherent to this community. Stay objective, and good luck.

Kimberly Ovitz is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected].

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