Muck-Rake Investigates Res Life, the Madness Within


Residential Life is one of Amherst College’s most powerful and mysterious departments. With the beginning of the new Room Draw process underway, the department has recently been the focus of students’ attention, and, sometimes, scrutiny. But what, exactly, is going on behind the scenes at Res Life?

One of our field agent’s reports:

April 7, 2016

Though Residential Life’s location, tucked away in the basement of Keefe, is rather unassuming, the entrance to its offices is anything but. Across the door’s square glass pane, ‘Residential Life’ is written in giant, rainbow comic-sans letters. But the ‘I’ in ‘life’ is missing, and the ‘R’ in ‘Residential’ is backwards. Streamers, silly string and empty bottles of rum festoon the area surrounding the door. Those fake cobwebs, which people decorate their houses with during Halloween, are also present, and in astounding volume.

Arnold Spurtz, the department’s director, has agreed to give me a brief tour of the offices. I knock, and after a short while, the door opens, and I am greeted by Mr. Spurtz, who is wearing black slacks, a grey jacket, a plain blue tie, a red paisley bandana, a pointed party hat and a pirate eye patch.

“Oh hello, Rogers!”  yells Spurtz, “Are you here for the Merkrake tour?!?”

My name is not Rogers. I am scared. Hesitantly, I reply with a yes, and am then yanked into the office.

“Well, well, wellington, Rogers, welcome to rersendential life’s command center. This is where we do a lot of the majority of most of our sorting of the students. It’s the department’s brain, if you will, Rogers. A lot of activity goes on here.”

The room is quite spacious, and there is much to take in. German opera music is blasting from an old-looking boom-box in a corner. Crude drawings of buffalo and deer are scrawled across all of the walls. Some employees are at desks, frantically sorting through papers, with looks of terror in their eyes. Others, however, appear to not be working at all. Several have constructed a fort using chairs and blankets. Two are having a water-balloon fight. There is a small fire burning in a trashcan. I look to the ceiling for smoke detectors or sprinklers, but neither are present. Fake cobwebs are everywhere.

I am taken aback, but compose myself enough to ask Spurtz about how he has dealt with the challenges of transferring to an online room draw system. I ask, too, about the massive mistake the department made in leaving nearly one quarter of the freshman class absent from the room draw list.

Spurtz does not seem to hear either question, however, but is intensely focused on his phone. He is playing Doodle-Jump. When the game is over, he turns back towards me. “Want to see the laughing room?!” he shouts.

The laughing room contains only a stack of papers, two chairs, two cackling employees, and a paper shredder.

‘This room is vury important.’ Says Spurtz. ‘See those papers? Those are from students. They are emails and forms with correspondence, suggestions, and complaints. They are hilarious. We shred them. But first, we laugh at them.’ The two employees have not stopped cackling.

I am beginning to feel claustrophobic. I say that I must leave, and cut the tour short.

“Rogers?! Are you sure?” says Spurtz. “Okay, okay. That’s fine. But first, let’s find a room for you.”

“No,” I reply, “that’s not necessary. I already have a room.”

“Hmm. Tyler. Let’s put you in Tyler. Tyler 316. I think somebody is already there. But you two can work it out. Or you can share! Here, here’s the key.”

Spurtz hands me something. It is not a key. It is a piece of candy corn. I say ‘thank you’ and leave the office as quickly as possible.