Last week the Howler reported that a structure used by students to host parties in the woods had been destroyed by parties unknown. By then stories had started to circulate, going off of another incident that had been gaining notoriety over the course of the week: it was the UMass Amherst students that showed up en masse the previous Friday who destroyed the structure. Alternatively, it was the farmers that showed up to chase the UMass students away who did it.
By now, one version of this story or another has become the de facto account of what happened to the venerable two-year old structure, dubbed Fort Mangold after its creator, Andrew Mangold, a now-graduated student (09F). To be clear, something did happen in the woods last Friday. From several eyewitness accounts, we know that large groups of UMass students did indeed show up in the woods two weeks ago, wrongly believing that there was to be a party there. We know that at least one large contingent of those students arrived at the structure to find another group of people, who we are not able to identify, already present and having started a fire, perhaps with trucks or other vehicles. This group apparently became hostile and one individual was assaulted. It is unlikely that these people were, as has been rumored, the farmers who own the land. Contrary to popular belief, the corn fields adjacent to the woods that are part of Hampshire are leased to a single local farmer who is famously tolerant of Hampshire activities (and, apparently, a one-time Easter Keg Hunt enthusiast according to a recent Vinepair article written by alum Sam Anderson.) Neither this farmer nor the only other farmer whose fields adjoin the woods had anything to report when interviewed by campus police last week. Anyway, we can definitively say that they did not destroy Fort Mangold.
In fact it was Hampshire College that demolished the fort, a fact confirmed to the Howler this Monday in an email from Facilities and Grounds. “The disassembly was done by Facilities & Grounds at the request of Campus Police. As you may be aware I guess there have been a number of incidents in the recent past, and the structure itself was a safety hazard from what I was told,” wrote Interim Director of Facilities and Grounds Carl Weber.
Deputy director of campus police Ray Labarr responded to our questions with this statement: “After several complaints from community members about the structure, trash, and fire danger during a drought, I located the structure and determine it to be a safety hazard. Littering and destruction of our natural resources is not acceptable so I asked facilities to dismantle the structure and clean the area up. It is unfortunate that people go to great lengths to destroy the natural surroundings the college has worked so hard to create, not to mention the financial burden to restore.”
When pressed by the Howler, Labarr admitted last friday’s events to be “a factor” in making this decision. It is hard to deny that as of Wednesday last week the woods were noticeably littered with beer cans and other trash near the wreckage of the party site as well as near a small fire pit well-known to Hampshire students. However, it had been unusual to find the woods in this state; the area around the fort could just as often be found pristine, with plastic trash bags having been introduced to parties this semester to help keep things clean. It may be true that the structure posed a fire hazard during the drought, but there are no shortage of other unmaintained wooden forts and structures to be found in the woods now; the flammable materials that comprised the fort have not even been removed from the woods.
“They didn’t even clean it—they littered!” said an anonymous Hampshire student who had been involved in planning the parties. “The people who ran [the parties] were building a safe space for femmes. We had made a zine on woods party etiquette! Grounds had no business touching that fort.”
Another student affiliated with the parties gave this cryptic statement when reached for comment: “Emma Goldman once said ‘If I can’t dance, I don’t want to part of your revolution.’ A space imbued by the pursuit of radical ideals is no more—and as Reverend Moore once learned, stopped dancing is an errant task.”
The destruction of Fort Mangold comes on the heels of the demolition of Hampshire’s dog kennels, another impromptu student space that students sometimes commandeered for the sake of art or partying. Woods parties had recently become controversial in the Hampshire community, with the uptick in attendance from off-campus leading to a conversation about who is welcome at Hampshire and how and why we make social spaces safe. Perhaps it is inevitable for things to sometimes come to a head between Hampshire’s administration and the frequently-illicit events that are part of campus life. But with the steady depletion of the student activities fund on the one hand, and the long delay before many student groups could get funding this semester on the other, it is hard not to feel like these conflicts come at the expense of what student life is able to be.
After Fort Mangold, something else will probably come, as the bases of operation for parties in the woods have been rebuilt and repaired many times before. It seems inevitable. In over forty years of existence, Hampshire has never had a proper student center. It is frequently demanded and seemingly always on the agenda for the near future. Is it really any surprise that we are always constructing our own? Let’s hope that the next people to do it make zines about how to do it right, too.