Debating Discipline, Attendance and the Residential Life Committee
Issue   |   Wed, 12/07/2011 - 02:24

Monday night’s Senate meeting was kind of like a black and tan drink; it started out with some heavier discussion, but moved on to lighter topics later on. With Deans Boykin-East and Nascembeni, Gretchen Krull and quite a few student visitors, we began with a forum regarding disciplinary policy and the honor code as it relates to sexual assaults on campus. Tania Dias ’13 opened the discussion with an overview of the situation and critiques of several disciplinary procedures.
Incidents of assault have historically been underreported at Amherst, though in part due to increased efforts by the Peer Advocates for Sexual Respect, reports doubled last calendar year — to 14. Krull suggested that the real number of assaults could be many times higher, citing the figure that one in four women will be the victim of either an assault or attempted assault by the time they graduate from college. Comments form visiting students centered on the disciplinary system at Amherst, the operation of the Disciplinary Committee and whether sentencing was harsh enough.

Members of the Disciplinary Committee argued against the creation of some sort of “mandatory minimum” sentences, or a “checklist,” saying that each case was unique, and that the committee (comprised of three students and two faculty members) tries its hardest to arrive at consensus decisions that it feels are appropriate — perhaps ensuring that one party will leave campus until the other party has graduated. As one committee member put it, “sexual assault” is a very broad term that can cover anything from “drunken hook-ups gone bad, to deliberate, malicious acts.” Ultimately, no concrete action was taken, which disappointed some senators and participants who had argued for the creation of a taskforce to look into ways of changing the honor code, as well as party culture at Amherst.

However, even though there was no committee created and no changes to the honor code drafted, I wouldn’t say that the discussion was in vain. In fact, I think it is a poignant example of how the AAS can be a vehicle for more than just funding, or the bureaucratic nonsense many students think we spend our time on. Because of the efforts of Senators, we were able bring to gather administrators and students to educate ourselves and discuss an obviously important issue, one that before Monday night, might not have been on everyone’s radar.

Unfortunately, as effective as I think we can be, the Senate still has room to improve. With the most serious element of the evening out of the way, the Senate moved on to a still important, but more embarrassing topic: absences and attendance policy. Evidently there is one senator who has missed six meetings so far this semester! I’m not sure who that person is, and maybe they were absent last night as well; so let me tell you that I am not alone in declaring shame. These aren’t verbatim quotes, but to paraphrase the conversation:

Geoff Ainslie ’12, VP: I want discretion to maybe kick senators out.
Matthew Aizpuru ’12: I oppose this expansion of executive power.
Matt DeButts ’14: I’m a bit of a romantic; I think we should all vote them out!
(I forget who): How about publishing absences in The Student?
Romen Borsellino ’12, el Prez: That makes us look ridiculously incompetent, (then jokingly) which we are, so let’s keep it within the Senate.

While I don’t think it would make us look incompetent as much as it would make those certain senators look incompetent, I do think it would be mean-spirited. Regardless, we’re not going to do it (attendance is public and on our web site anyway). We are, however, going to crack down more tightly on what constitutes an excused absence and what happens to senators who start to act too much like they are on the U.S. Senate and take vacations from meetings.

Finally, we resurrected a dormant Residential Life Committee, and moved on to some funding requests. Alex Southmayd ’15 ran for the committee, declaring, “I think I would be a valuable asset to anyone wanting to better their life.” All you singles out there, are you listening? Senate personals…just one more thing the AAS can do for you. Matthew (Matty Ice) Aizpuru requested funding for ice for the 21+ EVENT IN KEEFE AT 10:00 TONIGHT. Don’t worry; Ice will definitely be making an appearance, in more ways (and more states) than one.

Oh, and because of increased printing costs at the Office of Amherst Supplies, yours truly motioned to change our publicity funding policy from $9 to $10, starting with a request from Random Acts of Kindness (we don’t make value judgments, so I am absolutely, most certainly, 100 percent not advocating for someone to form a competing Random Acts of Cruelty). With those kind of big bucks, who knows, maybe my face will even make it on to one of those table tents.