Welcome from the Student Government
Issue   |   Wed, 09/04/2013 - 10:28

Welcome back to Amherst! It is truly an exciting time to serve as your Student Body President. Last year catalyzed a great deal of changes to our campus, and much of the work is ongoing. Therefore, I’d like to describe some of the work that our student government, the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) will undertake over the next year.

The AAS Senate is comprised of senators that represent you on student issues. They oversee an annual budget totaling to roughly one million dollars. The AAS puts this money at the disposal of clubs and initiatives that improve student life.
Charged with articulating your opinions and overseeing your dollars, student input is key to our mission. AAS senate meetings are open to the public, and take place every Monday ay 8:30 p.m. in Converse Hall’s Red Room. All meetings start with a “public comment” period during which any student may make a statement on any topic of their choosing. The senate once listened to student comments for over an hour, so do not hesitate to come to any AAS meeting — you will be heard.
Looking back at a challenging year, the AAS and the College must work to create more “Amherst Moments” that we can share as a community. They do not necessarily need to be large events, but rather should simply aim to bridge campus divides. As important is the need to recognize these “Amherst Moments” so that we can appreciate the positives of our community alongside its flaws.

To this end, I am continuing to work closely with the administration to organize weekly pub nights in Schwemm’s. Weekly pub nights will continue to support responsible drinking and serve as a set location for students to unwind and meet with friends at the end of our stressful weeks. More importantly, we are working on hosting special pub nights once a month that would include activities like trivia to bring drinkers and non-drinkers together. It is our hope that this weekly tradition would create a formal space in which Amherst drinkers and non-drinkers can safely and enjoyably relax together.

Recent institutional changes are also noteworthy. The creation of full time director positions for the Multicultural Resource Center, the Queer Resource Center and the Women’s and Gender Center are encouraging signs that the College is finally moving to properly support these critical student resources. With directors reporting to the new Provost Peter Uvin, the College finally has the leadership structure in place to carry the majority of the burden of advancing these centers. As more and more students use these centers over the coming year, we must ensure that their budgets have increased enough to reach their full potential.

As the College explores new avenues for fostering an atmosphere of sexual respect, the AAS should strive to lead by example. To this end, the AAS has for the first time taken part in bystander training for all senators. This experience will help train senators to recognize and curtail unacceptable behavior, as well as provide them with an appreciation of the training’s benefits as we explore ways to integrate bystander training into club leadership programming.

With a new disciplinary system for sexual assaults, we must remain vigilant to ensure that administrators encourage reporting, that survivors are supported and protected and that adjudication by new disciplinary committee members is rigorous and unbiased. Students should feel empowered to express concerns to administrators, senators and to the permanent Sexual Respect Task Force chaired by Molly Mead. To encourage and support continued student voice, the Sexual Respect Task Force will now include seven student members, the most on any administrative committee. Keep a lookout for an AAS email in the coming weeks if you are interested in joining the committee.

Over the next year, the College should also work to encourage safe parties. To be clear, this means Amherst should have parties, and these parties will not necessarily be registered with the school. A college devoid of spontaneous social interactions loses the socialization and mixing that Amherst so desperately wishes to create. Safe parties organized without fear of sanctions from College authorities will be more open, fostering greater interaction between students. Unsafe behaviors and excessive alcohol consumption should of course be dealt with, but policies that only attempt to decrease metrics like ACEMS’ calls fails to take into account the community benefits of a more vibrant social scene. The administration should position itself as an ally of responsible parties rather than simply an adversary of dangerous ones.
In this spirit, the AAS should ensure that the new social dorms being planned avoid replicating current deficiencies — poorly lit and overflowing common rooms — and allow students to hold safer gatherings within their own space. In addition, event policy for the new Power House should impose the lowest possible burden on students to encourage greater use of this new space. The college should not treat the Power House like the Friedmann Room or O’Connor Commons — few students will complete paperwork and meet with an administrator when they can instead email one RC to reserve Mo-Pratt’s common room.

In addition, the AAS must reach out to more student groups. Office hours and tabling in Val have been used in the past, but we should strive to use the effective outreach strategies used during AAS campaigns. AAS members should attend more club meetings as a helpful representative of the AAS and should reach out to RC’s to connect more directly with residents in their dorms.

The AAS must continue to improve the diversity of student opinion within its own ranks. The elections committee will continue to reach out to under-represented groups like women in the upcoming first-year senate elections, building off of the success of the spring elections. By encouraging members of underrepresented group to run for senate, the AAS can better represent all students while allowing students to democratically decide their senators.

Once these new senators are elected, the senate will work more consciously to empower these new voices to allow them to prosper. At the recent senate retreat over orientation, the senate began conversations about how to formalize responses to disrespectful behavior. These discussions will ultimately lead to a more effective senate and a senate that is more inviting to the rest of the student body.

In short, as Amherst continues to change I planning on focusing more efforts on bridging campus divides and uniting Amherst as one campus community.

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