Elections are one of my least favorite times of the year. They are a time when beliefs are asserted with nonchalant indifference to present and past behavior, people are uncomfortably lumped into “voting blocks” and everyone involved leaves feeling vaguely defiled. As a senator, I’ve definitely had to cope with my share of elections, so when one occurs in which I’m not a candidate, and therefore obliged to participate, I am more than happy to keep my distance. However, on the occasion of the upcoming presidential elections, I find myself compelled to participate.
The general consensus on campus seems to be that the AAS presidency is not a particularly high stakes issue — it is (hopefully) interesting enough to click on the elections link and vote, but nothing to lose sleep over really. This is something that I have to constantly remind myself of since I’ve been on AAS through my college career thus far, but most of campus gets along without interacting with the president on a regular basis. This is identified as a problem and leads to a song and dance about openness, approachability and promises to represent various groups every time a presidential election comes along. Candidates are suddenly ubiquitous around campus; you can’t walk five feet without encountering one. Friendliness, likeability and accessibility are the qualities chosen to highlight.
These are definitely important characteristics for members of student government to have, but I would argue that they are less important in a president than in a senator. It is the latter really whose job it is to feel the pulse of various constituencies, be immediately and consistently aware of the needs of the students they represent and advocate for them. The president can definitely attempt to do this, but one person cannot be a match for thirty-two representatives spread across four classes, no matter how open and approachable he or she might be. A president who truly sought to represent the interests of as wide a range of students as possible would tap into the rich and diverse source of information they find in senators more often than attempting to do the field work for him or herself. This would ideally mean that the president had been a senator in the past, or at the very least, was able to work well with them.
My problem with the focus on likeability and approachability is that they are emphasized at the cost of characteristics that are in my mind more crucial for the president to have — experience navigating committees comprising faculty, administrators and students, competence handling both long term systemic issues and problems that emerge in moments of crisis and a set of beliefs that is not merely a function of popular opinion, but at the same time is responsive to the needs of the time. The president’s job is often either disparaged as not being very important, or misconstrued as primarily needing to be a “friendly face” as described earlier, but in reality the president has an extremely crucial role to play in the present and future Amherst experience. They are often invited to be a part of committees (like the Strategic Planning committees whose findings will not only impact current students, but have an effect on Amherst for years to come) as one of the few, if not only student faces in the room, and their judgment on various issues is greatly trusted as being in sync with the needs and best interests of the student body. They are often the first student consulted in moments of crisis, and their response is heavily weighted in the final decision on how to respond. They are able to create a presidential cabinet and bring voices to the table that appear to be missing, or poorly represented, and add functions that aren’t being carried out by the present government.
Clearly, this is not an easy job, nor is it one with low stakes. The president can influence policy and action on issues as significant as sexual assault, wealth disparities between students, academic experience, housing, mental and physical health, inclusion of marginalized communities and allocation of resources and facilities. It really does matter who gets to do this job. I am choosing to endorse Peter because over the last three years he has shown himself capable of navigating the dizzying complexity of being president. Having served with him on senate for two years, I have seen him consistently not only care about but act on issues of income disparities (he pioneered the shuttle system to Boston, New York City and Bradley that allows students for whom it might otherwise not be affordable to be able to get home), marginalization and diversity (as part of the space-allocation committee, he advocated for the MRC and WGC move to their current, non-closet sized spaces), fun and accessible entertainment (as a long standing e-board member of CAB and program board he brought us Casino Night, Groove Boston, and of course, Macklemore), sexual assault (he participated at several protests and discussions around the issue with me) and enabling sense of belonging for all (he founded the Traditions committee that’s working to establish traditions that unite rather than alienate). Peter cares about the right stuff, but more importantly, has shown that he is willing and able to skillfully act on his beliefs. He has shown his dedication and willingness to go beyond that which is required of him as a senator, student and friend, time and time again. All of the aforementioned considerations win Peter Crane my vote for AAS Presidency, and I hope they do yours too.