Amend AAS Constitution to Fight Discrimination
Issue   |   Wed, 12/10/2014 - 00:51

The AAS constitution needs a comprehensive non-discrimination clause. Sign the petition to ensure that illicit discrimination has no place at Amherst College.

In recent weeks, many students have pushed for profound conversations about important matters like race and mental health. President Martin herself, in an email, echoed their request and urged for “a concerted, respectful and educational campus conversation about these issues.” But if these conversations are to ever take place in a genuine way, our students should be exposed to all ideas and perspectives on campus, not just the ones they are comfortable hearing. If there is to be widespread engagement in these conversations, every student must feel safe in expressing him or herself without fear of retaliation or defamation.

Unfortunately, past attempts at these conversations have proven unsuccessful as perspectives went absent, rendering the envisioned dialogue a one-sided discourse. While some level of discomfort is inevitable, even vital to the learning process, the fear of discrimination makes students unwilling to speak their minds and therefore wrecks any hope of widespread participation.

Thus, certain measures ought to be taken to assure students that Amherst truly “prizes and defends freedom of speech and dissent,” as it claims in the student handbook. The first of these measures should come from the AAS, as the AAS constitution does not contain a sufficient and inclusive non-discrimination clause. While Article 4.5.1-4 bars discrimination by those who receive AAS funding, it fails to prohibit the AAS itself from engaging in such behavior. In other words, under the current constitution, those who receive AAS funding cannot discriminate arbitrarily, but those who allocate the funding can.

The student handbook states, “Every student enjoys the right to full participation in the academic and social life of the college, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, ethnic identification, age, political affiliation and/or belief, sexual orientation, gender … economic status or physical or mental disability.” It continues: “Failure to realize this expectation undermines the ability of the college to achieve its purposes and diminishes the educational experience of each of its members … [E]very student bears the responsibility to protect the rights of all to express their views.” Therefore, by a simple reading of the AAS constitution, it’s as if our AAS senators somehow shed their responsibility to uphold the honor code when in chamber.

The Amherst College Republicans have undoubtedly been discriminated against — a feat about which certain AAS senators proudly boast. For example, an AAS senator wrote in a recent AC Voice article, “My main frustration lies with liberal students who defend the ‘right’ of conservative speakers to be paid to speak on campus.” He argues, “Amherst College, as a private institution, has no responsibility to allow any and all public speech.” He then reduces conservative viewpoints to “speech that supports injustice and oppression,” only to challenge his peers to “take away the forum for hate at Amherst College.” But, to be clear, this petition is not exclusive to our group or even to discrimination based on political belief: It seeks to bar all forms of illicit discrimination in hope of preventing any future instances of such bias on our campus.

Furthermore, every member of the AAS should be held to the same standards to which they hold their constituents — that is, every Amherst student should be prohibited from engaging in arbitrary discrimination. While the aforementioned conversations must come from our students’ own initiative, this is a simple change that will help craft a suitable environment in which they can develop.

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