I remember the Monday nights when I would walk out of the Red Room at 11:30 p.m. and wonder where the last three hours had gone. I would reflect on them: there was bickering, boredom, hurt feelings and little more to show for it than the same club budgets that we allocate every year. To put it bluntly, Senate meetings were a waste of time. It was last week’s meeting that reminded me just how far we’ve come from those days. When a couple of former senators who were just back from a semester abroad showed up, they were expecting the same culture of bickering and name calling that they had remembered; they assumed that it was still a common practice for senators to get in each other’s faces and pretend that the meetings were simply after-hours practice for the debate team. I think they liked what they found instead.
This year, the AAS has moved towards a new model: one in which we talk about real, substantial issues that students care about. Last week, the first hour of our meeting took the form of a town-hall style discussion about Spring Concert. It wasn’t a chance for senators to yell at one another; it was an opportunity for students to speak directly to the Program Board, share opinions and give input on what they wanted to see. And the Senate listened. Immediately after the town hall, the Senate began working with the Program Board to turn around a situation that was looking pretty bleak two weeks ago, and see if we could get a concert that we can all get excited about. But this sort of forum, what all Senate meetings should resemble, was not a one-time thing. Last night, Charlie Thompson and Jeremy Roush, the Director and Head Chef of Valentine Dining Hall respectively, came to our meeting to speak with students, answer questions and hear input. Last night was proof that our meetings can be more than a series of bureaucratic debates and that and that we will continue to be more.
Next week, we will continue the series of forum-oriented meetings that students can benefit from by focusing on a discussion regarding the advising system and what can be done to improve interaction between students and their advisers. While some of us are fortunate enough to have advisers who go above and beyond in helping us pick our classes and make sure that we take advantage of the outstanding academics that this school has to offer, I have definitely heard stories of students who literally have to beg for a meeting with their adviser. As a tour guide, I was shocked to get an email from the Admissions Office last week requesting that we downplay the role of our advisers. The email stated, “It has been brought to the office’s attention that some professors feel we are ‘over selling’ the student-advisor relationship that can exist at Amherst. Some prospective students are getting the impression that they will all become best friends with their advisor.” I’m not blaming the admissions office for this, but God forbid we develop a mentor at this college whom we can confide in and have intellectual discussions with outside the classroom. I mean, I can’t speak for the other tour guides, but it’s not like I tell prospective students that their adviser will be shot-gunning beers with them in Stone on a Saturday night (although there are a few professors who I wouldn’t put that past). I have always felt that if you have opinions on matters like these, Senate meetings should be the place to share them … and now they are.
But while I’m totally stoked about the progress that we’ve made, I know that some students are still not particularly happy with the AAS. That comes with the territory; I’ve met with a number of student body presidents from other schools and not a single one of them doesn’t face criticism, regardless of what they do. The truth is, I think one of our big problems is not a lack of effort or results, but a failure on our part to brand ourselves when we do cool stuff on campus. For example, we got a nasty email this past week from a student stating, “I haven’t been asked by my supposed AAS senators for my opinion on almost any topic in my 3.5 years at Amherst.” The funny thing is, this email came from a student who was emailed by the AAS one week prior asking for his thoughts on different campus issues and was subsequently invited to come discuss those thoughts and ideas with his “supposed” senators, “supposed” fellow students and “supposed” trustees. Maybe the onus falls on us to do a better job in conveying that the AAS is responsible for hosting events like the trustee dinner, but at some level, I realize that it doesn’t matter; people are going to be upset regardless, and that’s O.K. But I do want students to know that the AAS always wants to hear from them through emails, attendance at our forums and casual conversations around campus.
While I’m pumped about the new format that our meetings have taken and some of the projects that we’ve gotten under our belt, simply saying that we have some cool projects coming up would be an understatement. This semester, you’ll see a few big-name speakers here at Amherst; you’ll get the chance to participate in some mini courses that meet once a week for a few weeks in a row (such as courses on wine tasting, mixing beats and using Photoshop); you’ll see the unveiling of a new Jeffipedia website (think Amherst College’s own Wikipedia); hopefully, you’ll be seeing a late-night dining option; and pending Thursday’s vote, you may see a new plug-in station for electric vehicles. We’re working on some big things for this campus and while you may not see an AAS label on everything we do … your “supposed” Senators are working hard.