The "State of the AAS" Address
Issue   |   Wed, 11/30/2011 - 02:11

Ever since I was a freshman at Amherst, I have gotten a sense that the AAS is not particularly popular. There has been a perception that we do little more than fund clubs, that we argue too much, that we are a waste of what could be a very valuable resource. I have served on the AAS now for four years, and I can tell you that many of these criticisms have been merited.

I campaigned on a promise to change the orientation of our student government because I, along with my fellow Senators, believe that the weekly Senate meetings should be a forum where students and administrators would come to address the very real issues at our school.

Three months into our work, I believe this Senate has made tremendous strides toward doing just that. Tonight, I want to briefly share some of that progress and discuss the long road ahead we still have toward realizing our potential.

From the beginning of the school year, social life has been at the forefront of campus dialogue. Concerned by administrative changes, students did what we hope they will do: they turned to their elected representatives to address the issue. The AAS, in turn, responded without hesitation.

We threw a 90s party, which was the first step towards reenvisioning TAPs, and next Wednesday, we will be piloting a 21+ karaoke night in Keefe. We have also seen a decision by the school to restore the social basements, which, contrary to rumors, will not cost $1 million. That price refers to the installation of sprinklers throughout the entire buildings to bring them up to fire safety codes, and the basements are only a minor part of this investment.

And Social life is just one of the many things that we’ve been working on. We’ve done some small, but noticeable things — such as purchasing a drum set for Marsh and a clock for the Alumni gym, as well as starting a once-monthly Trivia night. We’re also developing a Pep band to play at sporting events and working on installing a plug-in station on campus for electric vehicles to make Amherst more environmentally friendly. For Thanksgiving last week, the AAS teamed up with the Dean of Students office to pay for gourmet Thanksgiving meals for students who were on campus. We have also expanded the AAS shuttle service to provide free service to Boston.

On a grander scale, the Senate has, over the last few weeks, taken up a new cause: diversity. We’re all aware that Amherst can often be a very self-segregating place. As one minor example of this, I would like to point out that we have a room in Val commonly referred to as ‘The International Students Room.’ This reality stifles conversations and prevents students from realizing the full benefits of being at Amherst. I see the solution as being three-pronged: first we must take steps to address the structural issues regarding diversity on our campus, next we must create opportunities to increase awareness and heighten discourse, and finally we must work as a student body to create a stronger community.

There are steps we can take to begin to fill in these gaps. To this end the AAS has formed a committee on diversity, which will meet with administrators and the Multicultural Resource Center to come up with different programming and methods to educate the student body on diversity matters. By increasing awareness and discourse, we can begin to create a community where everyone feels comfortable.

Of course, talking about diversity is only half of the battle. The best way to overcome our differences is to find ways to bring our community together. One such project that we have been working on is the implementation of a Campus Community Hour once a week when no classes or sports practices are scheduled, and events are held for the entire student body to attend. We hope to pilot this program next semester.

Another way to foster greater interaction among the student body is by sharing a common sense of tradition and appreciation for our school. For this reason, we have created a traditions committee to research classic Amherst events that have fallen by the wayside and implement some of them.

While the AAS has been working hard, the sad reality is that many of you have not heard about a number of these projects until now. The AAS must do a better job communicating with the student body, which we have begun working on. Last semester, we began holding Town halls, inviting students to come discuss specific issues of concern. We have also started a program called AAS Listens, where Senators dine together in Val and encourage students to join us and discuss student life. The Senate has also implemented a new program whereby each Senator is assigned to a residential hall — providing every student a direct point-of-contact from Senate.

Students are learning more and more about what the AAS is, and I hope, becoming more enthusiastic about what their student government can help them accomplish. As one indication of our progress, this year saw the most competitive freshmen senate elections in recent memory.

We all share a common pride in Amherst as well as a belief that together, we can make Amherst a stronger community and a better institution. It is with pride for our recent accomplishments and a sense of optimism for what our community can accomplish together that I report that the state of the AAS is strong.