No More Red Tape in the Red Room
Issue   |   Wed, 02/08/2012 - 00:16

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.

Zack Gerdes (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/08/2012 - 15:23

Out of curiosity, what were the results of the poll regarding the spring concert? I've been lead to believe that the majority of the student body is against a spring concert. Is this what the poll showed? If so is working to "get a concert that we can all get excited about" really in the best interest of the school? While you might argue that the poll offered the choice between less than stellar artists or none at all but I would hope that we could agree that the poll is the most accurate representation we have of student interest in the spring concert as a whole and aren't you meant to represent student interest?

Lilia Kilburn (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/08/2012 - 17:22

I second the above question. Nearly everyone I've spoken to voiced their support for a non-concert spring event option in the poll (something like a better formal that could bring together students and faculty) but there was no word of the results after the fact.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/09/2012 - 02:14

I second both of the above questions! I too have heard from many of my friends that they did not vote to approve a Spring Concert. I demand that the survey results be revealed. I thought the AAS was all about transparency?
If the poll does show that the vast majority of people wanted spring concert, what is the harm in disclosing it?

I think that they will show that the vast majority of people didn't want a spring concert. I don't think it is fair that some leader of the AAS can chose not to share the survey results and just go ahead and chose how to proceed, especially when we have access to information about what the students actually want.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Sat, 02/11/2012 - 14:49

This spring concert issue has gotten out of hand - it feels like because the AAS wants it, it'll happen, not necessarily because the students do!

Romen Borsellino (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 14:53

I appreciate the feedback.  The poll asked students if they wanted a spring concert with lesser known artists "like the Cataracs or Karmin" or if the wanted no concert at all.  I don't know the exact numbers (it was Program Board's survey), but  the results showed that students would prefer no concert at all instead of a concert with artists not in line with who we voted on in the Fall.  The survey in the fall showed that students do want a concert if it's with good artists who are in line with the ones that we voted on. So to reiterate: One survey showed that we should not have a concert if it is with artists who we don't want, and another survey showed that we do want a concert if it's with artists who we want.  Therefore, the AAS voted to hold a concert if we can book someone good who is in line with the desires of the students and we will cancel the concert if we can't get somebody who students voted on. Right now, we are still working to book someone who is in line with the student's preferences, but as I said, if we can't make that happen, then we won't have a concert. As far as a Winter Formal or other events, we can certainly have those as well (doesn't have to be a choice between Spring Concert and other things) Let us know! Hit me up with any other questions/ comments.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 15:15

People saying that the AAS is pushing for a spring concert even though Amherst students don't want it: Just because you and a couple of your friends don't want a spring concert doesn't mean everyone shares the same opinion.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 15:27

The senate is a bunch of oligarchs, plain and simple. All they care about is arguing about minute funding details and making social life better for their friends in the socials. Don't believe me? Go to a meeting.

Hospitable sout... (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 15:35

Let me paraphrase one of the previous critical comments: "The AAS sucks. My friends don't want a spring concert, and clearly they are representative of the entire student body. Therefore, we should not have a spring concert. I am self-righteous and self-centered! Oh, transparency"

Seriously though, do any of you guys know anyone in the AAS? They're not some group of aristocratic demons. I know being outraged against the government is all the rage, but these guys barely have any power anyways. And its the program board that decides spring

Justin P. (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 21:58

RE: "People saying that the AAS is pushing for a spring concert even though Amherst students don't want it: Just because you and a couple of your friends don't want a spring concert doesn't mean everyone shares the same opinion."

Clearly. But the point is that no one actually knows what the student body thinks, because the various survey results have not been made public. So we don't have any meaningful context for the discussion anyhow.

Compromise (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 23:26

To be clear about something: the survey was conducted by Program Board, it's not an AAS survey. So to be angry at the AAS for not releasing the results is a pretty strange critique. Also, the results from the Fall survey in which Program Board asks the entire student body if they want a concert and 90% of students vote yes are public. So I mean, there's that.

To be clear about another: The AAS is not a group of "socials going" brats who only care about funding. The Senate includes artists, majors of every kind, people who are substance free, people who use plenty of substances and everyone in between. And here's the best part: because pretty much every election is uncontested, it includes just about anyone interested in making Amherst College a better place. Don't like the AAS: join it, change it. Don't want to make that time commitment: come to our meetings and just talk about something that bothers you. And this DIVERSE group of students voted unanimously to approve an event specifically because it is one of the few events that brings together a wide section of the student body.

But here's the real kicker, and something that wasn't mentioned: The Senate and Program Board talked at the last Senate meeting and one thing that the Senate made clear--- Program Board didn't have to choose between great smaller ideas and the concert. All parties can pull together their funding and ensure that all students get events that they will enjoy-- whether that be a concert or weekly milk and cookies. Personally, I like both.

Kristin Ouellette (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 23:31