The Real Scandal
Issue   |   Wed, 04/18/2012 - 01:29

I withdrew from the AAS Presidential Race after receiving information which I did not solicit and which I did not attempt to use. If I were a good politician, I would tell you that I resigned so that I could cooperate fully with the Judiciary Council investigation — but I am not a particularly good politician. I resigned from the race because I am frustrated with the tone of our discourse and disappointed in the character of our governance.

Outside of Amherst, where real political battles are waged, we have grown accustomed to hearing personal attacks both real and manufactured. We are not surprised by the bitter rancor of political dialogue. But Amherst is not real life. Students live here, not issues or platforms. We hold ourselves to a higher standard in almost everything that we do and, as a close-knit community, we should be capable of civil conversations on issues that invite multiple perspectives. Yet, we have failed as shamefully as the worst talk-radio politics.

Last week’s scandal rocked the student body, but even when framed in its most sinister terms, it is still hardly the stuff of which political novels are made. Of course, the issue itself has been lost in the rhetoric of scandal. Conversations online attacked Romen Borsellino and others before the dust had even settled, forgetting their role in uncovering the scandal in the first place.
Students who may never have knowingly interacted with an Amherst fraternity member in their life, let alone attended an AAS meeting, have come away from this incident convinced that frats are conspiring to take over the AAS — and from there, we can only expect, the school.

Identity politics have infected even apolitical issues. We lament the evils of fraternities as if their members shared a misogynistic hive mind. We debate the merits of people who drink and people who stage battles with Nerf Guns as if these two groups were mutually exclusive. We argue with fervor over the allocation of Spring Concert funds as if the AAS had auctioned off Frost in exchange for a private Ludacris concert.

This is the sort of ridiculous rhetoric we collectively mock when it comes from Tea Party zealots. But when we hear it in Keefe, we shrug and accept it as fact. Are we really as fragmented a community as our conversation suggests? Do we, in fact, dislike and distrust each other this much?

I hope not. I believe that this common distrust is the real scandal, and I believe it to be an exaggerated one. I have been privileged to know students from every corner of campus — from feminist frat bros to die-hard football fans in Marsh, and I can promise you this: not one is your enemy. Our only enemy is uninformed and unfair discourse. We do not confront that enemy by making anonymous insinuations on comment threads.

Instead, we confront it by doing what every candidate asked us to do: we get involved. We participate in conversations with our friends and with our senators about what a better Amherst would look like. We go to AAS Town Halls and maybe even Senate meetings. We do this because we have to hope, with desperate urgency, that when we openly communicate with one another, we can do more than bicker and gossip — we can achieve our common goal: a better Amherst.
Dylan Herts ’13 contributed to the writing of this article.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/18/2012 - 18:41

"Our only enemy is uninformed and unfair discourse." Indeed, this is certainly true. However, the AAS as an organization and its members are themselves responsible for the creation of this "enemy." If the AAS were a more transparent organization and its senators acted like decent, honest individuals instead of wannabe politicians, there might not be any "uninformed and unfair discourse" regarding the AAS's role in the Amherst College community.

Alex (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/18/2012 - 19:29

Hi Anonymous,

Your point is well-taken. But as a (soon-to-be-retired) Senator, I've seen lots of Senators try to bring more transparency to the AAS. One Senator on Monday proposed sending out weekly updates to the Student Body with a summary of what we discussed-- but of course, it's a fine line between keeping students informed and annoying them with emails. And, the recent events have definitely cast some members of the AAS in an unflattering light, but the vast majority of members (perhaps, more so the ones who do not run for E-Board positions) got involved to try to improve something at Amherst. It's a shame that its the politicians and not the hard-work of these student senators that has received all the attention this year.

In any case, if you have concerns about this, I would strongly encourage you to talk to your class's Senators or any of our soon-to-be-elected E-board members. I hope (and I have to believe) that they will want to address your concerns.


-Alex Stein

Zach Bleemer (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/18/2012 - 20:27

(1) I put my name on this comment. I hope that others will do the same. Individuals use anonymity so that they don't have to take responsibility for their comments, which leads to just the kind of rhetoric and untruth that this article decries.

(2) Thank you, Alex, for making your voice heard. I don't know if I believe you- I don't know if I really believe that you dropped out of this race out of disgust with the political process as opposed to dropping out because your name's been tarnished and you no longer think you could win- but I appreciate your attempt to find truth.

(3) Given the number of fraternity members on this campus, I think that it is unlikely that very many members of the student body have not interacted with any of them. It is not students completely ignorant of fraternities who have questioned their role on campus, but rather students who do not believe that organizations not approved by Amherst's administration should have a governing role on campus. I understand that one's being a member of a fraternity does not necessitate that his presidency would be governed by that fraternity's leadership, but it does imply a favoritism or nepotism that most students look down upon. At a campus where at least some fraternities see themselves as existing outside of college rules (just look at last weekend's "Equestrian Party" in the Marsh Ballroom), such a concern is reasonable.

(4) Alex, you had a bunch of great ideas for making "a better Amherst" as part of your presidential campaign. Despite that campaign not reaching fulfillment, I hope that you and others will act to bring some of those former promises to fruition. One does not need to be President to change Amherst, despite the flashiness of the position on a resume; the possibilities are numerous, and the results potentially great.

Alex (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/18/2012 - 22:07

Hi Zach,

First, thanks for putting your name on the comment. I (obviously) agree that this is a good way to prevent the worst of the comments we've seen over the last few weeks.

I know I can't convince you on your second point, and that's okay. I can only offer that in the 48 hours following the election, I spoke with members of the JC, the student who filed the complaint, as well as many of the candidates involved in the election and was disappointed with how quickly everyone had made an unfortunate error in judgment into a chance to score personal and political points. I resigned well before last week's Student article was published, but I understand if you believe that my motives were still political. I can only offer you my word that this was not my motivation.

My point on the fraternity issue was not to suggest that many students have not interacted with fraternity members, but rather that, because of the nature of Amherst fraternities, they may not be aware that fraternity members may include many people they already respect on campus-- student leaders, acapella performers, athletes, and young men of all races, incomes, and sexual orientations. I worry that the debate over Amherst fraternities is mired in a general hatred for all fraternities--which admittedly have a sordid reputation that is well-deserved on certain campuses. But a general debate on those points is one for another article, and another conversation.

To speak more directly to your point: fraternity affiliation, while certainly a part of its members' lives at Amherst is hardly a defining characteristic. In my experience, there has not been a single AAS President who was a member of a fraternity before they joined the AAS. Every one of them joined student government because they were interested in improving the school, and not because they saw an opportunity to lobby on behalf of fraternity brothers' causes. As for allegations of nepotism-- I would be hard pressed in my time on the Senate to find an example of a fraternity brother arguing for another's cause when the majority of the AAS did not already approve of the issue in question (very few contentious debates actually occur in the AAS). Indeed, more examples spring to mind of individuals doing this on behalf of clubs that can request funds from the AAS-- that is, a senator and member of a certain club arguing for funding that he knows we normally don't provide. No such nepotism is possible for fraternity brothers as DKE, Chi Psi and TD cannot easily request money for their events through the AAS. And, further, it was a fraternity brother who was President of the Student Body when the College Council (a group he sits on as chief student representative) banned Psi U during our freshman year.

In sum, on that point, I would just say that it's a shame that candidates were judged by the groups they choose to socialize with rather than by their records of service on student government. Not to take anything away from Tania, and while I won't speak to my own record, Josh Mayer-- a fraternity member-- has invested hundreds of hours over the last three years trying to improve Amherst. I would wager that he has spent twice or three times as much time on these initiatives as he has spent actively participating in any fraternity events. His record of accomplishments was distinguished. This is not to say he was "owed" the Presidency as certainly, the student body has a right to decide that question for themselves. Yet, that his candidacy was reduced to his being a member of a fraternity is, in my opinion, a shame. A thoughtful conversation on the direction each of us wanted to take the AAS in was certainly a possible thing to have-- Cole Morgan's questions for us on Facebook show that these discussions even capture the interest of at least some students--yet instead, the race devolved into questions of gender and fraternities.

And, thank you for your final point. I'm glad that you took the time to read over my ideas, and I certainly intend to work with our next President to make them happen. Though, after the unfortunate series of events which has transpired, I'm not sure I will return to the Senate to do so.

Of course, if you would like to discuss any of these issues further, I would be happy to do so.



John B. (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/19/2012 - 02:19

Why didn't you clear up whether Josh told you the numbers? That definitely seemed political. And it would have made the JC come to a less ambiguous conclusion.

Alex (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/19/2012 - 14:45

I would really prefer not to rehash the scandal, but I will say that I made that decision after consulting with people involved with filing the complaint. They assured me that they had multiple individuals coming forward with enough evidence on that subject that the JC would be able to reach a conclusion without my testifying. This being the case, I felt that my position-- seeing as I was implicated in the events to begin with, a member of the same fraternity as the individuals Josh spuriously accused of wrong-doing on Monday night, and could have been said to have "politically benefitted" from Josh being disqualified-- would render my evidence suspect and only add to the disastrous spectacle of last week.