Karen Blake ’17 Elected AAS President
Issue   |   Tue, 04/12/2016 - 23:56

Karen Blake ’17 was elected Association of Amherst Students president in a race against Heru Craig ’17E on April 7. Olivia Pinney ’17 was also running for president but pulled out of the race before the elections.

Chico Kosber ’17 was elected vice president, with little over a two-percent margin over Paul Gramieri ’17. Aditi Krishnamurthy ’18 was elected treasurer, Silvia Sotolongo ’19 became secretary and Felix Edwards ’18 was elected chair of the judiciary council.

Blake said that she created her platform after thinking about her work both in and out of student government. She has served as a senator for the past three years.

“A big part [of being president] goes beyond just senate — it’s about how we can interact with the student body in a productive way, and I just felt like that was something I was offering,” Blake said. “Right now we are in a huge transitionary period in terms of social life and community on campus, and I didn’t really feel like anyone had concrete goals or action plans to fix that.”

Blake campaigned on four main goals: creating a more proactive senate, building community, supporting students and reforming academics. Her first goal is to implement presidential drop-in hours to hear students’ concerns. She also plans to start a dorm senator program in which senators would be paired to specific dorms and would attend tea times once a month to solicit feedback and to keep residents updated with Senate business. She also plans to begin Senate mixers that will be held twice a year to facilitate Senator and at-large student interaction.

Blake’s plans to facilitate community building include re-evaluating branches, promoting school spirit and instituting a campus-wide tea time.

“I want to critically analyze [Branches] and see if they are actually helping create a larger sense of community on campus,” Blake said. “It doesn’t make sense to me to make smaller groups and a more clique-y campus culture, so I want to critically evaluate that and see if that’s something we want to continue in the future and if that’s even feasible.”

Blake noted that Amherst students excel at a number of extracurricular activities and said that senate could have a role in promoting attendance of student events. “That is what we should be rallying around,” Blake said.

The campus-wide tea time would occur monthly in a time-slot freed from all other student events. “I’m an RC, so I believe in tea times. They work.” Blake said.

Under Blake’s “Supporting Students” initiative, she proposed consolidating resources and having senators work more directly with students on their senate projects and instituting monthly AAS meetings with resource centers that focus on supporting students.

“Student voices are very powerful if they are in large enough numbers,” Blake said. “Too often, students get discouraged or burnt out working on their individual activism or projects because they keep running into this bureaucracy and not being able to push past it while you are also trying to be a student. It would be nice if you could share that burden between students and senators, and then more things will get changed.”

The last pillar of Blake’s platform consists of “Academic Reform,” which includes collaborating with the student body to push for less work over breaks and implementing a mentorship program within majors.

“It would be nice if you were a new major, you could be paired up with a junior or a senior to give advice,” Blake said. She noted that this would expand the community within each major as well as getting students of different years to interact more.

Reflecting on his defeat, Craig said that the presidential race gave him a different perspective on the work he has done as a member of student and faculty committees and as an activist on campus.

“Winning the presidency would have been one way to effect change,” he said. “Honestly, it would have been the more frustrating way, because that’s not my style, but I would have done it. What this means to me is that the work I’ve done is toward a goal that is larger than the presidency. I’ve been working to try and make our community a healthy place and embody a real sense of community.”

During his campaign, Craig met with the leaders of affinity groups and resource centers around campus to listen for improvements that he could make if elected.

“Those meetings left me a bit disillusioned, because a lot of people meant well, but I saw some really problematic stuff that I think points to some deep issues on our campus,” he said.

Craig said that in the days prior to the vote, he felt that those problems were too deep to be handled by only the student government.

“Some of the problems that I see now are that students are not aware, in my opinion, of the gap between the amount of power they have and the responsibility they’re taking for that power,” he said. “I now believe that the biggest barrier to institutional change here is the student body and the AAS are one of the institutions that creates problematic structures among the students.”

Pinney announced that she would withdraw from the race during the candidate speech night, and voiced her own concerns about the AAS on the Facebook page for her campaign.

“I believe that the AAS is a flawed body and that its distribution of power does not effectively empower students on this campus in the way that it could,” she wrote. “I envision a successful AAS as being a smaller advisory body that works with outside communities of student activists rather than operating among themselves.”

Blake said she thought that all candidates largely agreed on the need to make significant improvements to AAS.

Blake said, if she had to pick one problem next year to focus on, she would work to change how the student body and senate interact. Her goal is to make senate more efficient, proactive, visible and accountable.

“You need that first, before anything can be fixed,” Blake said. “I think it’s a process, it’s going to be hard, but we also have a year. That’s a pretty long time to change how senate is right now.”