AAS President Strives For Transparency
Issue   |   Fri, 05/18/2018 - 11:25
Photo courtesy of Aditi Krishnamurthy '18
Krishnamurthy led the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) through a year of hardship but never once let that weigh her down.

Summing up an entire four years at one place is a difficult endeavor. However, in some cases, one word can easily encapsulate an entire experience. For Aditi Krishnamurthy ’18, that word is simple: unexpected.

Krishnamurthy will graduate as a double major in chemistry and French, while also having served as president of the Association of Amherst Students (AAS), treasurer of AAS and a senator, all while pursuing a career in the finance industry. It is this curiosity and adventurous spirit that has come to define her time at Amherst, for there was never something she wouldn’t try at least once or a challenge too difficult to pursue.

Embracing the Unexpected
From her earliest days on Amherst’s campus, the unexpected was everywhere. Arriving from India without ever having seen or experienced the place that she would call home for the next four years was a nerve-wracking experience that left Krishnamurthy searching for something that would define her.
One of the things that gave definition in those first days was meeting her best friend, Christina Bourne ’18, during First-Year Orientation.

“Becoming friends with Christina was so important to my time here because we are very similar but obviously come from completely different places,” Krishnamurthy said. “She was born and bred in Chicago, but over the course of freshman year we spent a lot of time together and found that we had so much in common. And that did set the tone for me at Amherst because it opened my eyes to the fact that I could be so much alike with someone who has a completely different background from me.”

It was this openness to others and new experiences, coupled with a willingness to change direction and pursue her passions, that would come to define Krishnamurthy. As Bourne said, “I’ve always been impressed by her intelligence and her confidence in her intelligence … She is unapologetic about her drive, which is uncommon for women on this campus, and [that] was something that really drew me to her as an individual and friend.”

Intellectual Curiosity
That first year also saw Krishnamurthy begin on the path towards what would eventually become her major, chemistry, working in the lab of Professor Elizabeth Young. Her first project in the lab centered on the long-term goal of creating a paint that could be used to produce energy. “I worked on a lot of things in Professor Young’s lab, including a bunch of things in a glove box, which is an inert environment, in Merrill, which basically means you have to stick your hands in these giant gloves and do all of these precise experiments inside,” Krishnamurthy explained.

Despite this sudden and often overwhelming introduction to high-level chemistry, it was here that she made her first change in plans. “One of the things that I learned throughout that first year in Professor Young’s lab was that I did not want to pursue chemistry long-term, which was a very valuable thing to learn at that point!” she said.

Her thoughtfulness and willingness to make changes that others would not allowed Krishnamurthy to face new challenges. “Understanding what I was actually interested in versus what I had convinced myself I should be doing with my life was a big moment,” she said.

Alongside this intense immersion in chemistry, Krishnamurthy pursued one of her other interests: French. Her passion for the subject stemmed from her youth, when she had to learn three languages simultaneously, but found French to be the most fulfilling.

“I’ve always just loved French,” she said. “When I moved to India, after a certain time, I had to pick between learning Hindi and French. In Hindi it felt as if I was just banging my head against a wall, but I loved learning French, and I just stuck with it. It opened a whole new world of books I could read and films I could watch. To have this whole other world that felt like my own was amazing.”

This intellectual curiosity served Krishnamurthy well in her pursuit of two diametrically-opposed subjects. “French has been my outlet. Even if class if boring, I can just sit there and enjoy the language,” she said.

Finding Finance
Over the summer between her sophomore and junior years, Krishnamurthy, disenchanted with chemistry, decided to find something completely new and different to try, and looked towards finance as a way to change her perspective. “I feel like the job is something that, in a weird way, came to me,” Krishnamurthy said. “I didn’t go out looking for it, and it’s the fact that I had a couple of goofy answers that connected chemistry to finance and [Wells Fargo] gave me an opportunity and then I interned there twice. I met people there who reminded me of the people I’ve met and been friends with and realizing that I enjoyed the job and growing within the position to learn things that I couldn’t have learned at Amherst.”

However, even with this newly-discovered affinity for finance, Krishnamurthy didn’t completely abandon her previous paths. “I made the decision that I was not going to change my major, largely because I enjoyed the challenge of chemistry,” she explained. “It was not something that came or comes easily to me, and it was definitely something that I have had to try at, a lot. And that was good; it taught me so much in terms of just sitting down for four hours and then being proud of what you’ve produced.”

This perhaps reveals the most about Krishnamurthy’s character. In the face of daunting moments, moments that would otherwise seem insurmountable, her willingness to simplify and solve problems has made her stand out at Amherst. Coming to Western Massachusetts from high school with a plan to study chemistry, only to find out that was not the path she wanted, forced Krishnamurthy to open her horizons and find something that truly appealed to her enthusiasm for taking intellectual and interpersonal risks.

Serving Amherst
Rising out of this predicament, Krishnamurthy unexpectedly decided to run for AAS senator for the class of 2018 as a rising sophomore. Krishnamurthy soon grew to love the process and institutions that made up the student government, claiming “[AAS] helped develop within me an attitude of wanting to help people figure things out.”

After a year as senator, Krishnamurthy was elected to serve as treasurer of AAS, which meant that she was responsible for dispensing AAS’ funds to the clubs and student organizations that requested money for the school year. A key part of Krishnamurthy’s time as treasurer was spent putting more emphasis on transparency, which she sought to improve.

“As treasurer, I held office hours, where anyone who had something they wanted to ask me or to talk about their budget could come discuss,” she noted. “Although people rarely came, it was something that I think was important because it showed that AAS was really trying to be there for the students, rather than being the government of the students.”

In the end, the decision to run for president was like many of her other major events at Amherst, unexpected and an intellectual risk. As Krishnamurthy tells it, “in a way, it was unconscious. It just happened, and one day I found myself running for president.”

“The presidency itself was challenging,” she said. “The general theme was, for me, rebuilding AAS as an institution that students could trust and come to, and another was working with the class deans more, because they’re an underutilized resource in terms of building community.”

However, Krishnamurthy was faced, as many student leaders are, with the inevitable sclerosis of an institution reticent to change and unwilling to relinquish some of its authority to the students. “The stuff that happened at Crossett Christmas and the way the school started responding … with little or no consultation with us was challenging,” Krishnamurthy said.

At the same time, many in the student body pushed back against the AAS. Krishnamurthy described how “it was hard trying to convince some students that we don’t report to the administration. We have our own bank accounts that aren’t tied to the school at all, but in order to get things done at the school, you can’t just throw a coup — you have to work with people.”

Faced with a stubborn administration and a skeptical student body, Krishnamurthy said these were the most trying moments of her presidency. “It’s hard because sometimes the administration here doesn’t respect student government in the way it should. I had a meeting with Dean [Suzanne] Coffey when we were planning the town hall, and I did my best to remain in contact with her so that, at the very least, they always knew that there was someone watching them.”

A Lasting Legacy
While Krishnamurthy herself expresses skepticism over the impact of her administration, she has earned the respect of both administrators and students for her leadership and command of both the collaborative and managerial aspects of her job.

Director of Student Activities Paul Gallegos, who worked closely with Krishnamurthy when she was AAS treasurer and president, said: “she was able to deftly work through inefficiencies and grow the influence of student government in tremendous ways. What was most impressive about her work was that everything she ventured toward was carried out in a collaborative and compassionate manner for everyone involved.”

Krishnamurthy leaves Amherst as a member of a class that has seen a sea of change in the way that Amherst views itself, its responsibilities and its history, and as a leader who has guided and shaped this very same transition. What she leaves behind is not necessarily a legacy of physical change or grand campus movements, but the perhaps more important understanding that the history and legacy of an institution are constantly shaped by those who are there to push for such changes.

“The day I graduate, I’m going to have a lot to think on, because I’ve gotten to see these two sides of Amherst. It’s been such a learning experience to be here,” she said.