The Association of Amherst Students (AAS) unanimously voted to add a seat for a transfer student senator on Nov. 17. In an email to all students on Nov. 21, AAS released the amended constitution, which now provides for a 33rd senator.
Under the new amendment, the transfer senator will be elected by a vote of transfer students across class years. Transfer students will vote only for the transfer senator seat, rather than for their designated graduation year. However, they will still be allowed to run for one of their class year’s seats. There are currently 55 transfer students across all class years.
Eleven transfer students attended the AAS meeting at which the amendment was passed. All spoke in favor of the amendment, citing unique circumstances they have faced due to their transfer status. Anthony Phillips ’20, who transferred to Amherst from community college in 2017, gave a speech at the meeting about the unique experience of transfer students on campus.
Running for senate under the current configuration poses a plethora of difficulties for transfer students. For one, transfer students’ class year remains ambiguous. While transfer students are assigned a graduation year by the college, they are not considered a part of a class because classes are defined by a four-year Amherst career. They face a set of issues separate from those debated by their current AAS senators.
“I want students to understand that there are different kinds of life experiences on campus,” Phillips said.
Since transfer students do not have as much time as traditional students to get to know their classmates, they are at a disadvantage when trying to run for a senate seat with their designated graduation year.
Phillips has supported the amendment since it was proposed by senator James Hulsizer ’23, who attended another post-secondary institution before Amherst. Phillips met with a group of other transfer students to discuss the proposed amendment, and they collectively agreed that they would prefer to be represented in AAS by a transfer senator.
Ben Gilsdorf ’21, the AAS Elections Committee chair, submitted the proposal to the senate. Gilsdorf presented the idea of adding a transfer student seat last year but it did not pass.
This year, Gilsdorf partnered with Hulsizer to work on the proposal. Gilsdorf brought up the transfer student seat in a meeting earlier this year and faced questions about how the position would work, he said. Gilsdorf added that he and Hulsizer attempted to address most of those questions and concerns in their proposal.
“We wanted to give [transfer students] a very deliberate platform that they can argue from about the issues that affect them,” Gilsdorf said.
Due to the prior lack of transfer student representation on AAS, actions taken to benefit the entire college community may not have actually taken transfer students into consideration, Gilsdorf noted.
“Not having that perspective there means that we have left transfer students out of all the decision-making that the AAS has done,” Gilsdorf said. “Having that seat will make AAS more inclusive of all students.”
Phillips hopes that the transfer senator can increase the visibility of transfer students on campus. The larger student body doesn’t always realize that older transfer students are often mistaken for professors or custodial staff, or that on-campus opportunities, earmarked for particular class years, exclude transfer students, Phillips said.
Given that the majority of Amherst students range in age from 18 to 22, some transfer students are left wondering where they fit into the community.
Transfer students also face administrative challenges that most traditional students never have to consider. Due to their class year, transfer students’ eligibility for resources on campus is at times dubious; Phillips nearly missed out on the Mellon Mays fellowship — a program aimed at helping students of color pursue careers in academia — because he technically qualified as a junior and didn’t realize it.
Some transfer students also have to apply for an extra semester in order to finish their theses or other projects, which isn’t always granted.
Transfer students face a difficult choice when deciding whether to study abroad, because their time on campus is already shorter than most.
“I didn’t realize that a lot of my extra anxieties were also contingent upon my transfer identity,” Phillips said. “All my time was really condensed here, and I had to figure things out really quickly. It’s still intense.” He was ultimately granted an extra semester at Amherst, allowing him to study abroad in Spain.
“I am one of the lucky few,” he said. Phillips plans to run for the transfer senator seat when the election is announced.