AAS Aims To Leave Behind Turmoil, Focus on Future Projects

Following the turmoil of the fall semester, The Student spoke with senators and E-board members alike to learn what their hopes are for the coming months, and what efforts they are taking to right the course of student governance at the college.

AAS Aims To Leave Behind Turmoil, Focus on Future Projects
The AAS held its first meeting of the semester on Jan. 30. Photo courtesy of Erin Williams 26.

“Last semester really gave me a sense of how startling it is to be a member of an organization that’s fallen into disarray,” said Association of Amherst Students (AAS) Senator Zane Khiry ’25.

The senator’s comment comes in the wake of a one-month stretch, at the end of the last term, of disruptions to the student government’s usual activities: a budget crisis, the resignation of the AAS vice president, and special election issues, all culminating in early December in the impeachment trial of AAS President Sirus Wheaton ’23 — the first in recorded AAS history.

Nevertheless, Khiry said he is “more hopeful than ever for the upcoming semester.”

In addition to Khiry, many other members of AAS view the new semester as a chance to move past the turmoil of last semester. This week, The Student spoke with senators and E-board members alike to learn what efforts they are taking to right the course of student governance at the college, particularly on an individual level through their senate projects, which Senator Hedley Lawrence-Apfelbaum ’26 described as one of the best ways members can “get specific things done” without facing procedural obstacles. These projects address a range of community concerns — from a perceived disconnect between the student body and the Board of Trustees, to the college’s role in racial justice in the town of Amherst — but are all guided by a vision of a more effective and representative student government.

President Sirus Wheaton ’23

Wheaton’s main focus throughout the past semester has been working with the town of Amherst’s African Heritage Reparations Assembly. With Amherst Councilwoman Michele Miller, co-founder of the grassroots organization Reparations for Amherst, Wheaton has tried to figure out ways the college can contribute to the town’s reparations work.

“Black students represent a third of the total Black population in [the town of] Amherst,” he said. “It was important to me to indicate that we, as a student body, want to contribute to this fund.”

One way Wheaton envisions the college’s involvement with Reparations for Amherst is an increase in the student activities fee, the $300 included in the college’s comprehensive fee that all students pay toward the AAS’ funding of Registered Student Organizations.

Wheaton’s plan was inspired by the GU272 organization, which was founded by the descendants of 272 enslaved peoples sold by Georgetown University in 1838 to save the university from bankruptcy. The organization asked Georgetown students to raise their tuition by $27.20 each semester, with the hope that the funds would be allocated toward reparations efforts.

Another in-the-works project of Wheaton’s is his effort to extend the hours of Frost Library and Keefe Health Center, and ensuring that health center information remains up-to-date so that its services are made more accessible to students.

“There are options that are free at the health center that [the health center] doesn’t really communicate,” Wheaton said. “One thing that I really suggest they do is just change the signage, the voicemail — really simple stuff.”

On a personal level, Wheaton’s goal is to “not get impeached” during his last semester as AAS president.

Claire Beougher ’26

At the start of this term, Beougher created the Committee on Public Relations, which aims to increase student-body engagement with the AAS and transparency about the goings-on of the Senate.

“A lot of the questions [senators] get are just the bare-bones, like, ‘What does the AAS do?’” she said. “[The AAS] has kind of lost touch with the community that it is meant to serve.”

This semester, Beougher hopes to kick off the committee by sending out a regular newsletter to the student body containing brief descriptions of current Senate projects or other AAS initiatives. Additionally, a digital suggestion box will be included in the newsletter for the larger student body to submit their questions, concerns, or ideas.

Part of the Committee on Public Relations’ responsibility will be to parse these suggestions and determine which ones are relevant and valid, Beougher said. These can also act as starting points for the formation of new, additional committees to address student concerns.

According to Beougher, the AAS is also working to reinstate regular Senate office hours. While the hope is that some issues with student engagement with the AAS would be improved by the digital suggestion box, Beougher said that there have been talks within the AAS about how to make office hours more accessible to students, as they previously saw low student engagement and thus were “not really beneficial.”

For Beougher, the “spectacle” of last semester’s impeachment trial showed students the “dysfunction” within AAS firsthand. For many students, she believes, the trial was the first time they had engaged with the AAS at all.

“If anything, [the trial] reminded us why we need to be better and who we’re trying to be better for,” she said. “I really want the Senate to have a much more active role in the community and for more people to know about it, be engaged with it, and to trust it.”

Shane Dillon ’26

At the end of last semester, the AAS voted to pass Dillon’s proposal for a Student-Board of Trustees Relations Committee. The overall goal of the committee is to increase transparency between the Board of Trustees and the campus community at large.

The committee’s creation was the result of a discussion between the board and senators about the possibility of adding a student representative to the Board of Trustees, an idea to which the board was resistant. Dillon created the committee proposal as a compromise — it aims to facilitate communication between students and trustees.

According to Dillon, the committee would be composed of three senators and three members of the general student body who would meet with select members of the board after each board meeting to share minutes, exchange agendas, and provide general updates. Afterward, the committee’s responsibility would be to communicate updates from the board to the greater student body.

“The other responsibility of the committee would be to research models of student reps at other institutions to eventually seat a student,” said Dillon. “One [Board] member did say ‘I believe it will eventually happen, so let's start here.’”

Hedley Lawrence-Apfelbaum ’26

Lawrence-Apfelbaum’s main focus for the spring semester is creating a centralized platform on which professors and students can upload syllabi for classes to aid students registering for or shopping certain courses. To go through multiple channels to access a course syllabus, said Lawrence-Apfelbaum, is a “needlessly burdensome task” that he hopes to amend by next fall.

For Lawrence-Apfelbaum, rebuilding the senate after the “drama” of last term depends on gaining the trust of the student body.

“[Drama] doesn’t benefit anyone,” he said. “[The AAS is] not meant to provide entertainment — we should just really be there to get stuff done. So trust is another big goal.”

As a freshman senator, Lawrence-Apfelbaum experienced what business-as-usual looked like in the AAS “for a few weeks” before it “devolved into a very personal, political sort of environment.”

What’s important this semester, he said, is that Wheaton push ahead with the initiatives for which he’d been “laying the groundwork” before the impeachment trial took priority over personal projects.

“Sirus did important work in bringing [the reparations initiative] to our attention,” he said. “Whatever we can do to help that is very important.”

Ayres Warren ’26

Like Wheaton, Warren also aspires to make Keefe Health Center’s services more accessible to students. Specifically, she expressed her hope that its hours could be extended “in order to accommodate everyone being back on campus.”

In the near future, Warren said that she would like to update the health center’s website to include information on the health services that the college shares with UMass Amherst.

Zane Khiry ’25

Khiry’s senate project centers around hosting a Social Impact Career Fair in March along with Senator Mollie Hartenstein ’23; with plans to host alumni in social-impact fields on campus in the spring, their goal is to increase awareness among current students about these professions.

More generally, Khiry, citing his belief that members of the AAS “have all been working to learn from our mistakes,” hopes that the new semester will bring a “return to normalcy,” and that a collective effort from the AAS to be more transparent with the student body would restore the Senate’s legitimacy.