I am writing to you as President of the Student Body. I hope this message finds you well.
Last Wednesday (11/28) the AAS sent out a non-binding poll soliciting student opinion on the Keefe Campus Center proposal. The poll asked if students were in favor of the proposed plan, and whether students supported the re-location of the game room (to the second floor) to make space for the MRC on the 1st floor.
Although around only 30 percent of students voted on the poll, around two-thirds of respondents disagreed both on the current proposal and specifically, that the MRC re-locate the Game room to the second floor. As President, I have tried my best to advocate for student representation on all the issues that have come up this semester. However, regardless of how flawed, comprehensive or indicative the poll was of student sentiment, I cannot, in my good conscience, advocate for its results to have absolute weight on how the administration proceeds.
The MRC was founded five years ago in response to the overwhelming demand of the Amherst student body at the time. The AAS, in a gesture of good faith, gave up its own student space in Keefe, so that the MRC would have a temporary home. It was agreed that that the MRC would soon move to an adequate place on campus. Over the years, despite Amherst’s commitment to diversity (as evidenced by our impressively inclusive admissions process), the MRC remained in the basement, chronically underfunded and insufficiently supported by the school.
Most of our peer institutions have freestanding, fully-funded buildings whose objectives are to study, educate and support equal opportunity in their respective college communities. If Amherst values diversity of backgrounds, experiences and thought, then it must actively guide dialogue and understanding of the difficulties that arise from such environments. Moving the MRC to the first floor would be a powerful step forward in ensuring and truly committing to making everyone on our campus feel welcome and safe.
Having a highly successful and effective MRC is of vital service to all of us. The MRC would not only support students from marginalized, minority backgrounds, but it would educate and promote discussion on topics such as socioeconomic and racial issues, gender bias, religious affinities and social stereotypes. This semester has shown us that if we are to create a sustainable and inclusive community, we need to be proactively addressing these questions. The visibility of an MRC will only increase the likelihood of making those goals a reality. Its events will occupy a physical and psychological prominence in our student consciousness and life.
As President, I have the deepest respect for student voice and input. It is my obligation to support and advance what students want. However, it is also my job to stand up for what I think is ultimately in the tangible best interest of students. Given Keefe’s current spatial limitations, I think the 1st floor MRC would be our best temporary solution. Putting the MRC on the second floor, although an improvement from the basement, is the second best solution. As students, we have far more to gain from a highly visible and accessible MRC than we have to gain from a highly visible game room. The MRC can only benefit from the visibility, while the game room does not need it.
I will be making several recommendations to President Martin. These recommendations are my own and do not represent the AAS senate. I also know that some of you are working on parallel demands concerning the MRC and the Women’s Center. My aim is not to overshadow or replace these, but to provide a mediating framework to the current situation.
I will recommend that:
-The MRC be relocated to the first floor. Although the decision should be made soon, any actual moves regarding the MRC and game room should not happen before the summer.
-The school should commit to using this coming semester to understand what our community needs and wants from an MRC and Women’s Center. Although students should work closely with the administration on these plans, ultimate direction and push must come from the institution.
-If the game room is relocated to the second floor, the school should try its best look into ways of expanding and increasing the number of game amenities throughout Keefe.
-These moves should be understood as short-term solutions and compromises. The school should make it a priority to have a freestanding Center of Equal Opportunity (or something along this line) and a new Student Center in the next three-five years time.
-Keefe should get a redecorative revamping during Interterm, as to temporarily address its current inadequacies. This should include opening up the second floor and the basement, to maximize the utility of Keefe and working closely with the student body to see what specific changes we wish to see.
I understand that many students may disagree with my position on this issue. However, as President, I must ultimately advocate for what I think is in the best interest of all students. I firmly believe that the gains we will see from having a prominent, visible and effective MRC incomparably outweigh the relocation of the game room to the second floor.
Please feel free to contact me with questions, concerns and comments. Thank you and best of luck with your upcoming exams.
Tania de Sousa Dias ‘13