The vice-president of the Association of Amherst Students (AAS), Jaden Richards ’25, resigned from his office at this Monday’s AAS meeting, citing discontent with his relationship to AAS President Sirus Wheaton ’23, as well as frustration with the “tense and uncomfortable” atmosphere of recent Senate meetings.
A special election for another vice-president will be held on Dec. 1, as announced in an email sent by the AAS Elections Committee to the student body on Monday night. Until then, Chair of the Judiciary Committee Alexandre Jabor ’23 will preside over the AAS’ weekly Monday meetings. The rest of the executive officers will share the vice president’s other responsibilities.
In a prepared statement delivered at the beginning of Monday’s meeting, Richards expressed his dissatisfaction with his time as vice-president. He said he had been forced to take on the role of the president’s office in addition to his own vice-presidential duties. Richards’ resentment was furthered, he said, because he was “cut out of important decisions because [Wheaton] was technically [his] superior.”
Richards also cited the dysfunction of AAS as a reason for his resignation. In particular, he was frustrated with AAS’ excessive spending, unrealistic solutions to problems, and the circular nature of Senate debates. He began to feel “helpless” in his capacity to lead the AAS productively, which is in part what led him to resign.
Richards went on to say that he felt that his attempts to deal with AAS’ dysfunction could not be reconciled with Wheaton’s style of leadership. “While [Wheaton] was happy to exercise the privileges of his office, I don’t know that he’s doing anything else, frankly,” he said.
“I’ve been very unhappy these last couple of months,” Richards concluded in his statement. “And I’ve come to dread sitting in this chair.” Following his statement, Richards left the Red Room, and Jabor took over control for the duration of the meeting.
In an interview with The Student, Wheaton said that Richards’ statement was “not an accurate portrayal of the way [they] shared the load.” He added that he views the vice-president’s responsibilities as centered on handling day-to-day business, while the president serves as the ambassador of the AAS to the administration. In his opinion, there is not much overlap between the two roles. He believes that both he and Richards fulfilled the duties of their offices as defined by the AAS constitution.
Wheaton suggested that part of Richards’ discontent stemmed from the fact that he took on responsibilities outside the purview of his office. Wheaton said that Richards tried “to be super proactive and a really great vice-president,” adding that he believes that these efforts led to Richards’ over-exertion and ultimate burnout.
He also put forth the possibility that Richards’ discontent with the job of vice-president was due to his being the only sophomore on the e-board, while all other members are upperclassmen. Wheaton suggested that Richards may have been trying to prove himself up to the task despite his lower class year, and that Richards’ onboarding process could have been made smoother in light of this fact. This dynamic had not occurred to him before, though, because he thought of Richards as “such a competent person.”
In interviews with The Student, Wheaton and Richards both noted that the friction between them was at least in part due to their differing communication styles.
Richards noted that this manifested in the way he chose to moderate the AAS meetings, saying that the role of the e-board was to create a sense of organization and purposeful direction that he felt has been lacking. “I was stepping out and doing more than the role required because I felt like it was necessary to put some order in the place,” Richards said. “It was up to [Wheaton] whether he wanted to join me in that.”
Conversely, Wheaton said his philosophy is that of the “invisible hand.” He envisions an e-board that allows the Senate to determine its own course without exerting too much control. He felt that Richards’ moderation of the AAS meetings limited the conversation and did not allow all voices to be heard.
Richards also expressed concerns about Wheaton’s lack of transparency to the rest of the e-board, especially about his meetings with members of the administration. In general, he was frustrated by Wheaton’s passivity when it came to communication, claiming that the pair had only spoken one on one a few times. “I can’t work with someone who has no inclination to work with me,” he said in his statement to the AAS.
Wheaton maintained that he “does not need to relay every conversation he has with administrators” to the e-board. He also said that his meetings with administrators were often personal in nature and not relevant to the business of running AAS. Communication, he added, “is a two-way street.” He felt that Richards was not interested in talking to him.
Nonetheless, while conceding that he and Richards “are not friends,” Wheaton insisted that he had been satisfied with their partnership. “People don’t have to get along to work together,” he said.
“The disagreement is in how we saw the running of [the] Senate,” added Wheaton. “And I think those things did strain our relationship. I think he did take it very personally.”
Beyond his relationship with Wheaton, Richards was also upset by the increasingly unkind nature of AAS discussions, especially in the aftermath of The Contra’s article “In Defense of Hamas,” which provoked contentious debate during the AAS’ meetings of Oct. 24 and Oct. 31. He described these conversations as “tense and uncomfortable,” and said that he had difficulty maintaining decorum during the meeting. He wishes that senators with differing opinions on the article had expressed more empathy toward one another, rather than disregarding the opinions of fellow senators.
When the Senate was reviewing the minutes of the Oct. 24 meeting for approval at the Oct. 31 meeting, one senator suggested editing one of Wheaton’s statements, claiming that Wheaton had said that most Black students are athletes, and that this had been left unrecorded. The comment was said to have been made when Wheaton was explaining that Contra articles published before “In Defense of Hamas” had targeted students of color, with Wheaton allegedly stating that The Contra’s article in favor of abolishing athletics was harmful towards Black students.
According to the minutes of the Oct. 31 meeting, Wheaton “said that the suggestion [the senator] had made was a racist statement and not what he said. He said that he had explained why he thought an article was offensive to students of color, and not that students of color were predominantly athletes.”
Richards was distressed by Wheaton having “gaslit” the senator who made the changes by denying his statement and having made “accusations of racism … to silence” her. Richards said he “felt incapable of working with an individual who acts like that so brazenly.”
Wheaton remained steadfast in his claim that the suggested edits did not reflect the intention or meaning of his statement. In addition, he told The Student that he had not called the senator a racist, but had called her characterization of his comment racist.
Richards said that when he had stopped one senator from interrupting another, he was “publicly reprimanded” by Wheaton. Richards explained that he was extremely offended at being told he was doing his job wrong by “someone who has never done his [own job].” He added, “Disrespect is one of the few things I cannot tolerate.”
Referencing the same incident, Wheaton said he perceived an “incredibly misogynistic tone” in the way that Richards had “yelled at” the senator. “I think there’s no reason anyone in [the] Senate should ever have that tone with anyone,” he added. He felt that it was critical that he address Richards publicly to ensure that everyone present knew that “to talk down to a woman like that” was unacceptable. He said that he did not “disrespect” Richards or “challeng[e] his authority.”
Wheaton expressed his sincere regret that Richards had been driven to resign. He called him “very passionate” and “dedicated,” adding that he “hold[s] no ill will” and “wish[es] [Richards] luck in whatever he does.” Both Wheaton and Richards conceded that they should have handled certain aspects of their respective roles differently.
Richards told The Student that he hopes the next vice-president “feels like they are part of a team, that they’re working towards a purpose and that they can achieve that purpose.”
Wheaton hopes that delineating the distinct roles of the president and vice-president more clearly will help him have a better relationship with whoever takes Richards’ place.
Candidate statements for the upcoming vice-president elections are due to the AAS Elections Committee by Nov. 19. Speech Night will take place at Johnson Chapel on Nov. 30, and voting will take place the following day.