With the aim of diversifying the organization’s membership, the Amherst College Emergency Medical Services (ACEMS) has made a number of changes to its recruitment and application process this semester.
The changes — which include expanded advertising and a reworking of the application — intend to increase the visibility of ACEMS and dispel common assumptions about who can join the squad, in order to encourage more applications from students with underrepresented racial and ethnic identities, as well as students with academic and career interests less commonly seen in the squad.
ACEMS is a student-run and student-staffed volunteer organization that provides 24/7 basic life support in response to medical emergencies on campus. Students join by completing an EMT certification course and then trying out for the squad.
While students can obtain their certification from any certified institution, most students who join ACEMS participate in the EMT course that ACEMS holds each year in January, the costs of which are entirely covered by the college. As the course is limited to 30 spots, students are selected by an application and interview process for the course.
Applications are currently open for the January 2023 course, and ACEMS has redoubled its efforts to advertise the course and increase its visibility among potential applicants, particularly students from underrepresented demographics. This has included putting up informational posters across the first-year quad and around campus, including in all the resource centers in Keefe Campus Center.
The organization also reached out to the academic department coordinators of several humanities and social science departments — majors that are underrepresented in ACEMS — asking them to advertise the application.
In an interview with The Student, ACEMS Co-Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Anurima Chattopadhyay ’24 explained that, previously, most students heard about ACEMS through word of mouth.
“[F]or students who are incoming and maybe don’t have any connections to upperclassmen, or haven’t seen an ACEMS call happen before, there’s not really a way for them to know about ACEMS other than people screaming ‘Call ACEMS’ at orientation,” said Chattopadhyay. “So [this is about] making sure that we’re a visible presence on campus.”
ACEMS has also changed some of its application questions. Chattopadhyay noted that some questions on the previous application could make it seem like a student needed to have past medical experience to be on the squad, which is not the case.
Working with Dina Levi, the college’s director of workforce equity and inclusive leadership, ACEMS has also reworked certain application questions and interview criteria in an attempt to eliminate possible bias against applicants with less interview experience or who are from different cultural backgrounds.
Additionally, all ACEMS members who will be reading applications and conducting interviews will be completing an inclusive hiring practices training with Levi beforehand.
Promoting diversity on the squad is particularly important because of the ways that a person’s identity influences the care they provide, said ACEMS Co-Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Elizabeth Zhang ’24.
“[G]iven that we hold the position of being healthcare providers, and that that’s a position of power — one where your identity can often influence the types of decisions that you make — we want people on the squad to really represent the people on campus,” she said.
Chattopadhyay added that having representation on the squad is important for maintaining community trust in ACEMS.
“[T]hese are the people that you’re going to call when you’re in a medical emergency,” she said. “We don’t want people thinking of calling ACEMS being like, ‘Oh, what if the person who shows up doesn’t understand what I’m going through, or isn’t fully aware of this and that?’”
The diversification strategies that ACEMS is employing this year are motivated by patterns in the demographic data that Chattopadhyay and Zhang collected on last year’s applicants and selected class.
“What we’ve seen from that is that our applicant pool sort of reflects the group of people that we end up accepting, and that the skewed demographics that we’re seeing exist [in] both the applicant pool [and] the group of people that we accept,” said Zhang.
In other words, the racial and ethnic breakdowns of the applicant pool and of the selected class were the same, explained Chattopadhyay. “That tells us that it’s not that there are students who are being denied interviews or denied places in the class based on their racial identity — it’s that we aren’t advertising to enough groups on campus,” she said.
ACEMS Director of Recruitment Liam Arce ’24 added that certain common assumptions about who can and cannot join the club — in particular, that only pre-med or STEM majors can join — can contribute to the underrepresentation of certain identities.
“We find that the whole idea of only pre-meds being on ACEMS … tends to go hand in hand with certain demographics being more prevalent in the applicant pool,” he said. “We tried to make clear that, whether someone is pre-med or not, it really makes no difference to us.”
Chattopadhyay and Zhang emphasized that the desire to recruit beyond STEM majors or people interested in careers in healthcare also comes from their belief that the experience of being on ACEMS can be valuable for people of all academic and career interests.
“I think the majority of the benefits that our organization offers on campus is being that sort of support system for people who are in times of distress and in emergency situations,” said Zhang. “[Those] can often be very high-stress and very sensitive times, and having the capacity to offer support for people in that time is, I think, a much huger piece of our work than just the baseline medical skills.”
Zhang noted that she herself is not interested in pursuing a healthcare career, but has found the ACEMS experience “hugely gratifying and humbling.”
“I have learned so much about being a team player and being empathetic and very cognizant of the struggles of people around me,” she said.
As the application deadline is not until this Sunday, Oct. 2, it remains to be seen how effective the new recruitment efforts will be.
“We did get a couple people who have reached out to us after having seen our posters that we’ve put around campus, so that was really exciting to know that those were reaching people and … in some small way, shifting perceptions or leading to increased accessibility,” said Zhang. “But as our applications have not been due yet, I guess we have yet to see what the full impacts are.”