The Amherst Student recieves funding from the Association of Amherst Students for its operations.
With a flurry of new posters, candidate speeches and social media posts, the months of April and September are traditionally election seasons here at Amherst. In high school, running for class president was little more than a popularity contest, and the winners were little more than figureheads for the duration of the year. The AAS, however, is more than just a superficial organization. Unlike high school student government, its job is to allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for the student body, to improve the lives of students on campus and to represent the diverse interests of more than 1,800 students at Amherst.
Unfortunately, this rosy vision of the AAS is nowhere close to reality. For an organization that has such monumental power in terms of funding, it is clear that this funding is only being taken advantage of by clubs and a few individuals who know about the committee’s complicated funding policies. Furthermore, the vast majority of people who can take advantage of funding do not show up to public meetings. The discretionary fund, which every student contributes to, is only going to a select few. Meanwhile, the Budgetary Committee and the AAS makes no considerable effort to remedy this problem. While the AAS does have more power than high school student government, the two organizations shared one thing in common: a considerable sense of apathy.
A mere observation of Budgetary Committee meetings shows that only a select subset of students know how to reach out and take advantage of the funding process. The AAS is allocated more than $1.2 million dollars a year, paid for by the more than 1,800 students who attend Amherst, and yet the only students who benefit from this funding are the ones who can take advantage of its rules. For those who understand how the funding rules work, the discretionary fund is essentially a free-for-all, but for those who don’t, it is an inaccessible pot of gold just out of reach.
At one point, a student requested $1,500 for a concert honorarium, which the committee naturally funded. The committee was told that the concert would be well attended and that the concert would benefit the student body at large. However, the Budgetary Committee later discovered that, due to unethical behavior on the student’s part, the only attendees at the concert included the student himself and a few friends, making it an entirely private affair. Although the funding was meant for everyone, the AAS had essentially bankrolled this student’s private concert. As an elected body, the Budgetary Committee’s job is to make sure that our discretionary funding is distributed equitably and responsibly. As seen in this example, the committee has ultimately failed to do its job.
The problem of accessibility can be blamed on both Budgetary Committee, Senate at large and the members of the student body. In the last few years, neither Senate nor the BC has made efforts to further publicize its rules or to make sure that students on campus understand how funding works. As representatives of the whole student body, the AAS and the Budgetary Committee need to work harder to make sure that students understand the fundamentals of funding on campus. Even a meeting at the beginning of the year to demystify the funding process and to explain the convoluted budgetary rules for students would go a long way to increase awareness and decrease apathy. It’s time for the AAS to realize that a mere website with a laundry list of funding rules isn’t enough to increase awareness. More must be done to remedy this issue, or we will continue the harmful cycle of apathy that currently plagues the student body.
The AAS budget, however, is designed for all students, not just for those who understand the rules. The student body here at Amherst only has a responsibility to learn how to use the discretionary funding for their events. Students at Amherst are taught to take advantage of every resource available to them, and the AAS discretionary funding is no exception to this rule. Everyone ultimately benefits from events on campus.
We encourage every student to reach out to their senators and ask them about funding rules. Every student should attend at least one Budgetary Committee meeting to demystify the funding process. Every student should hold their senators accountable for the funding decisions made by the AAS. Every senator has a duty to make sure that their constituents understand how funding works. After all, each of us contributes money to the discretionary fund. So then, why not benefit us all?