Democracy at Amherst

Democracy is alive at Amherst College, but barely.

Many students on campus have been following the presidential primary race religiously. But few students have any idea what is going on with Amherst’s own student government.

There is no point to having a democratic system if the people it aims to serve do not actively involve themselves in carrying out its functions. AAS meetings are open to the public — yet it’s rare to see non-senators at a meeting. Any student can run for senate — yet each year many senate races are uncontested.

It is popular on this campus to make fun of the AAS. People accuse the institution of being bloated and wasteful. We complain about the election scandals, the unnecessary emails and the complicated Budgetary Committee regulations. These may be valid concerns, but there’s no use in complaining about the AAS if you aren’t willing to get involved in the political process.

The AAS can’t function as a standalone entity independent of the voices and opinions of non-senators — that is to say, of the majority of the student population. That defeats the whole purpose of having a student government. In order to initiate any kind of change, and to really honor the democratic tradition, you have to make your voice heard. Being active doesn’t mean confronting the AAS with an issue you thought up just for the sake of being active; being active can mean just remembering to vote for your class senator. The importance of being involved in our school community can’t be lost on us if we expect our student government to continue helping us and improving our experiences at this school.

Make no mistake: You have the potential to change our student government for the better. The AAS deals with issues ranging from renewing cable contracts to rethinking the open curriculum. The budgetary committee funds every single club on this campus while making sure the campus provides inclusive events for a range of interests. AAS members helped start and are now key members of the Title IX Review Committee to continually assess how this crucial law is implemented in our community. The vans that seem to operate on routine every winter and spring break allow lower-income students to get home for the holidays. Senators on the AAS create change. That’s the whole point of the position. If you disagree with the AAS is doing or have issues you care about that affect your life on campus, the best solution is to engage with our student government rather than mock it. Talk to a senator. Show up to a meeting on Monday. Run during the next election. Just don’t pretend that an institution that affects campus so profoundly is a joke on par with Jamaican Jerk Chicken.