We often use this phrase: shadow Amherst. It typically refers to students who are rarely seen, or don’t provide the smiling, socializing ideal we imagine each other to be. But I think the Amherst shadow is much more encompassing than we might like to admit. Indeed, during our four years here, all of us spend time in the Amherst shadow. Sometimes, the stress of class can overwhelm us. Other times, we cannot even manage a smile in Val, or even want to go to Val at all. Sometimes we fail to understand our readings, or secretly wish to be left alone on a Saturday night, or feel alienated from the Amherst community for what we believe in. We can’t even get a job or internship doing anything close to what we want to do; or, we don’t even know what we want to do. Meanwhile, it seems like everyone around us finds success at every turn.
And as difficult as that is, there are people who face even more than that. Those usually referred to as shadows – the dropouts, the silent survivors of sexual assault or mental illness – are even more important to remember.
As my close friends know, I had not been planning or making decisions to run for AAS president. Indeed I’ve been watching the race so far and have noticed that we have no shortage of nice people running.
But no candidate for AAS president has touched the Amherst shadow. We have campaigns that place cameras on themselves; we need a campaign that places cameras on the shadows. And, just as importantly, we need a campaign dedicated to action.
Students should not have to wait for election week each year to hear someone take a stand on the hardest, ‘controversial’ issues: depression and suicide, the mascot, sexual assault. More importantly, students cannot wait for election week to see someone act. Leaders need to care – and act – all year round. Any politician, myself included, can proselytize off the common tropes: “the system is broken,” “dialogue is necessary,” “let’s look at orientation.” None of that is enough. Simply put, it is not hard to write those phrases. A leader needs to live them, and silently slave by them, when the cameras are off. Otherwise, nothing we want to do will get done.
Naturally, there are plenty of problems with the AAS. Serious reform is desperately needed. Transparency is not enough – we need the AAS to engage with students. But what’s also needed is a change of vision and direction back to lighting the Amherst shadows we all have. And we need urgency: Amherst’s hardest challenges, and its biggest opportunities, cannot wait. It is simply too common that nothing gets done by cause of delay, not to mention internal AAS drama.
I’m running for president, but not because I want to do these things myself. It is simply because I want to see these things done in the first place. Only with deep dedication and a clear set of goals we can truly enact change and fulfill our promises.
Another thing I’ve seen in the many past AAS elections is that it really does not matter what a particular candidate’s platform even is. What matters is their dedication. Dedication, meaning an existing record of action on an issue, matters.
Let’s take a look at traditions as a case study.
Many candidates, including some running now, mention revitalizing traditions. It’s a great idea. Amherst definitely could use more unifying energy across our incredible diversity, and we certainly have plenty of options (Mountain/Farm Day, Singing traditions, etc.) But we must also acknowledge, and specifically reject, our ugly traditions. Foremost is the Lord Jeffery Amherst, an important institutional identifier who wished that Indians be “extirpated root and branch” (according to J.C. Long’s 1933 book “A Soldier of the King”).
One cannot come with the other. I love Amherst and its liberal arts tradition; there are simply, in my view, some traditions that do not reflect Amherst.
Here’s where dedication must enter to make change. Hobie Cleminshaw ’51 has passionately and tirelessly been trying to revive singing at Amherst. He has contacted all administrators he could find; he has insisted on getting an interested student group that fully employs Amherst’s current diversity; he has even re-written songs to fit that diversity.
John Herzog ’52 and James Fernandez ’52 have similarly wrote and endeavored to remove Lord Jeffery Amherst as the college’s icon and its rouse song.
On both causes they have, so far, not achieved their goal. Having met and worked with them, it is not by lack of effort or intelligence. It’s because these issues are complex; they involved policy and culture; they contrast against existing norms and rules.
My general point is, many of these ideas have been tried before: fixing sexual assault, fixing Val, fixing add/drop, fixing club sports. It is only when you have been working with these issues for a period of time do you understand where things go wrong. When you work on an issue deeply you understand why you cannot promise silver bullets on election week.
Again, here are my three basic goals:
1. Reform the AAS
2. Engagement, not just Transparency
3. No More Waiting. Tackle the hard issues now.
What do each mean? Reform the AAS includes a bottom up review of the constitution. I, along with a few other senators, have already been working on rolling out a comprehensive constitutional review process. The goal is not only to rectify the specific issues that emerged last spring but to holistically re-analyze the AAS as a whole. Most importantly, we need to move the AAS from being a bureaucratic body to an activist one – getting ahead of the issues and not just reacting to them. With proper reconfiguration of the AAS’s structure, particularly in regard to its budgetary practices and unwieldy meetings, we can do just that.
Engagement, not just Transparency: Like they have for traditions, many generations of AAS candidates have stressed transparency. But office hours, or an open Val table, have not and do not work by themselves. We have to go door to door, affinity group to sports team, Val table to Val table. Expecting students to approach the AAS is not enough; we must put the burden on the AAS to reach out to students.
No More Waiting. There is no reason we must wait one more week for students to join the Title IX review committee when Biddy promised two years ago that students would have formal power in the process. There is no reason club sports should be denied practice space that we all pay for. Whether it takes a referendum, a protest, a sit-in, or an email campaign (a-la orientation dry week two years ago).
This is, naturally, on top of my last platform you can find on my Facebook.
Overall, my message is simple: Let’s get back to work. Let’s light the shadows. With your help, I’ll try to do just that.