On Monday, April 11, President Biddy Martin and Association of Amherst Students (AAS) President Angelina Han ’22 hosted the college’s annual State of the College Address. Han and Martin spoke to an audience of students in the Cole Assembly Room, offering their impressions of what Han called “a year of transition” for the college, and describing their hopes for the coming years. After the pair of speeches, the address concluded with an opportunity for students to offer suggestions for next year’s budget and a Q&A with Martin.
The State of the College Address is an annual event that has been held since its creation in 2017 by then-AAS Senator Sade Green ’20 as her Senate project. The event aims to increase communication between the administration, student government, and broader student body in order to help create a more transparent college.
After AAS Vice-President Basma Azzamok ’22 gave some opening words on the importance of the address, calling it a space where the college can “come together to discuss what has been achieved this year and what we hope to see in the next,” Han gave her speech, which described the AAS’ potential to improve the college and highlighted some of its most important achievements this year.
“I’ve been really excited by the work I’ve seen over the last four years,” Han said, before pointing out the particular importance of Senate projects in pushing senators to improve life for every student on campus. Han then gave credit to the AAS Senate projects that have taken shape over the last year, most recently Sirus Wheaton’s ’23 project to provide all students with free access to zero-waste laundry detergent sheets and Shreya Mathew’s ’25 project, which has given all students free Grammarly Premium subscriptions.
Han also described some of the ways the AAS has been working to correct institutional weaknesses this year. “We’ve realized there were a lot of gaps in how we’re supporting our communities,” Han said, adding that she hopes the newly created Amherst Dreamer Committee, Sexual Violence Taskforce, and Reclaim AmherstDiversity Taskforce will help rectify some of these problems.
Beyond expanding the ways the AAS can support the college community, Han expressed excitement about revitalizing engagement within AAS, which Han said has been declining for years. Han explained that the Senate has been trying to reassess “what are the norms we want to keep and what are the ones we want to leave in the past.” Already, Han said that “a lot more underclassmen [senators] have been stepping up and speaking, which is really encouraging to me.” Han also said that she hoped the newly passed bylaw paying Senate members for some of the hours they work would further boost engagement.
Han also voiced her support for the Better Amherst Initiative, a student-led initiative aiming to increase the number of Amherst students who move on to find work that promotes meaningful change in the world. “We’ve seen how impactful students can be when we all come together,” said Han.
“I’m very optimistic about this next cabinet,” Han said as she ended her speech. Afterward, Martin took the stage for her fifth and final State of the College Address.
Martin emphasized the continued importance of the college’s mission, which prioritizes “inward growth” as a central goal of education, throughout her speech. “When people say residential college education will go away I just laugh,” Martin said. “College is so much more than you can learn online — I think a lot of us saw that over the last two years.”
Speaking about the college’s response to the pandemic, Martin reflected that “I think we’ve done relatively well, but I’d like to acknowledge how hard it’s been on all of you … you all have missed a couple of years of what college can be like.”
Looking forward, much of Martin’s speech centered around the college’s budget for next year, which is currently in the process of being composed and finalized. “The most important thing to me and the senior team was the enhancement of the financial aid program,” Martin said. Beyond expanded financial aid, Martin identified increased staff salaries, augmented funding for faculty research (especially with students), and an expansion of the counseling staff as some of the college’s priorities.
After her speech ended, one student asked Martin whether there were any parts of her time as president she would do differently now. Martin responded that she wished many of the changes made during her presidency had happened more quickly: “Yes, we have more counselors. I wish we’d had more counselors sooner. Yes, the faculty is getting more diverse. I wish there had been more aggressive efforts earlier.”
There’s at least one thing Martin would not do differently: “Riding a horse [at the Bicentennial], that was fun. I got a fair amount of criticism for that but it was really fun. I’d do that again,” she said.