The AAS Budgetary Committee’s Past Should Not Determine its Future
A pattern of intimidating, unwelcoming experiences and discriminatory approaches to funding via the Budgetary Committee (BC) has existed from the 1970s to the present. We write to shed light on current practices and the history of the BC with the hopes that this will propel the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) to change its currently hostile atmosphere and unwritten laws.
We demand that the BC write down all precedents, change the conduct of meetings, record minutes accurately, let students directly vote for their BC senators and establish an Appeals Committee. Because of the hostile ways that the BC treats students who express their concerns, we do not recommend any student to come before the AAS Senate meetings. While BC clarified its policy concerning prize funding on Tuesday, April 27, transparency is still majorly lacking.
During the spring of 2020, one of us was asked to attend a budgetary meeting to ask for funding on behalf of 3D, a club that builds community with adults with developmental disabilities. Beforehand, a leader warned me that the BC had a record of denying 3D’s funding requests and advised that I not attend the meeting alone. In Fall 2020, 3D requested T-shirt funding for all members to wear at meetings so that we could easily identify each other, particularly in emergency situations where a person goes missing. Funding would be for students only; adults would buy their own. BC policy states that they do not fund ‘freebies.’ A senator advocated on my behalf for 3D T-shirts to be considered as jerseys, which would make them fundable. This request was denied under “precedent.”
A debate between the senators took place at this meeting, but there exists no substantial record of the minutes for us to cite it. The lack of accurate reporting on BC minutes is frustrating for students viewing the notes. The current mode of note-taking also places an unnecessary burden on the notetaker themselves. One of us has attended a BC meeting where the student notetaker visibly struggled to keep up with the pace of the meeting.
The lack of transparency around “precedent” and funding criteria has permitted long-standing injustices. Instead of writing precedents down, the BC relies on “institutional memory, minutes and spreadsheets.”
BC members are chosen among the senators themselves. Students do not have a direct vote for who manages the AAS money. We, in addition to 36 other students and seven student organizations, have petitioned that students get to vote directly for those who sit on the committee.
Some senators would interrogate 3D and other clubs more intensely while easily approving other club requests that were typically for more money and seen as less needed. Some well-known and predominantly white clubs have an easier time obtaining funding. For example, Cross-Country Skiing requested nearly $1000 on skis last fall semester, which they admitted at the meeting that they were unsure if they would use, and acknowledged that, if they did, it wouldn’t be until the following semester. Their request was easily approved.
Patterns of discrimination at BC meetings target some affinity groups. La Causa, the Latinx affinity group on campus, has had a history of consistent discrimination from BC for over 30 years. The book “Amherst in the World” reveals that following La Causa’s inception in 1972 and after the substantial increase of enrolled working-class Latinx students in 1975, the BC, formerly known as Student Allocations Committee, announced it would no longer fund the club. Instead, it left newly-arrived Latinx students with the burden of “proactively demand[ing] a place within the Amherst community.”
Given that Amherst has seen a rise in students of color, first generation, low-income (FLI) backgrounds and women at the college only in the past fifty years, student organizations representing these historically excluded students are bound to have less “institutional memory” and “precedent” backing them. However, to continue today upholding a biased governmental Budgetary Committee that was explicitly designed against historically underrepresented students, means to reintroduce bias into the current system, no matter the intention.
As a research assistant in the Latinx & Latin American studies department, one of us interviews Latinx alumni about their experiences at Amherst. Several La Causa E-board members who were interviewed recall repeatedly denied funding requests for cultural events. An alum of the class of 2006 revealed that “it was always a fight to get funding for Voices” — Voices is the largest, free spoken-word contest for BIPOC poets in the Northeast.
Recently, an anonymous E-board member of La Causa shared, “When asked to explain what a cultural event is — such as Día de los Muertos — to the Budgetary Committee, they [the BC members] make you feel as though you are being tested on a segment of your culture that a majority of the Budgetary Committee knows nothing about.”
Telmo Gonzalez ’22, a FLI former La Causa E-board member said a BC member rejected funding food for a cultural event because “‘it is not [the BC’s] duty to feed people.’ Food is a major element of several cultures, and to deny money for important events is culturally insensitive.”
AAS President Jeremy Thomas ’21 also shared that he has previously asked the BC for funding on behalf of Mock Trial and the Black Student Union (BSU) on different occasions. The items that Mock Trial easily got funding for were either rejected or harder to obtain for BSU.
After meeting with various AAS representatives about our demands, one of us went to the AAS meeting on April 12 to facilitate a conversation about the BC. Most of the members repeatedly shot down the suggestion of an appeals court. Some members at the meeting accused our demands of being too serious, saying that “AAS is not a Supreme Court.” On top of that, they stated people should come to AAS Senate meetings themselves if they have an issue with the BC.
However, students who have gone to the BC typically avoid going again. Eric Ingram ’23 went during his first year to request transportation funding for the Archery Club. He had such an unpleasant experience that he vowed to never return again and instead assigned another person in the club to attend BC meetings when necessary.
Our calls for actions are not unprecedented. In 2015, the Amherst Uprising movement asked to “increase the budget allocated to the affinity groups and theme houses [and] improve the reimbursement process to take into account students’ varying socioeconomic statuses.”
As we continue reaching out to other clubs about their experiences, we urge our newly-elected AAS E-board to collaborate with us and other students to institute budgetary reforms that have long been overdue.
If you have a BC experience you would like to share, feel free to anonymously do so here. If you wish to sign on to the document of our demands, we encourage you to do so here.