What is The AAS?

Staff Writer Shane Dillon ’26 explains the roles and responsibilities of the Association of Amherst Students.

Every year, once in the fall and once in the spring (unless there are special elections), students on our campus decide whether or not to launch a campaign for the Association of Amherst Students (AAS). During campaign week this semester, I found that many students don’t know what the AAS is, what we do, or how we do it. While the AAS is partially responsible, I wanted to offer an opportunity in this op-ed to bridge the justified confusion that our students have.

The AAS comprises 33 senators — eight seats from each class plus one seat designated to the Transfer Students Association — the executive board (or e-board), and the Judiciary Council (JC). The JC has four at-large members elected by the student body who advise the JC Chair on all constitutional matters, vote on petitions, etc. The e-board comprises five people: the President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, and Judiciary Council Chair. Each of these unique roles engages with a different job description, but the one thing shared between e-board members is that they manage the whole of the AAS and are meant to keep things running smoothly.

Every Monday night, senators and e-board meet in the Red Room of Converse and engage in a meeting facilitated by the Vice President. Before that meeting, the Treasurer and Budgetary Committee (BC) meet to hear from Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) and make recommendations on funding to the Senate. All discretionary funding, which is money not already approved in a club budget, must be vetted by the BC. Then, when the whole Senate meets, we discuss and approve the discretionary spending for the week, sometimes with amendments and sometimes with unanimous consent. I encourage all RSO leaders to introduce themselves to BC and establish themselves with the AAS.

While the Vice President creates the agenda, any number of things can end up on it. Every week, there are standing slots for senators to discuss their Senate projects and time for committee updates. These two things are the heart of what the AAS does. Senate projects are projects that our senators take on throughout their time on the AAS, and they need to complete one to run for re-election. Senate projects have looked like anything from the Basketball tournament and Amherst Got Talent to a sewing workshop, field day on the quad, and, of course, the semesterly rave we are institutionalizing. The funding to allow these projects to come to fruition comes from a variety of places. The $10,000 in our Senate fund allows senators to allocate money to fund projects. The AAS, Student Engagement and Leadership, and Student Affairs fund more significant events, like the raves. Senate projects require a connection between senators and those in the administration who can help make them happen — which is where the e-board comes in.

Aside from managing the various individual pieces of the Senate (treasurer and the budget, VP and the agenda, secretary and the emails, etc.), the e-board also fosters relationships. We have seen what happens when the e-board doesn’t work well together, so that is what outgoing President Lori Alarcon ’24 sought to change this year and precisely what she did. By fostering individual relationships with every senator, committee, or group affiliated with the AAS, like the cabinet, we have cut the time of our meetings in half and have delivered more Senate projects to the student body than any e-board since the beginning of the pandemic. Sometimes, this means we have to steer folks and their ideas in another direction, and sometimes, it means conversing with the administration behind the scenes to advocate for funding. For example, we were initially told there wouldn’t be funding for a mascot costume this year. Still, after careful conversation with folks we had previously built relationships with, we delivered that funding to the group of senators who took on the project. Being on the e-board doesn’t always mean promising to bring new ideas to the Senate, but allowing others to take charge of the things they want to see the AAS accomplish. Being on the e-board was sometimes hard because I do have a passion for individual projects, though I also love connecting our senators with folks who help make their passion projects come to light.

Along with Senate projects, we also have plenty of committees that do a lot of great work. These committees range from faculty committees that members of the AAS are invited to be on to committees, like those for public relations and the raves, that were created internally. Committee work is essential to the functionality of the AAS. They separately engage with many of the spheres that students interact with on campus, from education to athletics, dining, and sustainability.

As the outgoing Vice President, I realize that the AAS has a lot of work to do to increase transparency, and I hope to continue to play a role in doing so! I encourage everyone to come to public comment, which is at the beginning of our 8 p.m. meetings, and share ideas or concerns, meet your senators, and use your voice! The AAS, contrary to popular belief, is an incredibly powerful body that needs to hear from its constituents. As we enter a new term, I wish for nothing but the best!