(Liya Rechtman)– Two weeks ago I decided to push a toe into the muddy waters that are student government at Amherst. I made a somewhat tangential comment in my endorsement of Tania Dias regarding the dominance of fraternities on the student senate scene. I expected, publishing my post, to perhaps receive a few comments on Tania’s campaign. What I did not expect was the massive backlash from the student body and tidal wave of dialogue on the preeminence of brothers as a voting bloc and fraternity love.
Election day, as we all now know, was a total shitshow.
In the aftermath of that tumultuous day and my article, I decided to attend a senate meeting primarily to get a better sense of what student senate was all about, and also to see the Big Show post-Diwa and Alex’s resignations.
Senate meetings, for those of you who haven’t been, are held in the red room in Converse Hall. Two Chi Psi members sat at the front of the room, conducting the meeting, so there was that. Initially, the senators seemed a bit nervous about the proceedings, but when it became clear that the meeting would carry on as usual they warmed up. Josh Mayer kept on getting up to take phone calls. There were all these committees that seemed to be attempting to make small changes in student life that I had literally never heard of before. 30 minutes into the meeting I whispered (perhaps a bit too loudly) to a friend next to me: “this isn’t really fun…” A senator in front of me turned around, “No, ConstantLy, its really pretty boring.”
And then it wasn’t. Near the end there was space for more of an open forum and Josh decided to “clear the air” regarding the alleged election fraud committed by him, Diwa Cody and Alex Stein. He then went on to recommend that Romen and George Tepe be tried for some other senatorial corruption regarding Chris Friend’s nomination to the interim treasurer position. The room turned tense again. A few people fidgeted in their seats but otherwise, until the very end of his speech, no one spoke.
Midway through Josh’s speech a woman dressed in a gorilla suit traipsed through the red room, winding her way down the stairs and dancing for a moment in the center of the room before leaving again. The room at that point was so solemn that, other than me and the Zu kids sitting behind me, no one even laughed. Josh continued speaking.
“This certainly doesn’t make me popular…” he confessed. Popular? Why was he worried about being popular with the senate crowd? Chris Friend got up to respond: “How DARE you? I am personally insulted that you didn’t come talk to me earlier.”
Okay. Here’s my big deep insight into senate: the senators are just a bunch of kids who are friends with each other, like any other club. The only difference is that they have way more money to spend on their activities and, where, say she-bomb has a mission statement and mostly relies on the ethical intuitions of its editors, they have a constitution and president. Like a friend group or a club, they have their personal allegiances and tensions. Romen doesn’t like Diwa – that much is clear from the way the allegations of fraud were handled and from Diwa’s statement to The Student last week.
I took some time, after the meeting but before the official Judiary Council Hearing on the election fraud, to speak to Josh Mayer about his campaign and what his thoughts on senate in general re: his (now ironic) slogan “Senate is broken.”
Josh, as it turns out, has not always been on Senate. This was not his first time resigning, either. Sophomore year he had resigned as well, disgusted by how ineffective and trivial he found senate to be. When deciding to join senate again this year, he was “fully conscious of how mind bogglingly idiotic it would be. We view ourselves as national politics, only dealing with Amherst issues. There are a bunch of insider relationships and bizarre social structures.”
Josh reminded me that Chi Psi was merely filling in the position that in the past few years the debate had occupied in student government. The debate team elders were the most prominent leaders in student senate during their time at Amherst. The debate team had historically voted as a bloc and therefore held significant sway in the red room. Because of how large senate is, and how little interest there is in running for positions, it is very easy for members to pull their friends in. When, for a variety of reasons including the imminent graduation of its most prominent members, the debate team lost power, Chi Psi brothers were able to pull up into the newly vacant positions. The tight bonds fostered in the fraternity setting allowed them to quickly proliferate and infuse student government with the frat bloc vote.
The most problematic aspect of these social groups is the imbalanced and at times hostile gender dynamic that they create in senate. Josh noted that there were less than 10 women currently serving on senate. He pointed to the “insider-baseball attitude” that was presented to people from the outside, mainly women, trying to assimilate into the male-dominated senatorial environment as the main obstacle that either stopped women from becoming senators or convinced them not to run again.
To me, this all makes sense and, as many people have commented, is not entirely a criticism of fraternity culture, but instead of Amherst male-normative culture in general. However, unlike debate team, which is (certainly at this point) co-ed, fraternities specifically exclude women. So while it would be possible, in the social paradigm Josh set up, for a woman to become an equal member of the debate voting bloc, say, that model necessarily couldn’t exist in a Chi Psi majority bloc senate.
I’ll reiterate a comment I made on Pandamonium’s post yesterday: I think the problem with the frat scene at Amherst (is not that its SO fratty, sexist, or white. My closest friend in a frat here is gay and of color. I was certainly at DKE champagne and felt more comfortable there than I would in, say, the lax suite (otherwise known as the “bone yard.”)) My problem with fraternities here is that 1) they exclude women and, in light of that I take issue with 2) they run student senate. These two factors combined leads to a senate at Amherst that is male-dominated and female-exclusive.
Thoughts? I know you’ve got ‘em, so hit me.