New partnership to unite university students and town of Amherst

By Colby Sears

(Araz Havan/Daily Collegian)
(Araz Havan/Daily Collegian)

The relationship between students from the University of Massachusetts and the town of Amherst has long been an issue of concern for Vinayak Rao, president of the Student Government Association.

In collaboration with Town Manager John Musante, he has set out to fix these relations.

Rao helped to create the Student-Town Advisory Board, a group that will bring together UMass, Amherst College, Hampshire College, and town officials to establish a dialogue between students and Amherst residents.

“I would like to see issues that have a student voice be addressed on this board that have not been historically addressed in the past,” said Rao, who brought his idea for the board to Musante about a month ago.

The board is currently working to schedule its first meeting before the end of the school year. Members of the board hope to meet at least twice a semester starting in the fall.

Ten students are expected to join, with four undergraduate and two graduate students from UMass, and two undergraduate students each from Amherst College and Hampshire College.

Musante will also serve on the board, along with the assistant town manager, police chief, fire chief and health director. A member of the Amherst Select Board and an individual from the local business community are expected to participate as well.

“It’s a good kind of roundtable opportunity to talk,” said Musante.

He presented the idea to members of the Amherst Select Board at the April 6 meeting, and said it had a “very positive response.”

“Anything that adds to the dialogue with young people in Amherst they are all for,” he said of the Select Board members.

As SGA president, Rao said regular meetings with school officials did not include much interaction with the town UMass calls home. This was his main goal in creating the advisory board – to bridge that gap between the students and the town.

“There is a general negative stance on students even though we are in an educational system that is one of the driving forces of this town’s economy,” he said. “I really hope this will change the perspective that a lot of people in this town have about students.”

Rao and Musante have worked closely together throughout the academic year, receiving additional help from other SGA members. After gaining Musante’s support, Rao then focused his efforts on getting Amherst College and Hampshire College on board. Both were eager to participate.

Rao said the SGA and Graduate Student Senate would be responsible for appointing the board’s UMass student members. The other colleges will have their own opportunity to choose their student representatives.

Because Rao will be graduating in the spring, Musante is in the process of reaching out to president-elect Sïonan Barrett to have her present for the first meeting.

Though its first agenda has yet to be finalized, Musante said the group will likely start by having members discuss the goals they hope to accomplish.

“The purpose of this group is what the title implies. It’s really an additional way to have dialogue directly,” said Musante. “It has the potential to be a really great thing.”

Colby Sears can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @colbysears.