Students Protest Racial Discrimination at Sit-In
Issue   |   Fri, 11/13/2015 - 19:41
Photo courtesy of Kaelan McCone '19
Students, faculty and staff gathered in Frost Library Thursday night to hear protesters read their demands to President Biddy Martin.

Hundreds of students gathered in Frost Library Thursday and Friday to protest racial injustice and demonstrate solidarity with student protesters at the University of Missouri and Yale.

The sit-in began Thursday at 1 p.m. and entered its 30th hour Friday evening, when student leaders announced they would continue the sit-in until further notice.

The event was originally advertised on Facebook as a one-hour sit-in Thursday afternoon. According to the Facebook event, students organized the sit-in to “stand in solidarity with the students in Mizzou, Yale, South Africa and every other institution across the world where black people are marginalized and threatened.”

But the event showed no signs of stopping after an hour, and throughout the day more students gathered in Frost to speak about their experiences with racism at Amherst and beyond. On Thursday afternoon, Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein read a statement on behalf of Martin, who was preparing to board a flight to Japan. But soon after, Martin canceled her trip to Japan so that she could speak to students at Amherst.

Later in the afternoon, some leaders of the protest formed a movement called “Amherst Uprising.” When Martin arrived back at Amherst shortly after 9 p.m., the group presented her with a list of 11 demands.

Among the demands was a call for Martin and board of trustees chairman Cullen Murphy ’74 to issue an apology for “our institutional legacy of white supremacy, colonialism, anti-black racism, anti-Latinx racism, anti-Native American racism, anti-Native/indigenous racism, anti-Asian racism, anti-Middle Eastern racism, heterosexism, cis-sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, ableism, mental health stigma and classism.”

The group also asked Martin to issue a statement by Friday, Nov. 13 at 5 p.m. condemning the use of the Lord Jeff as Amherst’s unofficial mascot. Leaders of the protest said they would occupy Frost until the first of their demands were met and asked that Martin initiate the process of responding to all 11 items within the next 24 to 48 hours. The protesters asked Martin to finish responding to their demands by Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 11:59 p.m.

On Friday evening, Amherst Uprising leaders announced that Martin would not be able to issue a statement on the Lord Jeff at this time, but that the board of trustees would be meeting to discuss the mascot in January. In response, Amherst Uprising leaders said they would make posters condemning the Lord Jeff to distribute on campus and at the Amherst-Williams football game on Saturday.

Another one of the demands focused on last year’s “All Lives Matter” posters and on posters that appeared in Valentine Dining Hall Thursday morning in response to the Missouri protests. The signs read “In memoriam of the true victim of the Missouri protests: free speech.” The organizers asked Martin to denounce the posters and require the students who posted them to “attend extensive training for racial and cultural competency.”

They also asked Martin to support a revision of the honor code “to reflect a zero-tolerance policy for racial insensitivity and hate speech.”

Three students present Thursday night said they would begin a hunger strike. These students were not leaders of the Amherst Uprising group, but in a blog post on Amherst Soul, they said they supported the group’s goals.

“We see our call to action not as a separate, divisive movement, but as a more radical expression of the same struggle,” they wrote.

Anchor
Comments
Richard Cohen '73 (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/13/2015 - 21:01

The tantrum over Free Speech and All Lives Matter is thoroughly embarrassing. As an alumnus, who marched in my share of protests, I am thoroughly embarrassed to be associated with Amherst today, as news of this tantrum is spread across the internet. There are real problems in this world....and a poster promoting Free Speech isn't one of them. The list of demands, with its timetable and the threats and calls for Maoist style re-education programs, would be laughable if it wasn't so disgusting. These spoiled arrogant babies are doing a great favor to the right wingers, who are already capitalizing on the revulsion felt by grownups in this country.

David (not verified) says:
Sat, 11/14/2015 - 00:11

While I will not defend the demands chosen to present to Biddy, I don't believe the cause of this protest is as simple as a poster promoting free speech. Much of it has to do with the fact that while the poster both antagonizes the recent protests decrying racism at US universities and promotes free speech (no doubt in response to the heinous way members of the press have been treated), it does so unsigned, leaving no way to have a democratic, civilized conversation as we should be having. Imagine how frustrating it would be to have your cause criticized from an unknown opposition, defending against attacks from a hidden guerilla front in your own community.

I think it can best be described here: http://amherststudent.amherst.edu/?q=article/2015/11/12/free-conversation

Does this frustration excuse the demands the movement has forth? Maybe, maybe not. I think every individual's answer to that question lies in how desperate they are. These students have had to watch as an unknown faction undermines protests they identify very closely with, however right or wrong these protests at Yale and elsewhere are. Frankly, I don't think we can have an honest discussion until the students who are leaving these posters come foward to explain their beliefs and their motives just as the protesters at Frost have done.

Are these protests reasonable? Again, I think every person's answer will be different and will rely on the desperation they feel. But is it fair to criticize these protesters as 'arrogant babies'? I don't think so. I think resulting to name calling just because you disagree with them is unhelpful. Even worse, it widens the divide between those who protest and those who are opposed. If the subject is over something as salient as racial equality, don't we need every voice to be willing to have a level-headed, reasonable conversation about this?

I went to Frost and protested today. You've called me arrogant, spoiled, and a baby. But I still think so.

Amherst Student (18) (not verified) says:
Sat, 11/14/2015 - 01:52
Mike (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/13/2015 - 21:32

Did the reporter attend the event?

Willard Dix '77 (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/13/2015 - 21:57

I've been trying to follow the various student protests around the country but I confess my head is spinning. I don't pretend to know all the details but since I've read that Amherst students have warned alumni "that racist or critical responses of the protests will not be tolerated," I think it's only proper that as an alumnus I should respond. To my mind, you are acting like Chinese students during the Cultural Revolution, accusing everyone of every sin you can think of with as little evidence as necessary, going wild with anger at things I'm not even sure you have a very good grasp of. You've used a particular moment to stage a portmanteau protest "in solidarity" but, really, to what end? Do you think an ask-for-permission protest with a list of ridiculous demands and deadlines will somehow change the world, or even the world you tried so hard to get into in the first place?

You want Biddy Martin and Amherst to apologize for everything and you warn them of the consequences, yet you also ask permission to miss your classes. Sigh. Protest without sacrifice is meaningless. Amherst has worked hard to combat the institutional -isms to which you refer, yet you refuse to even hint at discussion, instead damning the whole place and the system in which it exists. But look at yourselves: You worked hard in high school and you were attracted to it BECAUSE it's part of the disgusting system you seem to be protesting. You want to go to law school and med school, and Wall Street, but you don't want your protesting to hurt your GPA. Ultimately, you want to grab a part of the system for yourselves. Your demands and protests are absurd in their nature and their puerility. Do you really want to protest the disgusting history of Amherst and its like-minded institutions? Drop out and work for social justice where it really counts. Don't come out of your well-appointed rooms and labs to shout about -isms and then retreat to them again when the shouting's over. Work for justice in your communities at home, use what you learn at Amherst to do good in the world. Vote and work against plutocrats trying to buy the presidency and the political system. If the system disgusts you, refuse to be a part of it, and work to change it. If it hurts you, grow up and make it better; don't ask for protection from the world.

One more thing: Don't ever, ever, ever tell me or any other Amherst alumnus what we can and cannot say. That's the ultimate betrayal of an Amherst education and the democratic ideal I believe we all work toward.

Rex Striker (not verified) says:
Sat, 11/14/2015 - 04:08

I don't think that word means what you think it means. It's strictly a literary term that smashes two other words together.
Puerility indeed!

Harry Singer (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/13/2015 - 22:34

On a day when genuine racism and horrific terrorism is on display in Paris, immature and pathetically ignorant students at Amherst College decide to throw a temper tantrum. Included in their "demands" is that the school should exercise prior censorship of members of the community who may choose to criticize these children. I encourage the leadership of the college to warn these children that if they disrupt the operation of the college, or trespass upon college property, they will be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I shall be at tomorrow's Amherst/Williams football game, proudly wearing every piece of apparel I own with the words "Lord Jeff's" on them and regularly cheering for the "Lord Jeff's" as is my right as a citizen of this great country that these children so obviously hate. Our nation clearly has faults remaing to be addressed, but the arc of history is encouraging. So, to read and hear such drival from young people supposedly among our best and brightest speaks to the failure of their parents and whatever educational background they have received to date to enlighten them of the undeniably exceptional society that America, as part of Western Civilization, represents. Go Lord Jeff's!

David (not verified) says:
Sat, 11/14/2015 - 00:43

You say you support free speech and will use this right to celebrate Lord Jeff at tomorrow's football game. How can you do so while recommending that these protesters, these 'children', be arrested?

You speak with such vigor, confidence, and self-righteousness. You decry that those opposed to your beliefs and who take action, like you plan to do, ought to be prosecuted?

You call these young adults 'children'. You accuse them of 'hating' our nation and of speaking blasphemy. Is it American to do so? To deride the opinions of others as 'drivel', while proudly proclaiming the opinions of your own? How can we have honest, evaluative conversations, as is fundamental to the American democracy, when both sides are filled with so much pride they could not fathom to take in a morsel of disagreement presented by another?

You call these protesters 'ignorant'. You should know that they call you the same. If both of you are ignorant, do none of you have knowledge? How would you pass on that knowledge? With name calling and accusation?

"Let them give light to the world"? Hardly.

Deb (not verified) says:
Sat, 11/14/2015 - 18:00

Amherst College is a private institution. If the protesters get in the way of the school's operations, the administration has every right to have them arrested. However, as we all know (even Mr. Singer), that will not, and should not happen. What should happen, as you suggested, is a conversation between the students and the administration. Unfortunately, the way these protesters are handling themselves, a conversation is not possible. How can a conversation be had with people who demand posters be removed, however insensitive they are, from the college campus? The forced removal of those posters is not successful progress, but rather a failure to have a necessary conversation. The forced removal of those posters is a complete violation of a person's right to free speech, even if they offend some people. If the protesters cannot see that, then they don't truly understand this backbone of American life.

Where will this protest and their demands get them? I'm sure that if the students took the time to plan and set goals, rather than rush to "stand with Mizzou," then Mr. Singer, the alumni body, and the board of trustees would be more than happy to talk, and listen. Unfortunately, this "movement" is much more reactive than proactive, and will most likely not lead to much change. If these students took a minute to converse with those they are making the demands to, who knows what could happen. But we'll just have to settle for these "young adults," as you called them, yelling louder and louder until everyone else stops talking, and stops listening as well.

Rex Striker (not verified) says:
Sat, 11/14/2015 - 04:11
Townie (not verified) says:
Sat, 11/14/2015 - 12:45

If you read the list of student demands, it appears to be signed by an impressive list of student groups. But the letter has an unusual closing: before the list of signatures, it says "Students from."

What exactly does this mean? Does this just mean that unnamed students who authored this letter are *also* members of these groups? If so, does this mean that the groups themselves have not formally signed on in any official capacity?

The answer matters. If the groups have not formally signed on, if there was no democratic or representative decision internal to these groups to sign on, if the people who signed this letter are just members from those groups, and have no real right or authority to speak on behalf of those groups, then the list of signatories gives an exaggerated and misleading sense of just how much student support there really is for these demands.

Jason Victor Se... (not verified) says:
Sat, 11/14/2015 - 12:54

Let me see if I understand this. Alumni who are white, and who are not on the campus, possess remarkable psychic and empathic powers that enable them to discern the situation, comprehend and internalize what it feels like to live as a minority or person of color on the Amherst campus at this particular time in history, and righteously conclude that the protests are by impudent, arrogant children with Maoist aspirations? Most remarkable.

Christina Oliva... (not verified) says:
Sat, 11/14/2015 - 16:43

Incredibly proud of students, faculty, admin who are standing in #RadicalCompassion with the #AmherstUprising. I'll write more soon but wanted to be a voice here to share that it's not all alumni who feel as these gentlemen below feel -- that in fact there have been generations of alumni who have fought the battle you are fighting now and we stand with you and we love you and we are proud of you.

#AmherstAlumniSolidarity
#RadicalCompassion
#AmherstUprising

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Sat, 11/14/2015 - 22:51

First and foremost, I myself am currently a student of color at Amherst. However, I think certain aspects of this protest have gone beyond my humble reasoning and understanding. In particular, I understand that many of students of color were hurt after seeing words like "#AllLivesMatter" during the Black Live Matters movement, and the poster "Free Speech" in Val claiming that "the real victim" in the Missouri protest was the reporter and not the students of color. I totally agree that the students who posted these things were, at the least, ignorant of other's pain and mourning, and at the most, intentionally causing more hurt. However, condemning these students to the extent that we have been doing for the past few days may not be the right way to make your pain heard - one of you call these students "not human". And to my belief, that's hate speech. Maybe the students who put up these posters are haters, but it doesn't mean we should give back hate to them.

I also question the zero-tolerance policy towards racial insensitivity and hate speech. The movement requested that Biddy should issue a statement not tolerating students who posted signs like All Lives Matter and Free Speech, that they would need to go through disciplinary process if someone filed a complaint. Again, I totally agree that putting such poster (with such extreme claim about the "true victim") up in Val at this time just causes people more pain, but if you actually spend the time looking into the video link in the poster itself, there're in fact some matters to discuss. The reporters in that video weren't giving hate speech, but he was disrespected by the crowd just because of his insistance of doing the reporting job. Maybe there's some content there that we can learn from. Maybe I'm so stupid I can't understand this - maybe I'm not radical enough, maybe I'm too conservative, but this is what I think: If we acknowledge the valid part of the opposite argument (for example, that maybe the protesters at Mizzou should not have treated some reporters with the same aggression) and then raise our explanation of understanding (for example, that the students of color at Mizzou were in a very tense situation, that they are going through a lot, and controlling emotions in such situation is not as easy as just saying "first amendment"), and finally criticizing them (that using the word "true victim" is trivializing the pain of the student of color community, downplaying the hardship, the constant discrimination the students of color are going through), then we are actually bringing a conversation. Condemning someone would not cause them to change. Keeping our head high, acknowledging them, and then talking to them with not only our heart, our stories, our pain but also our reasoning, our spot on argument, revealing to them where they're going wrong - I thought is probably a better way to go at this. But maybe it's me who have a shallow understanding.

Lastly, I just want to say I felt bad for Biddy and the administration because of the pressure they are put under. I think a lot of matters can not be resolved in just seconds, and perhaps a radical protest would speed things up, but I know to my heart and my experience at Amherst that they do try their best to make this college a community, a respecting space. I do believe that issues like the mascot needs to go through a long process, taking opinions from the board, the students, but also the alumni, and I felt bad that they are now put under such pressure from a lot of directions.

As a fellow student of color whose view may differ, and who is scared to put my opinion out there to the point that I need to hide my name, I would like to ask the leaders of this movements (many of you are my friends, and I respect and love you with my heart, and I'm scared that if I reveal my name, I would lose our friendship), to maybe think about how your actions may also affect me who now don't feel safe to voice my opinion (regarding to your effort to build a safe space), about how your actions may affect the administration (should we feel some compassion for them? should we think about the stress, the work they are putting into us?), about how your actions would affect those people who put up the ignorant signs, posters (why didn't they come out and speak for themselves? Can we make them change in a more effective way rather than just threatening them of the prospect of disciplinary action or condemning them? Does condemning/punishing a person make them change their mind, making them less insensitive racially, or does it just give them more hate?).

I want to support you very much, and I want to erase the hate, the ignorance from this world too. But please, please, let me come and ask you: is this the right way to do it?

Cuthbert Sipkin... (not verified) says:
Sun, 11/15/2015 - 17:01

I am overjoyed by the recent protests of Amherst College students. The pendulum is finally swinging back from a period of student political wariness, lethargy and disinterest to one of sensitivity and engagement. Today’s students are exhibiting courage and a willingness to sacrifice in order to be a force for good. This is laudable. I am so very proud of them.

I remember the protests that we carried out in the late 60s. There were serious issues in our society then such as, mass disenfranchisement enforced by lynching, bombings and other acts of terror, segregation, institutional misogyny and a war that made us collective murders of millions in southeast Asia, This war also took the lives and maimed the bodies of tens of thousands of America’s best and most committed to duty and mission for love of country. The war also drained resources that were needed to address our internal flaws. There was a demonic response to the legitimate protest at all levels of the US government. This response was exemplified by the COINTELPRO program.

Now here we are again several wars later. There remains work to be done; our families are falling apart with dire consequences, war continues, income disparity crushes our citizenry, poverty eats at our souls, there are renewed efforts to disenfranchise, police brutality continues, gangs are allowed to control parts of our cities, violence destroys the fabric of our rural areas. I thank God that our students have taken up the battle again. I have read some of the condemnations, from other alumni. The condemnations have one thing in common. They all deal with the superficial aspects of the protests.

As I recall our protests from the 60s (I was the founder and first President of the Afro-American Society later to be known as the Black Student Union) some of the demands we made and actions we took were off the mark. But the thrust of our actions was sincere, true and expressions of a fundamental and unconquerable need that human beings have to be free. I would do it again if I were back at Amherst.

So to my fellow alumni some who are veterans of the movement and some who are not, of all political dispositions, I ask that you advise the students, not condemn them. Help them do the most good with their bravery and the energy they have released. We should listen and learn - learn what the situation is today. And please don’t glorify what we did in the past and contrast it to the current students’ actions. What we did was far from perfect. But the essence of what we did needed to be done. Amherst and the nation are the better for it.

They may or may not take our advice. But let’s reach out to them and embrace them and their/our movement. The students are us and we are the students -No better no worse. They are our projections into the future. Without them the future is dim. So let their light shine. If we do we might find a pathway to a better tomorrow.

Sharon Miller '80 (not verified) says:
Sun, 11/15/2015 - 19:34

Back in the late 1970s, many of us took over Converse Hall in protest over the elimination of black freshmen orientation, among other things. We presented the administration with a list of demands, as you are now doing. It was right near final exam time as well. The administration finally convinced us to leave by agreeing to meet to discuss the demands. We fell for their offer, which proved to ultimately do nothing to improve conditions for minority students at Amherst. I suggest that you protestors stand strong, be very clear and specific about the changes you'd like to see, and don't leave with mollifications from the administration that mean nothing. Best of luck to all of you. I am proud to see Amherst students coming into their voices after decades of apparent lethargy.

Rick Pfeiffer (not verified) says:
Sun, 11/15/2015 - 22:31

Dear Students, Faculty and Administrators of Amherst College:

If you haven’t already read the Wall St. Journal (WSJ) article that appeared in the Sat./Sun. edition (Nov. 14-15, 2015) “The Rise of the College Crybullies”, I suggest you do. Add to that The Daily Beast article that appeared Nov. 15th: “Amherst Students Protest ‘Free Speech,’ Demand ‘Training for Offenders”.

After discussing these articles with the outside world, including many Amherst alumni of my era (the 1970s), I express to you how disappointed and appalled I am to think that members of the Amherst community want Free Speech managed or limited. On this point, remember thousands of Americans have laid down their lives for this core American value, and it is the basis of the First Amendment. Because some of you have your feelings hurts, and thus feel “unsafe” is no cause to limit free speech.

While students at Amherst, Yale and other colleges find professors and administrators pandering to their hurt feelings, the world that you will come to inherit after graduation, be that as a lawyer, doctor, business person or anything beside a tenured college professor or administrator, most of whom have little appreciation for how the world works outside of a college campus, will not tolerate your indolent, inconsiderate demands.

When we attended Amherst we challenged each others views strongly in class or around the dinner table, and most of us learned to make our cases better but to also listen well, and in doing the latter we often came to modify our position. We may have been strident, others may have made stronger arguments, but we didn’t get into the proverbial fetal position and search for a “safe place”, because someone expressed an opinion that others may have found offensive or difficult to accept. And then we didn’t go and accuse the other of some form of bigotry, because his or her argument was rooted in a different upbringing than ours.

In Katie Zavadski’s piece in the Daily Beast, she reports that Amherst protesters demand apologies for others expressions of free speech. Really? Were you protesters raised by parents who coddled you so much that only your views (and those close to yours) were the only ones tolerated? You want (no demand) that Biddy Martin sanction those who express different views such as “All Lives Matter” and other forms of free speech. By the way, for those of you who do NOT think all lives matter, I question your bias and bigotry.

As someone who has lived and worked all around the world, let me inform you that every country has its forms of bigotry. For example, many southern Indians don’t trust northern Indians. Vietnamese don’t like the Chinese. Chinese don’t like Indians. Most East Asians still hate the Japanese for the atrocities of World War II. But, guess what, they put those differences aside in the name of progress, communication, travel, commerce and for other reasons. In other words, they may distrust, even dislike, the culture of the person they’re dealing with, but they get on with life and interact with those people.

Unfortunately, Biddy Martin’s pandering to your demands only serves to thwart your development, not help it. The purpose of the College is for you to get an education, and to prepare yourselves for what comes after Amherst. In my book, that does not include shutting it down, because a minority thinks it represents institutional racism.

So, consider the following as some of you continue with your self-righteous cause:

1) When you graduate and apply for a job somewhere, people will “Google” you and look at your social media. Trust me when I tell you, very few organizations will want someone who has a problem with the first amendment, someone who doesn’t know how to get on with colleagues while keeping an institution alive and moving forward and certainly someone who can’t tolerate another point of view and feels “unsafe” when having to listen to differing views.
2) Students who want to protest and not do their school work are cop outs. What if everyone came up with a grievance that warranted not turning in school work? Then grades at Amherst and the value of an Amherst degree would diminish by all accounts.
3) If you don’t like the school mascot and what Jeffrey Amherst stood for, transfer to another school. You are in no more a position to judge the actions of Jeffrey Amherst, George Washington or anyone else from 200+ years ago, as you have no context under which they made their decisions. What leaders of earlier times deemed normal, we don’t today. Does that mean we judge them by today’s standard? In that case, you would ridicule every leader of an earlier time.
4) For those of you “brave” students at Amherst (read the last 3 paragraphs of the WSJ article), I encourage you to take back your college and tell Biddy that she needs to demonstrate some courage, and that includes telling people when they’re wrong, that it’s time to get back to school work and that freedom of speech will always be part of Amherst, whether others like it or not.

Rick Pfeiffer ‘77

Ron Bashford '88 (not verified) says:
Mon, 11/16/2015 - 13:24

To Rick Pfeiffer. Sir, your comments aren't in the least bit helpful to anyone. Furthermore, your sources (the WSJ and Daily Beast articles) offer but one, narrow viewpoint on both a complex situation, and three days of discussions and reflection that have been rich and productive. There is much that you write here that is dismissive, if not downright hostile toward students to whom I presume you have not even spoken. As for your message to encourage others to "take back" the college, it sounds depressingly like the empty us vs. them political rhetoric of Fox News and conservative radio? Do you really mean to apply such blunt judgement toward a small community of people who live and work together? Do you really mean to suggest that the college only belongs to some, and not others?

Charles Brewer '81 (not verified) says:
Mon, 11/16/2015 - 09:31

I've read the Amherst Uprising site, I've read President Martin's letter, I've read the demands, I've read all the coverage I can find on the recent protests. Other than the mascot and the two posters, I have been unable to find much about the specifics of the alleged racism, institutional or not, which exists on the Amherst campus today. President Martin's letter mentions students speaking about loneliness and since of exclusion, but goes no further. I would love to hear from someone involved in these protests what the specific things are about Amherst College today which are oppressive and racist or even just objectionable. I'm not trying to be snide. I would like to understand better.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 11/16/2015 - 13:05

Reading many of your comments makes me embarrassed that you are alumni of Amherst College. Defending a mascot who openly suggested genocide of Native American populations through chemical warfare, do you side with Hitler and Saddam Hussein as well? This movement has been progressively building through actions of the student body for several years now and this protest is a move to realize their goals. The insensitivity of particular members of the student body goes beyond the posters that have caused such excitement and leaves minority members of the college feeling unsafe. You all say to take responsibility for your actions, and we are, we are attempting to reform our academic institution into a place that we can be proud to have graduated from.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 11/16/2015 - 14:42

As someone who graduated from Amherst 3 years ago, I'm having a hard time reconciling my experiences on campus with the claims made by Amherst Uprising. I never saw anything that would indicate anything remotely close to institutionalized racism, homophobia, etc within the College or the student body at large. Over the last decade Amherst has taken extraordinary steps towards creating a safe and welcoming environment for people of all races, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

I guess I'm just confused as to why this group of students thinks there are institutionalized prejudices at Amherst. Are there specific events that have happened in the last 3 years? Please enlighten me, because I just don't see it.

an alum (not verified) says:
Tue, 11/17/2015 - 00:47

So, there are lots of things that go unreported. But also a couple years ago there was the t-shirt the off-campus frat made that insulted native americans. Last year there were the posters that said "All Lives Matter" posted over "Black Lives Matter" posters. More recently were the "death of free speech" posters in response to other students' desire for safer spaces for discussion of racial issues. This weekend, posters supporting the end of Lord Jeff were torn down and shredded by other students. Last weekend students told stories of racist language they have heard from other students, faculty and staff. If you never say anything like this during your time at amherst I think you must have just been lucky, I guess.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Tue, 11/17/2015 - 14:29

If you classify "All Lives Matter" and the "death of free speech" posters as examples of racism, there isn't much to talk about. Those are examples of free speech. Speech with which the allegedly marginalized disagree is not automatically racist. And, again, the call for specifics is met with the vague "students told stories of racist language they have heard from other students, faculty and staff." What was said? Given the above classifications, it is difficult to be confident that these "stories" related actual instances of racism instead of an overly developed hypersensitivity to comments that were neither intended to be racist nor objectively were.

Joseph G. Smeal... (not verified) says:
Tue, 11/17/2015 - 00:40

(Personal context: I am a Latino alumnus who "passes" as white, but I come from a nuclear family where that is not the case for each of my immediate family members; a few very painful experiences I had at Amherst College near the end of my senior year forced me to fully appreciate my "in-betweenness" in unequal social power structures within the Amherst College campus community, and the world at large.)

I am in agreement with Amherst Uprising's overall objectives. That being said, some of those specific demands strike me as strategically imprudent and also unwittingly creating a self-fulfilling prophecy re: conservative students' insinuations about the suppression of free speech.

Amherst College's conservative student faction may say what they want about abortion and free speech, in the context of campus diversity activism across the country. I disagree with their interpretation, but if they wish to state that interpretation, that is part of the free speech package in my book.

Also, unfortunately, "requiring" sensitivity training is likely to produce no effect, or produce the opposite of its intended effect in this context. (I feel like Lady Bracknell all of a sudden.)

I won't deny that occasionally, situations of systemic inequality and exclusion become bad enough that people do need a little bit of an emotional jolt to at least begin the long process of re-wiring their neural synapses to accommodate a substantial shift of their deeply entrenched social paradigms. However, the statement about requiring sensitivity training doesn't strike me as accomplishing that, if that's what it was intended to do.

And also, of course, there is the fact that these protests / counter-protests have after all been enacted by very young adults in their late teens or early twenties. I didn't begin to develop big-picture self-awareness about my individual participation in a fundamentally effed up campus-wide (and worldwide) social structure, until just about the end of my time at Amherst. Articulating creative yet feasible strategies for how to begin changing that structure for the better didn't really come until sometime after graduating.

So while the average current Amherst student, of whatever political stripe, may possess a certain natural analytical intelligence that they can apply to the social situation at the present time, the kind of strategic political intelligence that makes activism and aggressive advocacy most effective takes more time to build up, even among very smart young people.

All that said, the long-term indirect ripple effect of this activism and controversy will probably succeed in retiring the Lord Jeff mascot, and making long-needed improvements on structural support for a diversifying student body, faculty, and staff.

I appreciate the current students' willingness to take a strong stance on what they believe in. (Yes, that includes people on either side of the controversy.)

insider (not verified) says:
Tue, 11/17/2015 - 00:43

It may not look like there is any overt system or "at large" racism at the college. But the testimonials over the weekend were evidence that this veneer of inclusiveness is just that. Students spoke eloquently about struggles they face every day. Of course there is racism and homophobia at the college -- just as there is everywhere. But it is particularly striking to those who face it, on a small campus. They have been speaking about this for years actually, but it has been an insider's kind of conversation, if you will. Last week it boiled over. Perhaps more to the point, the college's traditions (like its mascot), curriculum, and support services, are being recognized as inadequate to the task of fully diversifying the culture of the college. The students' overall message is that simply bring more students of color to Amherst is not enough. It is not enough to make the college "diverse." It must reflect the diversity of its members. This is what is at issue now.

Sarah Denes '02 (not verified) says:
Tue, 11/17/2015 - 16:47

I and dozens of alumni I know are impressed by the students at Amherst College for standing in solidarity with minority students across the country. I am not a minority, and I would like to tell the minorities and international people of color at Amherst: we hear you, and we are ready to listen anytime you want to tell us more.

Andy von Salis '75 (not verified) says:
Tue, 11/17/2015 - 23:33

I see a few other comments here from alumni of my era, when we protested for coeducation and to stop the Vietnam War (I was arrested twice myself by the end of freshman year). But I don't see here that alumni are saying much that's useful.
In fact, though, alumni are saying it elsewhere! There are dozens of comments by alums in '75 alone on the one forum I have been following, which is the Amherst Class of 1975 listserv. No one would like 'em all; opinions vary. But there is widespread courage in stating unpopular views, deep integrity in speaking up for what's right, and a lot of open-minded thoughtfulness about where and how we move from where we are.
No one should think the alumni don't care, or form a monolithic interest group, or constitute deadweight. We love Amherst and we want to see it be - and become - its best. I applaud all the students who are thinking, speaking and doing what it takes to make that happen.

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