Students Discuss Long-Term Goals In Wake of Sit-In
Issue   |   Wed, 11/18/2015 - 03:00
Sophia Salazar '18
Students, faculty and staff participated in a sit-in at Frost Library on Thursday, Nov. 12. While the event was originally intended to demonstrate solidarity with protesters at the University of Missouri and Yale, it became a forum for discussing experiences with discrimination at Amherst.

Following a four-day sit-in at Frost Library that concluded on Sunday, students have formed committees to discuss ways to address racial discrimination at the college.

The sit-in was originally intended as an hour-long event on Thursday to show solidarity with student protesters at the University of Missouri and Yale. But it ended up becoming a larger protest against racism and discrimination on campus, and students filled Frost Library to speak about their personal experiences with racism.

“I didn’t know how deeply that pain cut through,” said Valerie Salcido ’17, who participated in the sit-in. “I knew that as an abstract, racism exists, but to see it on such a personal level, people who were breaking down because they were finally able to explain everything — that was eye-opening.”

President Biddy Martin canceled her trip to Japan and returned to campus that evening to speak with students at Frost. Some of the students leading the protest formed a movement called Amherst Uprising, and the group’s first action was to present a list of 11 demands to Martin. Later in the weekend, the group created a website for Amherst Uprising, and they posted the demands on the website.

One of the demands called for Martin to denounce the Jeff by Friday evening. Martin did not make a statement denouncing the Jeff, but did say that the board of trustees would be meeting to discuss the mascot in January. Later on Friday, students responded by putting up posters around campus condemning the use of Lord Jeff as the college’s unofficial mascot. At the football game at Williams on Saturday, many students held posters with slogans denouncing the Jeff and proclaiming support for the football team.

That night, students at the sit-in organized themselves into committees. Nine committees focused on topics that had been brought up throughout the previous few days, which were cultural competency, academic policy, prospective students, faculty and staff hiring, student resources, the mascot, funding, alumni relations and mental health.

Amherst Uprising also formed an oversight committee designed to collect information on the work of each committee and present it to the whole organization. There are also four groups called “functions” which serve administrative roles: campus relations, events, social media and external relations, which deals with media outlets that are unaffiliated with the college.

The mental health committee is currently working on suggesting changes to the counseling center. The group has discussed ways to hire more counseling center staff and invite students to serve on an advisory board. The center is holding informational meetings on Wednesday and Thursday to recruit interested students.

“The mental health committee’s work is so necessary because the counseling center is such a crucial way the students depend on the school,” said Sam Wohlforth ’17, a member of the committee. “There is a mental health crisis at this school, particularly among students from marginalized groups, that the counseling center is woefully unable to cope with in its current form.”

Amherst Uprising is also discussing the under-representation of minorities in the college’s faculty and staff. They aim to work on long-term changes to the hiring process.

“Diverse faculty members serve as important role models for students of color, as it enables students to find an older ally who shares a similar racial experience,” said Isabella Berkley ’19, a member of the group. “It is important to realize, however, that hiring more diverse faculty members helps not only students of color, but the entire student body. Diverse faculty also bring a wealth of ideas and experiences which, as a liberal arts college, we should always strive for.”

Martin gave a statement in Frost at noon Sunday expressing her support for students who protested against racism and other forms of discrimination. She also addressed the demands that had been given to her by Amherst Uprising organizers.

“While expressing support for their goals, I explained that the formulation of those demands assumed more authority and control than a president has or should have,” Martin said.

Martin presented an itemized list of goals, which included “build a more diverse staff and faculty, with more aggressive recruitment and effective hiring and retention strategies,” and “acknowledge and support the work done by those staff and faculty who are primary sources of support for low-income students and students of color.”

One of the Amherst Uprising demands called on Martin to apologize for what the group described as an “institutional legacy” of racism and other forms of injustice.

“Apologies of the sort that were demanded would be misleading, if not downright dishonest, suggesting, as they implicitly would, that I or the college could make guarantees about things that are much larger than a single institution or group of people,” Martin said.

Following Martin’s statement, Amherst Uprising officially ended the sit-in.

“What we needed more than a complete point-by-point of the demands was an understanding, an agreement, a signing-on that said ‘We’re willing to work with you on these things,’” Mercedes MacAlpine ’16 said. MacAlpine is also a member of the group’s oversight committee. “And that was completely conveyed in that letter, so that signaled the end of the sit-in.”

According to MacAlpine, Amherst Uprising plans to release a statement this week clarifying the structure and mission of each committee. The students plan to continue working on these clarifications, as well as determining the long-term goals of the organization, through the week of Thanksgiving break.

“This is really focusing on digging in our heels, negotiating and working through this process with the community,” MacAlpine said. “This is all about collaboration and the long haul.”

As of Tuesday evening, 22 academic departments had released statements of support or solidarity with the students involved in the sit-in.

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Comments
Andrew Fincke (not verified) says:
Sat, 11/21/2015 - 11:39

I think the four days in Frost reinforced what I've long felt: The time has come for Amherst to follow the steps of Middlebury and Williams and build a library. Applicants intent on spending overnight hours in a library will be appalled at Frost's inadequacies, which include recalcitrant elevators that don't access all the floors and retractable shelving that leaves returning alumni and visiting parents either trapped in their clutches or scratching their heads how to activate them.

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