President Speaks on Unity, Respect Following Election
Issue   |   Wed, 11/16/2016 - 00:35

President Martin addressed the Amherst community in the aftermath of the presidential election on Wednesday, Nov. 9 in Johnson Chapel, less than a day after Republican Party candidate Donald Trump won the election. After her speech, group discussions were held in the Powerhouse and Keefe Campus Center.

Her speech followed an email sent to all college students, staff and faculty earlier in the day, in which she asked members of the Amherst community to join her in processing the results of the election.

In her speech, Martin urged people to come together after one of the most divisive elections in American history. “We have our own divisions on campus and we have our own resentments that have arisen in those divisions,” she said. “And we’ve got to address them.”

She admitted that it is easy to surround yourself with those who are similar to you, but encouraged students to reach beyond these social groups and learn about/from people with different backgrounds and opinions — an opportunity she says is unique to college campuses.

“The college has to let itself be changed,” Martin said. “And that means that every single one of us has to try to let ourselves be changed for the better — not in a moral sense, but because [of] the worlds that open up to you when you’re curious, when you’re open, when you listen ...when you just open yourself up … to people from all over the world. If we just lock ourselves into groups that just represent one another we’re all going to be so much lesser for it.”

Martin also commended the students who were a part of the Amherst Uprising, which had its one-year anniversary the Friday after Martin’s speech. “I think we owe the students who protested last year a huge debt of gratitude for the lessons they offered on what it means to live through trying times,” she said. “I think they called us back to our purposes as teachers and learners. Let’s give one another space to be who we are in our otherness. Let’s avoid unwarranted suspicions of each other and tackle problems together. Let’s be capable of critique with friendship. Let’s be the community we don’t see in the rest of the world.”

Martin further encouraged students not to let politics overwhelm other parts of life. “Yes, politics matter. But when the political crowds out these other aspects, not only of our humanness but of our being itself, then we’re lost,” said Martin.

“People attack each other often because of what they see as failures of loyalty to someone else’s construction of the political cause. That doesn’t help any political movement, ever,” said Martin after a call for students to find reasons to unite rather than separate.

That doesn’t mean agreeing with one another 24/7 or uncritically deferring to others’ opinions, Martin said, but rather having “ respect for one another, genuine interest in one another, genuine efforts at cooperation and it definitely requires the humility on every one of our parts. It takes acknowledging that no one of us or group of us has a monopoly on pain, truth, righteous and certainly not on loneliness.”

Student reactions to Martin’s speech varied.

“I think she took it to another level because of how she brought it back to Amherst in terms of the Amherst Uprising. I thought that it was really impactful how she talked about the very clear partisanship and divides that are happening on campus,” said Ann Guo ’20.

“I think her message of listening and having constructive conversations was important to hear but it might be hard to do. People are angry,” Guo added.

Annabelle Gary ’20 noted that Martin seemed to aim less for comfort and more for rationality.

“She was kind of appealing to everyone’s best nature,” Gary said. “I thought it was what we all needed to hear given the high emotions that were running and she reminded us to be kind, compassionate logical, human beings.”

Lucas Zeller ’17 also recognized the emotional atmosphere on campus. Biddy’s speech, he said, was a reminder of the greater community. “I felt like Biddy was asking us all to take a collective deep breath and be together as a campus,” he said. “I don’t know how much it did to assuage any sense of fear or anger that we had, but it was a reminder that we have this community around us.”

Other students like Brandt Dudziak ’20, however, initially reacted in frustration at Martin’s unwillingness to explicitly address the fear on campus. “To be honest, I came into Biddy’s speech really wanting her to call out Trump and tear into him, and caught myself being pretty disappointed when she went the other route,” he said. “In hindsight, I think she made the responsible choice. That’s her position as president of the school, to represent and convey what Amherst itself represents, which is a place where dialogue is encouraged and where we have to look at both sides of the aisle, even if it feels like the other side really personally hurt you.”

President Martin closed by reminding students, “Our differences don’t need to be resentment-filled divisions. They could be sources of a deeper sense of appreciation for the life that includes, but also exceeds, our politics in the narrow sense.”