A Letter to Amherst: Response to Racial Epithet
Issue   |   Wed, 10/02/2013 - 00:08

Retraction: In “A Letter to Amherst: Response to Racial Epithet” published in the October 2 issue of The Amherst Student, Andrew Lindsay ’16 wrote that Bradley Keigwin “stole computer components and furniture from the health center and used spray paint to damage the room and draw swastikas.” This statement is not true. Mr. Lindsay and The Amherst Student apologize for this error. Mr. Keigwin was vindicated when another person was identified and pled guilty to these charges. We deeply regret the mistake.

To the Amherst Community,

Racial intolerance in the Amherst community is hardly an emerging phenomenon. Almost one year ago, computer components and furniture were stolen from the health center and spray paint was used to damage the room and draw swastikas. Three months later, an unidentified offender carved the word “nigger” in the snow on top of a car parked on the street just north of the Lord Jeffrey Inn.

Two weeks ago, the community was subject to another example of increasingly frequent episodes of racial intolerance. On the night of Sept. 14, a student reported that someone had written offensive comments near the entrance of Chapman Dormitory. This individual used a pen to draw swastikas and write a racial epithet targeting African-Americans. Since the administration has not revealed what was said, one can only assume that this racial epithet is most likely some variation of the word “nigger.” As outlined earlier, these incidents are not only surprisingly common but also increasing in frequency. So the Black Student Union writes this letter not only to simply highlight the shocking nature of the latest installment of racial intolerance at Amherst College but also to highlight another troubling fact: the shocking ambivalence surrounding incidents of racial intolerance and ambivalence to matters of race at Amherst in general. Case in point, the response of the Amherst Community to the incidents that occurred in the fall of last year.

The response to the incidents described on the first week of Dec. 2012 can best be characterized as existent but inefficient. A group of students unsatisfied by the Administration’s slow response to the N-word carving, hijacked the campus listserv to e-mail students with information abut the incident and a time to meet to bring awareness to the issue. For those who do not remember that e-mail, the subject line was “NIGGER.” The night of the proposed meeting Biddy Martin came to the Octagon before even addressing the campus on the details of the incident. In the words of two of the attendees it seemed reminiscent of containment.

“It seemed as if Biddy heard that the students were angry and wanted to contain the issue before it became a problem”, commented one of the student organizers.

Later that night, Martin was asked to leave the meeting by the students. Two days later, Martin responded to these incidents by proposing a mere hour and a half meeting during class hours the next day. Her plan for this meeting was to discuss a potential symposium on race and diversity in the spring; a welcomed suggestion backed with very little to no administrative action.

Later that same week, former AAS President Tania Diaz, wrote her response to the results of a student body referendum to relocate the MRC to the third floor. In that referendum, although only 30 percent of the campus participated at the polls, two-thirds voted against the relocation of the game room to make room for the MRC on the first floor. Some student responses to Diaz’s letter on The Amherst Student website included, “the game room’s awesome, no need to stick it up in the dark 2nd floor” and “prove yourself worthy.”

What characterizes these seemingly unrelated events to Chapman is the lack of a meaningful response by the administration and ambivalence by a large portion of the student body. Although Dean Larimore responded quickly to the events of this last week, what was substantively done on the behalf of the students offended by these racial epithets? Why does it seem as if the administration only responds to matters of race when pushed into a corner? The answer is simple. Matters of race aren’t particularly important at Amherst College with the exception of convocation, commencement and homecoming, the few days of the year when being a minority is showed off by the administration.

But we tell the Amherst community this; meaningful diversity comes from minority inclusion not just minority representation. Amherst’s brand of diversity is remarkably shallow. It is the type of diversity that elicits at least a half-hearted dialogue for an off-campus racially motivated hate crime, yet none for the word “nigger” and swastikas scrawled by the entrance of one of Amherst’s dorms. This is a paradox that can only be explained by the tremendous student activism of last year versus the campus ambivalence of this semester.

Despite these contradictions, Amherst College is on the verge of truly momentous changes. This year alone the school has raised half a billion dollars, is on the verge of a massive faculty and administrative recruitment drive and has admitted perhaps the most racially, socio-economically and geographically diverse class in the country. However, amidst these changes things remain eerily similar to more shameful times in this school’s history ­— times where the minority was seen but not heard.

In Martin’s response e-mail to the events of last year she stated, “I suggest that the rest of us take responsibility, not for having spelled out a racist epithet on a car, but for a response to it that condemns this act and all the forms of racism of which it is an instance.”

It is the opinion of the Black Student Union that such a response to racism has yet to take place. A substantive response should be strived for which goes beyond a prompt e-mail response by the Dean of Students or two posters and a table at Keefe Campus Center denouncing hate speech. A full-on conversation should be encouraged involving faculty, students and administration, not only about hate speech, but the general culture of ambivalence to racial issues at Amherst College.


The Black Student Union at Amherst College
Main Contributor: Andrew Lindsay ’16

Anon (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/02/2013 - 07:24

Remind me again why we're giving credence to every idiot with a pen? These seem to be wanton incidents of vandalism, not hate crimes. (With the exception of the Keefe break-in, I've seen worse in rest stop bathrooms, and I didn't call the police.)

Of course, we need to provide resources to ensure that these petty crimes don't disproportionately harm members of our community. Those who feel threatened have a right to speak out and have their voices heard.

But seriously, take a step back and look at the kinds of incidents we're talking about. Are they emblematic of some systematic failure of the administration? Are we supposed to regulate pen ownership? (By the way, you neglected to mention the new use of security cameras in parking lots that no doubt was a response to these events.)

The lack of impassioned response from the student body derives from, I think, the fact that these incidents seem unavoidable in a society where thought and action isn't regulated. We need to be more supportive as a community, listening and providing support to those who feel threatened (and "offended", though if we had to dignify every instance of "offense" on this campus with a day of dialogue, we would have to cancel class indefinitely). But the aimless outrage sparked suggests there's a solution to a problem that seems to boil down to: How do we ensure that no one thinks or acts wrongly?

If you think that's a worthwhile endeavor, give it a shot. But don't blame the Amherst community for not taking up the task.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/02/2013 - 18:11

The lack of impassioned response from the student body derives from students like you, who, because you see these incidents as unavoidable, decide we might as well not address it. The world is racist, deal with it. Great attitude.

I blame you, for minimizing an issue you think is irrelevant, probably because you do not understand the pain caused by these instances and by people like YOU who believe racism can't hurt. Can't be a threat. Have you even tried to understand the issue before you decided it wasn't a "worthwhile endeavor"? Did you speak with (actually, listen to*) anyone hurt by these incidents? Have you even pretended to try to understand that perhaps this is in fact threatening? Have you ever stopped and wondered that maybe, Amherst campus is an extremely uncomfortably place for many students of color? Because people like you downplay pain. Regard feelings as unwarranted. Call our speaking out "anger" and "overreactions" and "uncivilized"

Probably not. So please, listen and try to understand things before you speak on them. Lifelesson

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/02/2013 - 21:23

You're making it seem as if those of us responding to the issue are the problem. We're not the perpetrators. It's condescending and paternalistic--just because such instances are inevitable doesn't mean that we shouldn't do anything about it nor does it mean that no one is hurt by it. Hateful language is hurtful, harmful, and emblematic of the failure of individuals to listen to one another and try to understand why such incidents cause pain. These issues extend way beyond the realm of Amherst College. These problems existed way before Amherst College even came into being. Such instances burst whatever "safety" bubble we think we've created here. No one should ever make someone else feel inferior, with or without their consent. The bottom line is this: these incidents were hurtful to certain members of our student body and something more substantial should've been done. Not just by the administration, but by the student body as well. If someone had come up to me and asked how I felt about it would've been something. We're talking about a culture change. Doing nothing solves nothing. Kudos, though, to AAS, for the Love campaign. Yet, even that masks the root of the issue.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/02/2013 - 15:53

Vandalism and hate crimes are not mutually exclusive. Any incident that involves derogatory speech, language charged with historical connotations of dehumanization and subordination, is a hate crime. Hate crimes are targeted towards certain "minority" groups of people, whether they be Jews, blacks, or members of the LGBTQ community. Drawing a swastika and writing nigger on a wall is just as much of a hate crime as physically attacking someone based on some part of their identity. In fact, to prove that a physical attack is a hate crime is more difficult. How can you prove racially motivated intent? Hate crimes are characteristically blatant. I'm not sure how much more blatant the incidents could have been. Nigger and swastika are clear cut terms. It's quite difficult, if not impossible, to see the word nigger or a swastika without instantly thinking racism and prejudice.
The primary mission here is not to change ways of thinking. Racism is far too embedded in our cultural systems. Racism is ingrained in our society. Almost every aspect of our society is racialized and it's near impossible to reverse the damage that has been done. The purpose is draw a line between what is right and wrong. Some things are just downright unacceptable and glossing over clear incidents of bias is wrong. Whenever someone feels threatened based on something unchangeable, action should be taken. Racial issues still occur whether we want to face that as a community or not. Dialogue and conversations can mend misunderstandings so that when incidents of bias do occur, we can respond as an informed, united community against any form of intolerance. We can't just let anything go. Apathy isn't going to get us anywhere.
While installing cameras was a response, it was merely a security measure instead of addressing the actual issue. We could've had an open forum. Dorm talks could've been hold. Societal change isn't going take place without individual change. Regardless of cameras or not, such acts of hate will still occur. The question is, how do we properly address racial issues and intolerance constructively and aggressively? How do we ensure that everyone feels a part of the Amherst community?

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/02/2013 - 22:13

I'm honestly tired of people on campus minimizing the issue. Someone wrote the word "NIGGER" in front of a dorm at Amherst College. Is this not shocking enough? Just because it was written in pen it becomes a petty crime. How about someone writing "FAG" in front of someone's room door. This all happened within 24 hours. The response was a prompt email and that's it.

No dialogue, nothing.

We have 45% minorities on this campus and that's all we have to say. When we talk about about dual and triple citizens during convocation or commencement we show off this diversity but when the staple of the new Amherst brand - our diversity, is trampled by racism and a concurrent lack of administrative and student response... silence.

In my opinion that is the crux of this article. No one seems to give a damn. The ambivalence to race on campus by students and administration is absolutely appalling. More students seemed to care about criticizing Dumm's article on the administration's impartiality to athletics than someone literally writing the word "NIGGER" in front of a dorm for all to see.

It shouldn't be this way for such a progressive campus and the student and administrative response should mirror that. But it doesn't. Things only affect ME and if not then who cares. And for such a "diverse" campus this issue should mean way more than it currently does.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/02/2013 - 23:35

Yeah, we need to do something about this issue. Everyone on this campus is so ignorant. I am sick and tired of this. We need to have a day of dialogue for each incident that occurs on this campus.

Now that we have established that we need these days of dialogue...can the administration serve food at them? Pizza (Antonio's) and wings would do.

Josh (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/02/2013 - 23:48

Giving this attention can provoke more incidents, it is giving fame to someone that wanted attention. What should happen is the graffiti gets cleaned up immediately and if someone gets caught doing a similar act in the future they should be seriously punished. I just hate it when people are so reactive to issues.

Also its pretty insensitive to push the serious anti-antisemitism to the side here...

The real solution lies in less division between racial, ethnic and religious groups.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/03/2013 - 09:56


'14 (not verified) says:
Fri, 10/04/2013 - 18:14

Did you read this letter at all? Do you write for The Onion in your spare time?