Dear Amherst Community Members,

I hope you all are taking good care of yourselves, your friends, loved ones, and colleagues during these challenging times. We are all steeped in two overlapping pandemics: death and violence rooted in anti-Black racism and the COVID-19 pandemic itself. Neither global pandemics or the oppression of Black people are new to the human race—both are deeply rooted in many of our collective systems and practices.

The systematic killing of Black people is an intentional fact of everyday life for far too many. It is epitomized in the death of George Floyd, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Emmett Till, Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Jordan Davis, and countless others.

Degradation rooted in myriad forms of homophobia, xenophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia, is used to advance an agenda of global, systemic, and systematic patterns of racial aggression grounded in histories of state-sanctioned structural violence—particularly that which targets Black and Indigenous peoples, spanning out into an array of multiethnic communities of color and multiracial populations. Those who are also socioeconomically disenfranchised are doubly at stake and at the mercy of racist systems of inequity. The high stakes and deadly consequences of these structures along with a sordid domestic history render contemporary manifestations of these racialized disparities, irrefutable. 

These structural forces, re-enlivened by and embodied in purveyors of human hate, impact current and future generations of marginalized people. The coding and recoding of reactions to the mass destruction of human life and the degradation of racial dignity is unforgivable. I am frustrated, alarmed, and exhausted by the continuation and retrenchment of blatant racism in our country, including our college. Action is the only acceptable response to this insidious, continued violence.

We are reminded by countless scholars and community activists that protest is not inherently violent but rather an expression of discontentment to gain the attention of those who commit themselves to perpetrating violence against subordinated groups. Black resistance, in particular, is the greatest expression of acknowledgment in reaction to the belief that one is less than human or does not matter or belong—a sentiment that seeks to deny another’s right to exist.

From slavery through US-based civil rights moments for women and people of color from the 20’s through the 80’s inclusive of women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and more, to South African anti-apartheid movement, also in the 80’s, to the Black Lives Matter movement of today and tomorrow, people of all races will continue to come together to express anger, outrage, and intolerance for hate. The only acceptable change is systematic and sustained.

My team and I are doubling down on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in partnership with many areas of the College including our broad base of alumni many of whom, in partnership with faculty, students, and staff, are engaged in the everyday work of fighting for justice and equality for us all. Our work began just four short years ago but builds on that which was established by countless members of the College, represented in the resolve and conviction with which we do our work.

The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will continue to collaborate with leaders across faculty, student, staff, and alumni domains to design and implement strategies, innovations, resources, and interventions that respond to some of our most pressing community needs and support some of our most vulnerable community members. Toward this end, we are:

  • Providing consultation and guidance across the college as individuals, teams, departments, and divisions meet and strategize around antiracism education and overall diversity and equity plans and goals.
  • Advising supervisors and managers of specific leadership resources related to sustained antiracism education and curricula. Our Office of Inclusive Leadership continues to provide training on understanding whiteness, allyship, the history of race, and transformative change.
  • Supporting faculty as they teach courses related to race and racism, engage in intergroup dialogue with students who have endured racist acts in their home communities and/or at the college, and think of new forms of pedagogies that center race in more relevant ways.
  • Co-hosting the President’s Colloquium on Race and Racism featuring prominent race scholars and centering voices of Black scholars who further illuminate the relevant intersections of racism and American democracy.

 As we navigate these devastating pandemics, its disparate impacts on communities of color and the economically disenfranchised implicates us all. Many leaders at the college are positioned to influence the course of American history from our strong position in the world. Our faculty, students, staff, and alumni have the opportunity to present a more unified chorus of the state of Blackness in America. We are part of the American project and therefore responsible for eradicating structures of inequality that render our democracy far less than it purports to be.

I’m reminded of the Australian Indigenous writer, Lila Watson who says, “if you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” We are taking action and continually aspiring to hold one another accountable for higher standards of excellence in equity. Even in this challenging work, let our priority be a new, core standard of care: to do no harm and to exercise radical compassion in every fight for justice. Let us work together.

In solidarity and community,

Norm J. Jones
Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer
Pronouns: He, His
odi@amherst.edu