Addressing Antisemitism

March 27, 2023

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

This week, we will welcome special guest Kenneth S. Stern, an internationally renowned expert on hatred and antisemitism and director of Bard College’s Center for the Study of Hate. I encourage you all to attend his talk, “Antisemitism and Binary Thinking: Campus Culture and the Future of Democracy” at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 29, in Stirn Auditorium.

We must not underestimate the persistent problem of antisemitism and its profound impacts on our world. Many of you will be aware that antisemitism is on the rise, with Jews facing increased harassment and violence in the U.S. and globally. In addition to violence against Jews at synagogues and elsewhere, we see prejudice and discrimination against Jews being instrumentalized in political platforms worldwide. I imagine that most of us are also aware of the prevalence of antisemitic tropes in contemporary conspiracy theories, of social media as an amplifier of those tropes, and of the prominence of Holocaust deniers on social media and YouTube.

Announcing Our “New” Chief Student Affairs Officer and Dean of Students

March 21, 2023

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

I am excited to share the important news that Angie Tissi-Gassoway, currently the interim Chief Student Affairs Officer, will take on that role permanently, along with the Dean of Students title, effective immediately. You can find our public announcement about Angie on our website.

As many of you know, Angie has been a member of our community for 11 years, and this appointment marks a full-circle journey at Amherst for her, since her tenure began in Student Affairs. Over that span of time, they have demonstrated over and over how dedicated they are to the students of Amherst College, one of the many reasons they are held in such high regard across campus.

Important Announcement: Interim Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer

February 3, 2023

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

As a follow-up to my message last week about Angie Tissi-Gassoway moving into the Interim Chief Student Affairs Officer (CSAO) position, I am very pleased to tell you that Sheila Jaswal (she/her), Professor of Chemistry, Biochemistry-Biophysics, and Education Studies, and Faculty Equity and Inclusion Officer (FEIO), has generously agreed to move into the Interim Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer (CEIO) role, effective immediately. (The position opened with Angie’s move to the interim CSAO position.) Sheila has worked closely with Angie in advancing the work of equity and inclusion at Amherst and especially with our faculty. That experience, including serving on the ODEI senior leadership team, makes her a wonderful fit for this interim role.

New Chief Financial and Administrative Officer

February 1, 2023

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

I am very pleased to share the important news that we will welcome Amherst’s new Chief Finance and Administrative Officer, Michael Thomas, to Amherst on March 27, 2023. 

Mike joins us from Middlebury, where he was responsible for all aspects of financial matters for the institution, as well as risk evaluation, campus safety, environmental health and safety, emergency management, and land and property management. He also oversaw Middlebury College’s COVID-19-related operations. You can read much more about Mike in the press release we distributed this morning.

Welcome to Spring Semester 2023

January 31, 2023

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

To those of you returning to campus after the winter break, welcome back! As the spring semester launches, I write to share some reflections from my first semester as president and highlight some upcoming events. 

It has been a pleasure getting to know today’s Amherst. Throughout the fall, I was delighted to participate in community events of all types and to meet and be welcomed by community members—students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, Five-College colleagues, and representatives of the Town of Amherst. To all who have talked with me or invited me to attend events, thank you for your generous welcome and engagement. To those I haven’t met yet, I look forward to meeting you in the months to come. With one semester under my belt, I could not be more impressed by the warmth and vibrancy of our community, and by the integrity with which we conceive, and work together to meet, our high aspirations.

Important Announcement: Student Affairs Leadership

January 25, 2023

Dear Students, Staff, and Faculty,

As promised in my January 13 message to the community about the leadership of Student Affairs, I am very pleased to tell you that Angie Tissi-Gassoway (she/they) will serve as the Interim Chief Student Affairs Officer (CSAO) beginning February 1. As you are likely aware, Angie is currently serving as our Interim Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer, a role she has filled exceptionally well over the past 14 months. I communicated this new appointment personally to the Student Affairs and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leadership teams yesterday.

Leadership in the Office of Student Affairs

January 13, 2023

Dear Students, Staff, and Faculty,

I am writing to share some news with you about an important decision made by one of our colleagues.

Chief Student Affairs Officer and Dean of Students Liz Agosto has decided to step down from her role at the College at the end of this month. From my conversations with Liz, I know that she put a great deal of thought and consideration into this step, and she has determined that she needs to have more flexibility to assist with family obligations and provide support and care to them. Liz has conveyed to me and her team that this was a very difficult decision and one that, even though it is the right one for her and her family, also elicits great sadness for her.

Climate Action Plan/Campus Construction

December 5, 2022

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

We are excited to tell you that the next important phase of the College’s decarbonization of the campus’ energy system—in order to reach our goal of net zero emissions by the end of 2030—will begin this spring. This is a critical infrastructure project and a crucial part of the College’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). The work is as extensive as it is complex, and eventually, in a phased process, it will include every building on the main campus. Amherst is one of only a small number of schools nationwide taking on this kind of project.

As the effects of climate change become more pronounced, and as the social and environmental costs of fossil fuels continue to rise, our commitment to the CAP is both resolute and tangible. For example, the College has invested in high-performance, innovative buildings such as the Science Center, Greenway Residence Halls, and the Lyceum (currently under construction and renovation).

Iranian Protests in Global Context: A Community Conversation with Special Guest Negar Razavi

a crowd marching in protest in Iran
Students of Amirkabir University in Tehran protesting on September 20, 2022 (Image Darafsh, via Wikimedia Commons)

October 12, 2022

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

Many of you are aware of the current civil unrest in Iran arising from the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini (known to her family as Zhina), an Iranian Kurd, on September 16, following three days in police custody for violation of the official dress code. Protesters—women, men, students, and people of all ages—have come into the streets across Iran in reaction to Amini’s death and the Islamic Republic’s long history of repression and human rights abuses against women in particular. Clashes between government security forces and protesters have led to the injury and arrest of thousands of protestors and the death of hundreds.

Follow-Up to AC Alerts Incident

September 1, 2022

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, and Families,

I wanted to follow up on the message I sent last Friday regarding the inaccurate AC Alerts that were received that afternoon. I am appalled that this incident transpired, especially at a moment when we were welcoming the newest members of our community on a day when so many staff, faculty, and students had returned to campus to inaugurate our new academic year. I know the false alerts caused a great deal of confusion, fear, and anxiety in our community, and I’m deeply sorry that this occurred. Members of my senior leadership team and I have heard from many members of our community about how profoundly troubling and disturbing these events were. Please be reminded that all students, staff, and faculty have access to resources for support, as I outlined in my message last Friday.

Move-In Day and Inaccurate AC Alerts

August 26, 2022

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, and Families:

Move-in day for our new students is such an important and exciting occasion ─ one during which our staff, faculty, and returning students join together to welcome the newest members of our community. I spent the morning on the Quad talking to many of you, and the enthusiasm and energy that I felt there made me even more eager to launch the new academic year. I want to thank everyone who came out this morning to make the day a special one for our new students.

Unfortunately, the afternoon was marred by a system malfunction of our campus alert software that resulted in inaccurate messages to the community regarding an active shooter. I know that many of us felt distress and anxiety when we read or heard the alerts. I am truly sorry that these false alerts transpired.

A Letter to the Community

A photo of Michael Elliott, president of Amherst College August 4, 2022

As I near the end of the first week of my presidency, I write with a note of gratitude. It has been inspiring and heartwarming to return to this campus where I first discovered the power of an intellectual community. I am truly grateful for all of the warm words of welcome that I have received. Even in the space of just a few days, I've had the chance to meet people from across the campus who share my passion for a campus community rooted in the liberal arts—from faculty leaders in the Office of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty, to the remarkable staff in facilities, dining, and IT who have done so much to support the operation of the College during the course of the pandemic.