Sexual Misconduct at Amherst

Content Warning—Message contains content about sexual assault.

February 3, 2022

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

As we start the spring semester, I am hoping that the steep descent of omicron continues so we can enjoy in-person interactions and gatherings, promote individual and collective well-being, and benefit from a strong sense of community. There is no question that we all need relief, renewal, and (re)connection. In a separate message, I will share some of the plans we have for this semester that we hope will help with that effort.

Today, however, I am writing about the very serious problem of sexual misconduct at the College.

The Campus Safety Advisory Committee is a group of students, faculty, staff, and outside consultants that was charged with considering what constitutes safety and how best to ensure it on campus. I have been made aware that their final report will include, among other things, serious concerns about sexual misconduct. The committee will provide an update to the community next week.

Comment on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

November 18, 2021

Submitted via to Andria Strano, Acting Chief, Office of Policy and Strategy, Division of Humanitarian Affairs, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security

RE: DHS Docket No. USCIS-2021-0006, Comments in Response to Proposed Rule, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

Dear Acting Chief Strano,

I’m writing on behalf of Amherst College[i] to express the College’s strong support for the above-mentioned proposed rule published September 28, 2021. As detailed further below, Amherst College has witnessed the value of the DACA program: it gives our educational institutions and workplaces access to the talent, creativity, and determination of hundreds of thousands of people who are Americans in all but immigration status.

Who are Amherst College’s DACA-recipients?

As an institution of higher education that is committed to creating “as much opportunity for as many academically talented young people as possible, regardless of financial background or legacy status,”[ii] Amherst College’s need-blind admission processes welcome more and more DACA recipients and DACA-eligible students into our learning community each year.[iii] Amherst College’s DACA recipients and DACA-eligible students contribute immensely to our vibrant campus community. While these students are certainly not a monolith—their academic and co-curricular interests vary, as do their socioeconomic backgrounds, their experiences in the United States, their family stories, their salient identities—they all share their immense talent, creativity, determination, perspective, and enthusiasm for learning with the greater Amherst College community. They work diligently to reach goals and build futures not only for themselves, but also for their families. These remarkable young people engage and contribute fully as students in Amherst’s rigorous learning environment, all while facing unrelenting uncertainty around their futures, their safety, their belonging, and that of their families.

Fall 2021 Update from Campus

A family poses by an large inflatable purple mammoth at Amherst College

September 7, 2021

Dear Amherst Students, Staff, Faculty, Alumni, and Families,

I am pleased to send you my annual Fall update, which I hope you will enjoy. I have divided the material into sections with headings that will allow you quickly to identify the areas that are included. There is so much more than this sampling. Small wonder, given the vibrancy of this place!

Student Arrival

Over the past two weeks, we have welcomed nearly 2,000 students to campus in this, our Bicentennial year. It has been pure joy to have the campus populated in a way it has not been since March 2020. We have 532 new students on campus this Fall, a record high. The 470 newly admitted members of the class of 2025, admitted from a pool of nearly 14,000 applicants, are joined by 44 students who deferred admission last year and 18 who transferred from other institutions. Eleven of our transfer students have come from community colleges and five are veterans. For the first time, the majority (51 percent) of domestic students in our incoming class self-identify as people of color. Twelve percent of our new students come to us from abroad and 18 percent will be the first in their family to graduate from college. Thirty-two percent speak a language other than English at home (with over 40 different first languages represented). Fifty-seven percent of the incoming class are receiving Amherst grant funds, with an average aid grant of more than $60,000. Also new to campus this Fall are those members of the class of 2024 who studied remotely last year. Taken as a whole, our new students are extraordinarily accomplished academically, musically, artistically, athletically, in debate, civic engagement, and in many other ways. I have loved interacting with them, witnessing their excitement at being together, and hearing their enthusiasm about their classes. It has been wonderful to see them drifting across campus between classes in animated groups.

Update on Campus Safety Advisory Committee

July 12, 2021

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff, 

I am writing to bring you up to date on the Campus Safety Advisory Committee. As you’ll recall, in my May 10 letter I indicated that I was establishing a process for informing and involving the community in deliberations about what constitutes safety and how best to ensure it on campus. 

Campus Safety

May 10, 2021

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

Last August in my letter outlining the College’s Anti-Racism Plan, I expressed my intent “to enlist the entire Amherst community in bolder efforts to make Amherst a truly equitable and inclusive place.”

We have made progress on key elements of that plan, which I outlined in quarterly updates in November 2020 and March 2021. I write today about two issues of concern to the community on which we are taking concrete action: insufficient resources devoted to student mental health and Amherst’s longstanding approach to public safety.  

First, we will immediately increase the number of full-time mental health counselors by three and take steps that will enable current staff to devote more hours to seeing students. These investments must be accompanied by a broader strategy to promote student well-being proactively. I have asked the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) to develop such a strategy and holistic approach for implementation in Fall 2021.

Return to On-Campus Work (Update)

May 17, 2021

Dear Staff and Faculty,

As you know from a previous message, we expect to have a return to in-person teaching and learning when classes begin on August 30. I am writing now with information about plans for your return to campus. Before I share those plans, I want to thank every one of you, again and again, for everything you have done, as individuals, as teams, and as a College-wide staff, to support the mission of the College during an unimaginably difficult period. That our students were able to persist in their studies is a tribute to them, and to you and your dedication to the critical role your work plays in their education.

Norm Jones Departure

April 6, 2021

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students,

This past week, our Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer and valued colleague, Norm Jones, let me know that he will leave his position in May to help lead a foundation that his family has recently established. Among other priorities, the foundation supports Black men pursuing leadership positions in secondary education. It was established to honor the legacy of his maternal great-grandparents. Norm’s grandfather was one of the first Black principals in Gadsden, Alabama. I know you will join me in appreciating this extraordinary opportunity for Norm, congratulating him, and wishing him well as he leads the foundation’s crucial mission in honor of his family’s ongoing legacy.

Anti-Asian Racism

March 17, 2021

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

Attacks on Asian Americans are on the rise yet again. Verbal abuse, physical violence, and, in at least one confirmed case since the beginning of the new year, murder. The non-profit organization Stop AAPI Hate has received more than 3,000 accounts of anti-Asian American harassment or attacks since March of last year. As I wrote to the community last April, students from our campus encountered verbal harassment in the Town of Amherst and heard racist references in dorms. As a college, we condemn these forms of racism in the strongest possible terms and encourage our community to report incidents and to stand up against hate.

Amherst’s Investments

November 24, 2020

President Martin has submitted the following letter to the Amherst Student.

To the Editors:

I write in response to the opinion piece, A Letter to the Administration: When Will We Divest? (Amherst Student, Nov. 18, 2020), about the College’s endowment. I’d like to provide the Student’s readers and the College community as a whole with some important facts that give a more accurate and complete explanation of Amherst’s investments. Before I do, I want to assure the authors of the opinion piece and subsequent petition that the College administration agrees entirely that we must shape the endowment to honor our mission and values while also ensuring that Amherst’s financial needs, now and into the future, can be met without damage to mission activities.

A Farewell Letter

July 28, 2022

Dear Friends,

Biddy Martin with the Holyoke Range in the distance
This past fall, I announced that this year would be my last as Amherst’s president. I will leave with gratitude that Amherst was the unexpected culmination of my unexpected career. After eleven years here, I cannot imagine a more perfect place to have spent this chapter. I love the purposes that Amherst aspires to serve, the combination here of intellectual seriousness and incisive thinking with a commitment to teaching and learning that is unparalleled in my experience in higher education. We bring faculty, staff, and students together from all over the country and the world in the conviction that our different experiences, cultures, and points of view will offer opportunity, growth, discovery, friendship, and community. That we do not fully realize all of our ideals does not diminish the aspiration or the effort. It does not negate the positive impact of our efforts to ensure that everyone feels engaged and able to make Amherst their own. There is a great deal more work to do, of course, which creates more openings for the new thinking and creativity to come.

Decision Regarding Campus Safety

April 18, 2022

Dear Students, Staff, and Faculty,

I write to provide you with an update on the work that the Campus Safety Advisory Committee has done over the past year and on the Board of Trustees’ recent decision on one issue that the committee has been considering.

We established the Campus Safety Advisory Committee a year ago in response to student activism in support of changes in the role of ACPD, including a push to disarm and/or abolish an armed police department on campus. The committee has worked for nearly a year on a broad interpretation of what “safety” means to different members of the community and what would help Amherst become an environment in which everyone can feel safe. I want to thank the committee for their hard work. They released their report earlier today. I hope you will take the time to read it.

I also want to thank all of the students, particularly members of the Black Student Union and the Anti-Racism Advisory Group, who advocated so strongly for change. Your voices have already had an impact: over the course of the past year, we have moved several functions out of ACPD and into Student Affairs. Armed officers are no longer present in student residence halls or Valentine Dining Hall, except in emergencies or when there is no other available response.

Invasion of Ukraine

February 25, 2022

Dear Members of the Amherst Community,

I write in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to make you aware of events that have been organized by the Department of Russian, the Amherst Center for Russian Culture, the Department of Political Science, and Amherst’s Model UN Club. I hope you will join these conversations and benefit from hearing from some of Amherst‘s most knowledgeable scholars. (The Department of Russian and the Amherst Center for Russian Culture will announce additional events in the coming days.)


10 p.m., Sunday, February 27, 2022

Members of the Amherst Community,

Tonight, my thoughts, like many of yours, remain with the people of Ukraine and their valiant efforts to fight Russia's horrifying invasion and ongoing attacks on their country. According to the Washington Post, Belarus “is preparing to join Russia's invasion of Ukraine,” magnifying the horror.

The attacks are being felt here at Amherst most acutely by our Ukrainian students, whose homes, families, friends, and country are under siege and who cannot but be shaken. Key offices at the College are reaching out to offer support. This afternoon I spoke with several of them, and this evening their pain and fear for their loved ones weigh heavily on me, as I am sure it would on you. The implications and repercussions of this invasion will ultimately affect us all. We can deepen our understanding of the ramifications by attending the virtual teach-in at 7:30 p.m Monday, February 28.

Review of Sexual Misconduct at Amherst: First Listening Session Details

Content Warning—Message mentions sexual misconduct.

February 18, 2022

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

I am writing to let you know that the College’s review of sexual misconduct on campus will begin next week.
As you know, we have enlisted the services of Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie Gomez of Cozen O’Connor, national experts on the issue of sexual misconduct on college campuses. Gina and Leslie’s work here will be focused on understanding and analyzing how the Amherst College culture affects students’ experiences; the efficacy of the College’s prevention, intervention, and response efforts; the many ways that sexual misconduct affects our community; and the reasons survivors may be reluctant to share their experiences with the College.
Listening to and learning from members of our community will be a crucial part of this work and the first step that the Cozen O’Connor team will take, beginning next week. What follows is a breakdown of how we will proceed. More information is available on the Spring 2022 Community Sexual Respect and Sexual Misconduct Review webpage.

Community Well-Being Actions and Offerings

February 8, 2022

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

We are writing to you today about the actions we are taking this spring to promote student mental health and well-being. Anxiety, depression, and other emotional and psychological challenges have risen among young people during the pandemic, compounding what was already a chronic and growing problem with prolonged uncertainty, loss, and isolation. An August 2021 report by American Public Media documents the rising demand for mental health services on college and university campuses. Amherst’s Counseling Center is not an exception and has experienced a significant increase in the number of students seeking help: 34 percent of students used the Counseling Center last semester, an 89 percent increase from the prior year; crisis appointments have increased by almost 94 percent; case management intakes are up 23 percent.

We cannot depend solely on our Counseling Center to address these issues. Together, we need to build a community of care in which all our students can thrive. Last week, I wrote to you about our deep concern about sexual misconduct on campus and the steps we are taking to address it. These issues are connected, of course, and they, along with others, must be addressed with preventive measures that go to the sources of these systemic problems.