A Letter to the Community

The Amherst College English Department stands united with those who protest against police violence and who fight for Black lives. With one voice we say: Black Lives Matter.

We also know that saying these words can only do so much. We also have to enact their meaning every day. Back in 2015, amid the Amherst Uprising, we stood in Frost Library with you and affirmed “our commitment to racial justice on campus and beyond, to raising consciousness about matters of race, and to redressing the long history of racial discrimination on campus.” Today, we recommit ourselves to the daily labor of combating anti-blackness in our classrooms and communities.

As scholars of art and culture, we turn to art as an emotional and intellectual resource in trying times. As our streets and screens fill with images of oppression and resistance, we draw solace and power from art that challenges white supremacy and helps us see, feel, and imagine new kinds of freedom. We believe it is important to share such art—and such perspectives on art—in every corner of our curriculum. At Amherst, you’ll find that a course on Shakespeare can focus on the formation of modern concepts of race (as ours will this fall) or that an introductory course on TV can devote itself to representations of race and policing (as ours will this spring). Courses like these have an important role to play in providing a robust, anti-racist English curriculum.

We also recognize the importance of providing courses that immerse students fully in Black intellectual traditions and are taught by specialists in those traditions. Recent faculty departures and upcoming retirements threaten our ability to keep that promise into the future. We see this as an existential threat to the department, and have made it our top departmental priority in coming years. Those faculty must (at a minimum) be replaced so that Black art and thought can continue to be taught by world-class experts and career-stable faculty in English. Meanwhile, we will fight to create a college that hires, supports, and retains faculty of color—not only in these fields, but across the curriculum.

We know we can count on Amherst students to be our partners in this struggle. Back in 2015, we expressed our admiration for the “intelligence, emotional bravery, and sensitivity” of Amherst students engaged in anti-racist work. As we collectively imagine the future of English at Amherst, we hope you’ll set the bar high—and we welcome you to speak up whenever we fall short.

We look forward to having these conversations with you and to transforming the intellectual space that we share.