Traditional Canes Come Back at Commencement
May 2003: At Commencement, all graduates receive a wooden walking cane—a revival and reshaping of a College tradition that originated in the 19th century. When a student attained sophomore status, they were allowed to wear a class top hat and carry a class cane.Jose Abad ’03, Benjamin Baum ’03 and Siona van Dijk ’03 propose reviving the tradition, and it receives broad support across the College, eventually gaining permanent funding. The tradition continues today as the Conway Canes. In the 21st- century adaptation, the canes are a visual metaphor for a college education: they support graduates throughout their lives. Learn more.
Anthony W. Marx Inaugurated 18th President
Oct. 26, 2003: Marx’s inauguration includes, among other events, a reading by poet Richard Wilbur ’42 and a panel on “The Liberal Arts: Privilege and Responsibility.” Educated at Wesleyan, Yale and Princeton, Marx has previously helped to found Khanya College in South Africa, served on the political science faculty at Columbia University and written three books. As president, he works to make Amherst more accessible to students from low-income backgrounds. Learn more.
Emily Dickinson Museum Established
Feb. 5, 2003: The College, which has owned the historic Dickinson Homestead on Main Street in Amherst since 1965, announces its plans to acquire The Evergreens-- the home next door where poet Emily Dickinson’s brother, Austin, lived with his wife, Susan. Together, The Homestead and The Evergreens will constitute the Emily Dickinson Museum, with a new governing board to oversee its development. Learn more.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Speaks on “Constitutional Interpretation”
Feb. 10, 2004: Invited by President Tony Marx, the conservative associate justice (parent of an ’02 Amherst graduate) gives a controversial lecture to a packed Johnson Chapel, arguing for a strict originalist interpretation of the Constitution. In a letter to The Amherst Student, 16 faculty members who object to Scalia’s views and record have announced their refusal to attend. In peaceful protest, student groups distribute pamphlets outside the event. Some two dozen local protestors, one wearing a duck costume, demonstrate on the quad. Learn more.
Nelson Mandela Receives Honorary Amherst Doctorate
May 12, 2005: Nearly 1,300 people, including 400 Amherst students and 150 faculty and staff, gather in St. Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan for the bestowing of honorary doctorates upon the former South African president and his wife,Graça Machel, former minister of education of Mozambique. “In South Africa, in America, in all the world—we must provide education, not as a privilege, but as a right; not for some, but for all,” Mandela told the crowd, adding, “We are all South Africans now.” Learn more.
Beneski Earth Sciences Building and Beneski Museum of Natural History Opens
March 2006: The new building, designed by Boston architecture firm Payette and located behind Fayerweather Hall, houses the College’s geology department, as well as its collection of minerals, mammoth and mastodon skeletons, dinosaur footprints and other natural history specimens. Five years later, the building and museum are renamed in honor of benefactors Ted ’78 and Laurie Beneski. Amherst’s previous natural history museum space is soon renovated and reopened as Charles Pratt Dormitory. Learn more.
Amherst Receives $6 Million for Low-Income African and Latin American Students
Feb. 21, 2007: Philanthropist and retired businessman Athur W. Koenig ’66 pledges $6 million over six years to establish the Koenig Scholarship Fund, which will support five talented low-income students each year from Latin America and Africa. He hopes not only that the scholarship recipients will succeed, but also “that the students and staff at Amherst are influenced by these students.” The first five Koenig Scholars arrive on campus in fall 2007, from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Kenya and Guatemala. Learn more.
Amherst Makes Historic Decision to Replace Loans with Grants and Scholarships in Financial Aid Packages
July 19, 2007: The College announces that, as of the 2008-09 school year, it will replace loans with scholarship funds for all students who receive financial aid, thus allowing most students to graduate with low or no debt. This is an expansion of a groundbreaking "no loan" policy instituted in 1999 for students from families with incomes of less than $40,000 a year. In 2008, Amherst also becomes one of the first U.S. colleges to extend its need-blind admission policy to all students, regardless of citizenship. Learn more.
Multicultural Resource Center Opens
Sept. 15, 2008: A grand opening is held for Amherst’s Multicultural Resource Center-- the result of several years of planning, debate and work by students, staff and administration regarding the need for greater support for students of color and more effective cultural programming. The MRC opens in the basement of Keefe Campus Center, in a space temporarily granted to it by the Association of Amherst Students after much negotiation. Today, the MRC is located on the main floor of Keefe. Learn more.
First Environmental Studies Majors Graduate
May 24, 2009: At Commencement, six students receive degrees in environmental studies, an interdisciplinary major—encompassing perspectives from biology, economics, statistics, political science and other fields --introduced at Amherst in 2008. Environmental studies becomes its own department in 2014, and its first full-time faculty member, Ashwin Ravikumar, is hired in 2017. By 2019, the number of environmental studies majors in the graduating class quintuples to 30. Learn more.
Amherst Receives Largest Monetary Gifts in Its History
Nov. 3, 2009: The College announces that two anonymous alumni have donated $100 million and $25 million, over five years, to support “efforts to provide the finest possible undergraduate education and access to it, and to maintain Amherst’s standing as the most selective and the most diverse liberal arts college.” The $100 million is thought to be the largest unrestricted gift ever given to such a college. Both gifts are part of the Lives of Consequence capital campaign, launched in 2008 to raise $425 million. Learn more.
Film and Media Studies Major Approved
November 2009: Faculty approve the development of a film and media studies (FAMS) major at Amherst. Though some professors have long taught film studies within their own departments, and the Five Colleges have offered a film studies program, the Amherst FAMS major will require students not only to study media but to create it. Amelie Hastie joins the faculty in 2010 as the first chair of the program, and the College’s first FAMS major graduates in 2012. Learn more.
Carolyn “Biddy” Martin Named 19th President
June 14, 2011: Succeeding Tony Marx, Martin is the first woman named president of Amherst College. Having grown up in rural Virginia in a family who “worried that, especially for girls, higher education might be a negative force,” Martin holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from The College of William & Mary and a Ph.D. in German literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and has published two books. She has previously served as provost of Cornell University and as chancellor of UW-Madison. Learn more.
Occupy Amherst College
Nov. 17, 2011: Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations against economic inequality in New York, a student movement known as Occupy Amherst College joins other local and Five College Occupy groups to protest at the town’s Bank of America branch, forcing the bank’s temporary closure. The protestors then march to Amherst College and UMass. Other Occupy demonstrations involving Amherst students, faculty and staff happen throughout the year. Learn more.
Architectural Studies Major Approved
May 2012: The faculty vote to approve Amherst’s participation in the Five College Architectural Studies major. “This is neither an architectural history major nor a design major in the traditional sense,” says Heidi Gilpin ’84, associate professor of German, who serves as the College’s first chair of architectural studies; nor is it a pre-professional program. Instead, each student will undertake an independent, interdisciplinary course of study, drawing from classes in art, history, economics, physics and other fields. Learn more.
Sexual Misconduct and Title IX
October 2012: The Amherst Student and student-run website AC Voice each publish, within a week of one another, opinion pieces from separate students detailing what they describe as instances of misogyny, unaddressed sexual misconduct on campus and a “pattern of forgiving instances of violence against women” at Amherst. Their first-person accounts ignite a firestorm of criticism of the College for its handling of sexual assault, and empower other survivors to come forward with their stories. Later that semester, classes are suspended for a rare all-campus Day of Dialogue organized to facilitate constructive conversations among the community. In the following months and years, Amherst overhauls its sexual misconduct reporting and adjudication processes and hires its first full-time Title IX coordinator.
Launch of Amherst College Press
Dec. 5, 2012: The College announces a new initiative, conceived by head librarian Bryn Geffert: a digital press that will publish peer-reviewed scholarly works in the humanities and offer them for free online. The business model of Amherst College Press is presented as an egalitarian alternative to traditional academic publishing, which requires libraries, scholars and the general public to pay for access. The press hires its first director and begins publishing texts in 2014. Learn more.
Portrait of Rose Olver Unveiled in Johnson Chapel
Jan. 22, 2013: The painting, by artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson, is the first portrait of a woman to be permanently displayed in the chapel alongside depictions of Amherst presidents and prominent alumni. It honors the career of Olver, the L. Stanton Williams ’41 Professor of Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies, Emerita, who became, in 1962, the first woman to earn tenure at the College, and who later chaired the committee that created the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies. Learn more.
Book & Plow Farm Takes Root
February 2013: Inspired by a 2010 student proposal and named for the imagery on the Town of Amherst’s seal, the Book & Plow Farm is established on campus. Farmers Peter McLean and Tobin Porter-Brown lease land from the College around Tuttle Hull, on which they grow produce to sell to Valentine Dining Hall, with the aim of expanding and diversifying the farm and offering work and learning opportunities for students. Initially a for-profit farm, today Book & Plow is a staffed department of Amherst College. Learn more.
Statistics Major Approved
Spring 2014: In response to increased student enrollment in statistics courses, the College approves statistics as its 38th major, turning the Department of Mathematics into the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. The major is based on guidelines set by an American Statistical Association working group chaired by Professor Nicholas Horton, who helps develop Amherst’s program along with Amy Wagaman, Shu-Min Liao and Xiaofei Wang. The number of statistics majors rises rapidly from four in the class of 2015 to 20 in 2019. Learn more.
Board Statement Reaffirms Abolition of Fraternities
May 26, 2014: The Board of Trustees votes to abolish fraternities—gain. In 1984, the Board prohibited the use of any College facilities or resources by fraternities or sororities, and it revoked any College affiliation with, or recognition of, these organizations. After the 1984 decision, however, several fraternities took on life underground. In response to a 2013 report from the Sexual Misconduct Oversight Committee expressing concern that the underground fraternities’ unofficial status prevents the College “from enforcing appropriate expectations for student behavior with respect to them, including accountability under the Honor Code,” the 2014 Board resolution reaffirms, unambiguously, the spirit and intention of the 1984 decision and prohibits membership in off-campus fraternities, while committing the College to new efforts to improve student life. Learn more.
Powerhouse Opens as Social Center
Sept. 5, 2014: The Powerhouse, a steam plant originally built on the east side of campus at the turn of the 20th century, reopens after renovations designed by architects Bruner/Cott of Cambridge, Mass. The brick building becomes a popular site for parties, movie nights, concerts and student performances. Learn more.
Black Lives Matter Awareness Week
Oct. 15, 2014: With support from the College’s Black Student Union, Multicultural Resource Center, Queer Resource Center and Women’s and Gender Center, and with the participation of the Amherst College Police Department, a Black Lives Matter Awareness Week begins on campus to address issues of police brutality and racism within law enforcement. The week involves discussions, performances, a film screening, “Know Your Rights” training and a vigil for victims. Learn more.
Gender Matters Book Explores the “Coeducation of the Faculty”
Oct. 16, 2014: The College publishes a book titled Gender Matters: The First Half-Century of Women Teaching at Amherst, based on an October 2011 campus symposium of the same name. Featuring symposium transcripts, essays and biographies of dozens of female faculty “pioneers” employed by Amherst between 1962 and 1983, the book chronicles how Amherst has evolved as a workplace for women and looks toward the future for a new generation of professors. Learn more.
Day of Dialogue on Race and Racism
Jan. 23, 2015: After the police killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo.-- about which hundreds of students stage a “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” walkout of classes in December 2014 --Amherst holds a Day of Dialogue. Over 1,300 students, faculty and staff attend a panel with race educators, then break into groups to share concerns and ideas for the future. While many appreciate the day as an encouraging step, some students and faculty note its insufficiency in addressing many facets of racism and inequality at Amherst. Learn more.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Speaks
Sept. 8, 2015: After a standing ovation, Sotomayor walks the aisles of Johnson Chapel, poses for photos and conducts an hour-long Q&A with eager students. She talks with them about citizenship, religion, her days at Yale Law School, and the challenges of being the first Hispanic and the third woman ever to serve on the nation’s highest court. President Biddy Martin announces that students will receive copies of Sotomayor’s 2013 memoir, My Beloved World, the next day. Learn more.
Nov. 12, 2015: Amherst students plan a one-hour sit-in in Frost Library in solidarity with Black students protesting racism at the University of Missouri, Yale and other schools. The sit-in grows into a weekend-long peaceful occupation of the library, during which students of color and others who feel marginalized testify about their struggles at Amherst. The weekend leads to a highly publicized long-term movement-- known as the Amherst Uprising --to push the administration to take steps to address discrimination and inequities at the College.
Amherst Uprising Information & Sources
Amherst Uprising Clarifies Long-Term Goals
Trustees Vote to Abolish Unofficial “Lord Jeff” as Mascot
Jan. 26, 2016: In response to the Amherst Uprising and “scores (all right, hundreds) of communications from alumni, students, and others,” board chair Cullen Murphy ’74 issues a statement on behalf of the trustees that the College will no longer mention or depict the controversial “Lord Jeff” in its communications. Never an officially adopted College mascot but long a de facto one, Lord Jeffery Amherst (1717-1797) was a British army officer who suggested using smallpox as a weapon of war against Native Americans. Learn more.
Shakespeare’s First Folio Displayed at Amherst
May 2016: The College serves as the only Massachusetts stop on a nationwide tour of the exhibition First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare. A First Folio from 1623 is displayed in the Mead Art Museum, open to Hamlet’s famous “To Be or Not To Be” monologue. The exhibition is an initiative of the Folger Shakespeare Library in celebration of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Learn more.
Mammoth Announced as New Mascot
April 3, 2017: After formation of a Mascot Committee and a months-long process of nomination and voting among students, faculty, staff and alumni, the Mammoth is announced as Amherst’s official mascot. It is a reference to the Columbian mammoth skeleton unearthed in the 1920s by Professor Frederic Brewster Loomis, class of 1896, and now displayed in the Beneski Museum of Natural History. The College works with a design firm to develop a Mammoth logo, which it unveils at a Homecoming bonfire on Oct. 20, 2017. Learn more.
Latinx and Latin American Studies Major Approved
May 2017: Faculty approve a major in Latinx and Latin American studies, dedicated to critical examination of the diverse histories and cultures of Latin America, the Caribbean and the U.S. Latinx population. The preceding decade at Amherst has brought a twofold increase in the number of Latin American, Latinx and Caribbean students enrolled, and an eightfold increase in the number of courses focusing on those regions and cultures. Learn more.
Launch of Promise: The Campaign for Amherst’s Third Century
April 2018: In a letter to the Amherst community, President Martin announces the launch of Promise: The Campaign for Amherst's Third Century. The campaign launch is celebrated with a weekend of events on campus that feature student talent and achievement and include students, faculty, staff, families, and friends of the College. The five-year, $625 million fundraising effort seeks to promote the enduring values of liberal arts education as well as reinvent aspects of the liberal arts to meet the needs of current and future generations of students. Learn more.
New Greenway and Science Center
Oct. 20, 2018: A day of tours, panels and scientific demonstrations celebrates the grand opening of the College’s new Science Center. The 255,000-square-foot building, sustainably designed by Boston architecture firm Payette, replaces Merrill Science Center and the Maguire Life Sciences building as the home of numerous science departments, laboratories and classrooms. It’s additionally intended to serve as a major social hub and the centerpiece of the campus’s Greenway, which also includes four newly built dormitories. Learn more.
Climate Action Plan
Jan. 29, 2019: In light of concerns about climate change, Amherst announces a trustee-approved plan to achieve a carbon-neutral campus by 2030. The plan will involve transitioning the heating and cooling systems from steam to lower-temperature hot water; procuring zero-emission energy to meet all heating, cooling and electrical needs; and reducing energy consumption through continued building improvements, energy-efficiency projects and behavior change. The College intends to tie the technical aspects of Climate Action Plan into educational and community-engagement opportunities for students. Learn more.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg Visits Campus
Oct. 3, 2019: After addressing a smaller group in Converse Hall that afternoon, “RBG” converses with President Biddy Martin in front of 1,600 students, faculty and staff members in Coolidge Cage (as well as hundreds more watching an online livestream). Among other topics, the 86-year-old associate justice answers questions, from Martin and audience members, about landmark SCOTUS decisions, the possibility of an Equal Rights Amendment and her love of opera. The Choral Society performs music from her favorite, The Marriage of Figaro. Learn more.
College Transitions to Remote Learning During COVID-19 Pandemic
March 9, 2020: President Biddy Martin announces that, in order to prevent the spread of the virus on campus, Amherst will follow a remote teaching and learning model for the rest of the semester: Instead of returning to campus after spring break, most students and faculty must remain in their homes around the world, and classes, lectures and panels are conducted online. All but a few essential College staff work from home. Commencement for the class of 2020 is postponed until 2021. Learn more.
President Martin outlines Anti-Racism Plan for Amherst
August 3, 2020: President Martin outlines a plan for how Amherst can address anti-Black racism that includes 17 specific points of change and accountability. “In truth, there is only one legitimate response to the fact of anti-Black racism and the damage it inflicts,” Martin writes. “That response is opposition. And opposition requires that we take more intentional measures.” Learn more.