February 2, 2017

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

I am writing in response to yesterday’s sit-in, rally, and student demands, which concerned President Trump’s executive order barring entry to the United States for refugees and citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Let me begin by emphasizing my firm commitment to working constructively with you to help everyone affected by the president’s intolerable executive order, which I condemn. I also emphasize that I will not respond to yesterday’s list of demands from the protesters on its terms. To succeed in our opposition to the prejudice and discrimination in the executive order, we have to engage as a community with the sense of purpose I know we share, and with mutual respect. That is the only effective way to accomplish anything meaningful and lasting.

In that spirit, it is important to set the record straight on two important points that have been subject to erroneous statements by some individuals.

Last Friday, when the executive order was issued, the College staff in several offices immediately began gathering information on the complexities of the legal situation and communicating with students. Yesterday I learned that some students said they were not contacted or feel inadequately supported. I am, of course, troubled by this, and we are actively reaching out to those individuals. At the same time, others have told us they were contacted quickly and feel well-supported. I want that to be true of all affected students.

Starting last November, in the wake of the election, we established a comprehensive set of resources to assist international students, undocumented students, and students with DACA status. We created a webpage to keep our community up-to-date. We have now created a separate webpage with information about the executive order and our actions in response to it. I should add that no institution has expressed a willingness to violate the law.

We have pledged to do everything possible to protect students and staff who are affected by the ban, while providing them with the resources they need. The College states in unequivocal terms that the executive order flouts the principles and values on which higher education and Amherst College depend. It is discriminatory and damaging to those who are directly and indirectly affected, and it is harmful to a society whose strength relies on the talent and hard work of immigrants from all over the world. We join with other institutions in expressing our strongest possible opposition to the ban.

I believe that actions speak louder than words. In addition to the commitments we already had in place, here are the actions the College is taking in direct response to President Trump’s order: 

  • The College has been arranging for students to obtain the legal counsel of attorney Dan Berger, an immigration specialist, and will continue to do so, specifically for one-on-one meetings with students who may need help and advice. The College makes a priority of seeking this expertise. Our general counsel had already arranged to have him here again this Friday, February 3rd at 4:00 p.m. in Cole Assembly Room in Converse Hall.

 

  • We are in the midst of processing admission applications from students from all over the world, including the seven targeted countries, and we have no intention—and never had any intention—of changing our practice of admitting students on the basis of merit, regardless of where they happen to come from or the obstacles they may face. Moreover, we will, as planned, follow our need-blind admissions policy and meet the full demonstrated need for students, regardless of citizenship status.
  • We are continually in the process of hiring the most talented faculty and staff, and we do so, and will always do so, regardless of country of origin. The strength of the College depends on it. We would not consider, and have never considered, doing otherwise.
  • The College remains committed to protecting private information about students from the targeted countries, as it does for all students. We do not share private information about students, staff, or faculty with law enforcement agencies in the absence of a valid subpoena.
  • We are setting up phone banks in Alumni House where, starting this afternoon, it will be possible for you to make calls and write emails to your senators and representatives, as well as to the executive and judicial branches. We have also made phones available in the lobby of Converse Hall for this purpose. I hope that everyone in our community will join me in expressing to our government’s leaders our resolute opposition to the executive order. It is an unconscionable threat to individuals who in good faith came or hope to come to the United States seeking precisely the kind of opportunities that have defined the greatness of this country.
  • The Office of Student Affairs is filling the vacancy for an associate director for diversity and leadership, who will provide more support to international students.
  • We do indeed need to strengthen the Office of International Student Affairs. Prior to recent events, the dean for international student affairs and global engagement decided to leave the College, effective Feb. 28. We will use this opportunity to rethink the mission of the office and will meanwhile enlist the help of those with the necessary expertise to meet the community’s needs. I want our international students to be involved in defining the needs of the office and the contours of the search for the new staff.

We are in this for the long haul. We will continue to provide these services, regardless of developments elsewhere, and we will constantly reassess what we are doing so as to determine what else is necessary to meet the changing needs of our students and others at Amherst. I hope you will join us in our efforts to challenge an executive order that violates the principles of open-mindedness, tolerance, and human decency on which this nation and Amherst itself were founded.

I hope we can engage with one another in the give and take, critical debate, and collaboration that will assure the most effective way forward, and I hope we will not succumb to rigidly adversarial divides. Vigilance, skepticism, and critique are essential. They can occur in the context of open engagement and mutual respect.

Any individual or group wishing to discuss, improve on, take issue with, or take part in the actions I have listed here, who wants to work with us on the most effective ways to protect our students, faculty, and staff and put pressure on our political representatives, please let me know. Anyone who seeks support for what you are facing, please write. We will find a time. My door is open. And apathy is not in my DNA.

Biddy