August 14, 2017

Dear Members of the Amherst Community,

This weekend, in my home state of Virginia, members of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups carried torches onto the University of Virginia campus and rallied in Charlottesville with Nazi slogans and signs to protest the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. What occurred in Charlottesville was a blatant and vile display of racism and anti-Semitism. I write to express my horror and disgust at the Nazi- and Klan-inspired hatred and violence in Charlottesville. I condemn it wholeheartedly and unequivocally in the name of core American principles and values. On the basis of those principles, I also condemn the cynical misuse of the claim to freedom of speech by those who marched with torches onto a college campus in order to harass and intimidate.  

I extend the sympathies of our community to the family and friends of Heather Heyer, who was killed in an act of apparent terrorism when a man used his car as a weapon against counter-protesters. Those who were wounded in that attack and their families and friends are also in our thoughts, as are the two state troopers who died in the line of duty when their helicopter crashed.  

Soon students will arrive on our college and university campuses at what can only be called a turbulent time. We are doing, and will continue to do, everything in our power at Amherst to protect the safety of our students, faculty, and staff and to provide a supportive learning environment for all our students. We will also continue to uphold the College’s foundational commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression. Amherst is devoted to teaching young people to think for themselves. The College is filled with faculty, staff, and students whose independence of mind has long been Amherst’s strength. We highly value disagreement, critical thought, and passionate debate, and we actively seek to encourage differences of perspective. But bigotry, hate, and intimidation are not welcome on our campus. We will not countenance violence or incitements to violence from any quarter.

Our mission is to fight ignorance and prejudice with the freedom and the responsibility to pursue truth, knowledge, and understanding, using the most rigorous possible standards of evidence and argumentation. That includes an understanding of the actual root causes and conditions that are being used by some to justify racist ideology and recruit people to its false premises, even as so many continue to suffer the brutal history and ongoing effects of racism in this country. We will be true to our mission of preparing students to be principled contributors to a democratic and civil society. Terras Irradient.

Biddy Martin