September 10, 2017

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

As you learned on Thursday in an email from Chief of Police, John Carter, someone tied and left a noose on the football field this past week. I want to make sure that everyone in our community understands the gravity of that act of hate. The noose is a symbol of lynching, a form of racist violence and socially tolerated killing of Black people that occurred from late 19th century to the 1960s primarily, but not exclusively, in the South. I grew up in the aftermath of that time and place; I refuse to go back.

Over the past several months, nooses have been found in a number of places around the country, including the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture, in schools, and on several university campuses.  They are unmistakably racist symbols of hate. They have no purpose other than to evoke fear. It is appalling that one was tied and left on the ground in a visible part of our campus. This hateful and egregious act cannot stand without a response that affirms our collective outrage.

I call on every member of our community to join me in condemning it and in standing with those directly targeted by an act of this kind.  A lynching noose generates fear because it represents the use of terror and murder as a form of intimidation and social control. You have my assurance that we are taking this act seriously and the perpetrators will be punished appropriately.

In the meantime, I plead with each member of the community to educate yourselves about the history and ongoing effects of racism in the U.S., of which the terror and torture involved in lynching and the spectacle that surrounded it were critical parts. We will not fulfill our mission of “bringing light to the world” if we do not ensure that members of this community are informed, not only about the history of lynching and its long-term consequences, but also about the courageous people who fought it. Every American should know the names—Ida B. Wells, James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and W.E.B. DuBois, to cite just a few. The anti-lynching movement was led by the founders of the NAACP, most of whom were White, in 1909.  I cite this history because coming together across race, ethnicity, gender, and other differences is the key to strengthening us as a country and it’s what will strengthen Amherst as a community. But it cannot work until and unless we look the realities of racism in the eye. 

Amherst is not immune to the ills of the larger society, and, the current state of the nation hardly offers solace or inspiration. Racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim bias, misogyny, trans- and homophobia have been given license.  Our students, staff, and faculty live at the intersections of these frequent sites of discrimination and injustice.  When discriminatory and hateful acts occur, we must immediately bring them to the attention of campus police, our resource centers, student affairs staff, or other members of the administration or any Amherst official.  Your reports and concerns will be taken seriously and addressed promptly.

The Amherst College police continue to investigate and I have asked Chief Carter to call the FBI for possible assistance.  I ask that anyone with any information contact the Amherst College police, no matter how trivial the details may seem. As you may already have read, the rope was left on the field after it had been used at football practice.  Sometime between Monday evening when Coach Mills left the field and early Tuesday morning when he returned, someone had tied the rope into a noose and left it lying out near the middle of the field. It is imperative that we find out who did this and make sure everyone on and off campus knows that we will not tolerate racist bigotry in any form.  

Who we are, what we stand for, and our convictions are being challenged daily.  I encourage you to examine your beliefs, values, and choices, and actively demonstrate your commitment to building the inclusive culture every student has been promised.