March 20, 2020
Dear students, faculty, and staff,
We write with an update about the steps the College is taking to address problems with the culture and actions of the men’s lacrosse team. Findings of individual responsibility for violating the Honor Code lie with the disciplinary process in the Office of Student Affairs. That process is underway. Federally mandated student privacy protections mean that those findings will not be shared.
In this letter, we outline and explain the decisions we have now made in response to the incident. Before we do, we acknowledge that our decisions come at an extremely difficult time when we are all faced with the rapid spread and heartbreaking impact of the COVID-19 virus. We did not determine the timing of the egregious behavior that prompts our actions.
At Amherst, we are fortunate to have a student body, a staff, and a faculty that have begun to more closely reflect the realities of the country and the world. We have a rare and precious opportunity to learn from one another, build a truly supportive and engaged community, and create an environment that draws on a rich array of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds and experiences. To realize the promise that this extraordinary collection of talent, perspective, and backgrounds represents, we need a shared sense of purpose, respect for others, and good stewardship. When some members of our community demean and harass entire groups and create an unwelcoming environment with their conduct, the College has an obligation to hold them to account. This we will do.
The incident that occurred nearly two weeks ago involved the use by some members of the lacrosse team of racist, harassing speech—in the form of the “n-word.” The use of this slur carries the historical weight of centuries-long violence and hatred toward black Americans. It is, unfortunately, only the most recent in a list of deeply troubling cases involving some team members over the years. Those cases include sharing photos of a teammate with a swastika drawn on his face who had passed out at a party, and GroupMe exchanges denigrating and ridiculing gender-nonconforming and trans staff. What makes these matters worse is the failure of those involved to own up to their behavior and the failure of teammates to identify who was at fault. These failures have exacerbated the harm to those directly affected and to our broader community, including those alumni who experienced racism and other indignities while at Amherst. A team culture that repeatedly violates standards of human decency and then protects those who have perpetuated these violations is not a culture acceptable at Amherst. Unfortunately, even these two incidents are not isolated. The team over recent years has been responsible for other violations, including vandalism in the dorms, overtaxing our custodial and facilities staff, and at times creating unsafe conditions.
Participation in athletics at Amherst is a privilege, not a right. Amherst athletes are required to follow the behavioral standards set by the athletic department and the College honor code as well. We realize that not every student on the men’s lacrosse team has actively participated in the violations that have come to light. However, as with any group or organization on our campus, teammates are accountable to each other and, as a team, also to the larger community. In short, we cannot ignore the harmful culture that exists on the men’s lacrosse team, and its damage to our community.
On the basis of a pattern that is endemic and egregious, and that requires immediate correction, we have determined, effective immediately, that the men’s lacrosse team is placed on probation through June 30, 2021.
If any member of the men’s lacrosse team is found responsible under our Student Code of Conduct for a violation related to: respect for persons (including, but not limited to, racism); vandalism; or sexual misconduct, then the team’s entire Spring 2021 season may be cancelled. As a condition of being allowed to play in the Spring 2021 season, the following terms of probation will be required of the team:
- In the fall, every member of the team will complete an educational program determined by the provost and the dean of the faculty, in consultation with the chief diversity and inclusion officer and the director of athletics;
- The team is prohibited from engaging in formal team gatherings prior to November 1, 2020. This includes, but is not limited to, captains’ practices and team-bonding activities. We will review whether this prohibition will continue into additional future seasons at the conclusion of the Spring 2021 season.
- The team will not participate in NCAA postseason play next year.
Finally, we have also concluded that a change in leadership for the lacrosse team will be necessary.
Amherst athletics is among the oldest and most prestigious athletic programs in the country. Our athletes can and must reflect the best of Amherst, holding themselves to the high standards we expect of our community in all its endeavors. We stand ready to help guide and support the work of transforming the men’s lacrosse program and to continue the work of ensuring that all our students have full access to the intellectual, social, and co-curricular opportunities Amherst offers.
Provost and Dean of the Faculty
Director of Athletics