June 3, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

On Sunday, I wrote on behalf of the College to condemn the killings of George Floyd and so many other Black men and women by police. The peaceful protests that continue across the country and the engagement of so many people give reason for hope that an ongoing movement will succeed in ending institutionalized racism and white supremacy in the United States.

I am writing today to provide information about resources and actions—some already part of College programs and others new. We have created a web page to make it easy for you to find and make ongoing use of the resources (which are still being added). As I collect and offer these lists, I can't help thinking about the many times we react to horrific events or decisions with lists of resources and actions that ultimately seem to fade from view. So before I begin the lists, which include actions and resources that will last and will matter over time, I also want to emphasize the resources that are core to our mission and our strength—the talent and creativity of our student body and the extraordinary quality of our faculty, both supported by a staff that is deeply devoted to the College’s mission. These are the most important and enduring resources a college can have. I encourage all our students to take advantage of the courses and the professors whose work focuses on race and racism. And I hope that everyone—students, staff, faculty, and administrators—will see an education in race and racism in its broadest and most local, interpersonal forms as an essential part of what can and should be done in response to what has been made so glaringly obvious.

I also want to emphasize the importance of civic engagement and support of democratic principles. One of the most important actions any of us can take, however small it may sometimes seem in the face of systemic problems, is to register to vote, work for the candidates of your choice, advocate for free and fair elections, and commit to voting in local, state, and national elections.

Announcements of Upcoming Initiatives/Events

  • First, I am pleased to announce Amherst Acts, a partnership between the Black Student Union and the President’s Office, the College, and interested donors through which we will match the funding that BSU raises from students, faculty, and staff for three organizations: the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the United Negro College Fund, and the Pioneer Valley Workers Center. The BSU campaign begins today and ends at 11:59 p.m. on June 9, 2020.
  • Student Affairs has organized a Vigil for Black Lives that will be hosted by Religious and Spiritual Life. The vigil will take place this Friday, June 5, at 4 p.m. via Zoom. Please join us.
  • We also continue work on a number of commitments in response to BSU demands for safety, equity, and equal ownership of a sense of belonging at Amherst. Here are those responses again:
    • We are accelerating work on the creation of a bias reporting protocol.
    • We are implementing changes in the Code of Conduct that will spell out policy and forms of accountability for race-based harassment and the use of racial epithets against students of color.
    • Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein and the Committee of Six are organizing discussions between students and faculty about the relationship between “respect for persons” and “freedom of expression.”

Intellectual Engagement and Learning

Norm Jones, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, has compiled a multimedia guide of materials from a variety of sources. It includes histories of the construction of race, resources for those wishing to fight racism in their daily lives, and reflections on diversifying the academy. We welcome additions to this list; please contact Norm (njones@amherst.edu) if you would like to contribute. In addition, I encourage you to explore resources made available by the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

I mentioned curricular opportunities and resources earlier. Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein will call for and help support new interdisciplinary courses at Amherst on race and racism in the United States and will create a catalog of current offerings for interested students. The provost will also sponsor a speaker series featuring prominent historians on the history of race and racism in the United States over the next academic year. The speakers and the format of the series will be announced later this summer.

We also offer a partial list of additional local and national organizations and resources that you may find helpful, whether you need legal assistance or information about civil liberties, or are seeking organizations to support.

Policing and ACPD

Protests across the country have arisen because of police violence and the racism in our criminal justice system. The Amherst College Police Department (ACPD) is held, and will continue to be held, to the highest standards of equal and fair treatment. Chief John Carter and his team support those standards, and they are open to listening and learning from our community. They are in the process of planning listening sessions with students. Students will receive information about those sessions soon. Please take a moment to read a statement from the ACPD in which they convey their commitment to our community and everyone in it.

Mental Health Support

Many, many people across the country are experiencing emotional anguish, frustration, sorrow, and rage. I encourage everyone in our community to reach out for support and to offer support to your friends and family members. I hope you are checking in on one another, that you take time to take care of yourselves. Even at a distance, we can listen to one another, learn, show compassion, and intervene on behalf of others.

For students seeking confidential counseling and referral services, please contact the Counseling Center (413.542.2354), which offers a variety of resources for students, including support groups and individual counseling. The Counseling Center staff is also available to help you gain access to care in your current location (including urgent care). The College is looking into the possibility of additional emotional support opportunities that would occur in small online group settings. Class deans are available for any student who would like to talk or who needs support.

Faculty and staff who are in need of mental health support should contact New Directions, Amherst’s Employee Assistance Plan, a confidential resource that employees can access any time via the website or by calling 800.624.5544. (You will need to enter our “company code”: Amherst College.)

Support Programs

The Office of Student Affairs has put together a series of support events that will begin with this week’s vigil. Next week, the Resource Centers will begin offering a series of solidarity and support events for students, which will be repeated weekly, assuming interest (access the links for more information):

  • Monday, June 8, 3-4 p.m.: Black Student Support Circle, a gathering space for Black students to seek support and community with one another. Eboni Rafus-Brenning, Director of the Multicultural Resource Center, and Nayah Mullings, Director of the Women’s and Gender Center, will co-facilitate.
  • Wednesday, June 10, 3-4 p.m.: Non-Black POC Student Solidarity Space, a conversation and reflection on what it means to be experiencing this historical moment as Non-Black people of color, hosted by Tenzin Kunor, Director of the Center for Student Diversity and Leadership; Paola Gallego, Administrative Coordinator; and Gabriel Hall, Assistant Director of International Student Engagement (CISE).
  • Thursday, June 11, 3-4 p.m.: Doing the Work: White People in Solidarity for Black Lives, an opportunity for fellow white people, and those who hold whiteness as part of their identity, to engage in reflection about how to show up for racial justice. The event will be hosted by Angie Tissi-Gassoway, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion; Hanna Bliss, Director of International Student Engagement (CISE); and Jxhn Martin, Director of the Queer Resource Center.

The RCT and Counseling Center will host additional student support spaces the week of June 15. 

Workshops and Events

Virtual programming will occur throughout this month and beyond, with details to be announced in the Daily Mammoth. The Offices of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) and Human Resources will offer a staff and faculty workshop on white identity and allyship.

The Office of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty and ODI will offer an academic presentation on race and racism.

Following our successful “COVID Conversations” series, the President’s Office will sponsor new live-streamed events exploring racism, protest, and civil unrest.

Sharing and Preserving Experiences

We will solicit reflections on your experiences of this historic moment. Contributions will be shared on our website and with Archives and Special Collections. Keep an eye on the Daily Mammoth for details.

This is a pivotal moment in the nation’s history and an opportunity to join together to fight systemic racism, racist prejudices, and discrimination. The goal of a liberal arts education is to fight prejudice and ignorance with knowledge and understanding, changing the world for the better.

Please take care of yourselves and one another, and reach out for support as you need it.