January 7, 2021

Dear Amherst College Community,

Like many of you, I am sure, I was left with a range of feelings after yesterday’s horrific and deadly storming of the Capitol building in Washington. I have needed time before writing. I do so now knowing that all attempts to capture the significance of this moment and reflect on its implications are bound to be inadequate. 

What happened yesterday was not a surprise, not in the usual sense. There were signs, even warnings, that violence was possible, perhaps even probable, when Trump supporters were hailed to Washington to protest the outcome of the presidential election on the day when it was to be made official. There was encouragement of it at the highest level. And still, it is shocking. I felt the kind of shock that horrific events or inevitable losses cause, even when we have been forewarned, even when we know they are coming. After years of attacks on truth and the possibility of a shared sense of reality, it is good that we retain the capacity to be shocked, even, if not surprised.

It was emotionally wrenching to see a storming of the Capitol by people intent on overturning the results of a presidential election and preventing a peaceful transfer of power. We saw a blatant display of the racism at the center of this insurrection, as people carrying Confederate flags alongside their Trump banners appeared to have the run of the Capitol. It is impossible to reconcile the difference between the show of force in anticipation of Black Lives Matter protests this summer and the failure yesterday to defend against a breach of the Capitol and a risk to human lives in a frontal attack on democratic institutions conducted under the flag of white supremacy. 

I am writing now because I am certain that all of you were affected by what happened and that you are coming to terms with your own perceptions and thoughts. I know you are experiencing your own range of emotions, which may be quite different from mine. My goal in writing is to make contact and to ask that each of you, and all of you together, take care of yourselves and one another as we continue to contend with what should be unthinkable threats to democratic institutions. We are, at the same time, dealing with failures to provide a coordinated and effective national response to the pandemic; on that front, too, the failings and losses are tragic.

There are also reasons to be hopeful, even amidst all that plagues us. The election results were certified despite legal challenges, political maneuvering, and the use of brute force intended to overturn them. In the process, many people showed integrity and the courage of their convictions. Scientific breakthroughs have made it possible to create vaccines against COVID-19 in a very short period of time. There is reason to believe that the pace of vaccinations will pick up in the next few months. And many Americans are beginning to face the racial reckoning that will ensure the country lives up to its promises of freedom and equality for all. Creating, preserving, and renewing democratic institutions requires commitment, engagement, hard work, and the humility to acknowledge our all-too-human imperfections and failings. 

I feel fortunate to be part of a community that can rely on a shared commitment to critical thinking, respectful and constructive disagreement, and appreciation for one another, even in the face of adversity. I hope these commitments, the fellowship of our community, and good self-care will sustain and lift you up during a difficult time. 

I remind you that the new Center for Restorative Practices offers individual and group support that may be helpful. Impact and wellness circles will be offered next Thursday, January 14. Please check the Daily Mammoth for details. If I or any of my colleagues can be of help to you, please let us know. And if you are struggling and need support, I urge you to reach out.  The Counseling Center is open to all students Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. at 413-542-2354 and counsctr@amherst.edu. The phone number can also be used after hours and on weekends and holidays. Faculty and staff can contact Amherst’s Employee Assistance program any time, day or night.