Racial Justice: Resources and Support at Amherst

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.

Update on Planning for the Fall

June 2, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, and Families,

Since we last wrote to you, the semester has come to a close and, on Sunday, we honored the class of 2020 in a virtual celebration that is available to view. We have reached this point because of the perseverance, sacrifice, and creativity of the Amherst community—all of you. We are grateful for your extraordinary achievement.

We continue actively planning for the fall, and we are writing now to give you another update on our effort to bring as many students as possible back to a safe learning and living environment on campus. As you know, there are many hurdles involved, some in our control and some not. You will probably have read announcements from other colleges and universities, some announcing decisions to bring students back to campus for the fall semester, but all with a warning that those decisions could change. We do not believe that kind of announcement will be very helpful to you. We are focusing intensive efforts on making it possible to bring our students back to this beautiful campus while also preparing to enhance significantly what we offer remotely, knowing that some members of the community will teach and learn at a distance.

Racism, Truth, and Responsibility

May 31, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, and Alumni,

This morning‘s celebration of our graduates offered a reprieve from the horror, deep sadness, and rage I feel about the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the much longer list of unarmed black men, women, trans and nonbinary people whose lives have been taken by police officers or apparent vigilantes. The virulent anti-black racism in this country has never NOT been obvious, and yet there are those who continue to deny it. And there are clearly those who propagate it. Over the past several years, overt avowals and defenses of white supremacy have been more frequent, having been given license by statements and tweets at the highest levels of government. When I say that the pandemic has made racism even more glaringly obvious, as I did at this morning’s event, I am making a plea, to white people, in particular, to acknowledge the reality of anti-black racism, its long history, and its current force; to recognize how embedded it is in our institutional structures, social systems, and cultural norms; and to assume our responsibility for ending it.

May 23, 2020: Staying in Touch

Dear Students, Staff, Faculty, Alumni, and Families,

Usually at this time of year and this time of day, seniors and their families would have heard presentations by honorary degree recipients and some would be gathered on the lawn at the president’s house or attending department events to celebrate their majors. All of us would be looking forward to tomorrow’s glorious Commencement ceremony. We have just finished a Zoom Board of Trustees meeting, the May meeting that usually begins a weekend of festivities in honor of our seniors and the families of the soon-to-be-graduates. I am thinking of our seniors and their families. I look forward to next Sunday when we will honor graduates with a virtual event that will include the conferring of degrees. Next spring we’ll host the class of 2020 for a celebration like no other. Thanks to all the many alumni and families who have contributed and continue to give to the COVID-19 fund that will, among many other things, help make it possible for the class of 2020 to return.

May 16, 2020: Staying in Touch

Dear Members of the Amherst Community, 

My short Friday notes are turning into Saturday missives.

The spring semester is coming to an end. We continue to work hard on planning for at least three different scenarios for fall, each with variations, and doing everything we can to prepare for each eventuality. But the purpose of my weekly notes is not to provide updates on fall planning. You will receive an update in the next couple of weeks—though, as you know, there will be no decision until the end of June.

May 9, 2020: Staying in Touch

Dear Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni, and Families,

As of late Friday evening, I had not yet found a single theme for my weekly message to you. There is a lot on my mind. Classes are done and reading period ends tomorrow. Faculty members are reading thesis work and papers; they will soon be grading the exams for which students are preparing. I always look forward to reading students’ thesis work and hope to find time for it in the next couple of weeks. 

Ordinarily, we would be looking forward to senior assembly, senior week, and Commencement, but there is nothing ordinary about the circumstances that have robbed our seniors of those experiences. I feel terrible about the activities and events seniors are having to forgo. I’ve been finding it difficult to rise above my sadness at the many kinds of loss

Financial Challenges and Measures We Will Take

May 7, 2020

Dear Staff and Faculty,

We are writing today about the financial challenges that COVID-19 has brought and to provide you with an initial list of the measures we believe it is necessary to take. Before we launch into this update, we thank you for your resilience and dedication in the face of this pandemic and its impact. We hope you are taking good care of yourselves. 

Commencement Plans

May 7, 2020

Dear Class of 2020,

I am writing about Commencement. Let me begin by thanking you for sharing your thoughts and preferences in light of the circumstances that prevent us from celebrating in person this year. You expressed an overwhelming preference for postponing the in-person celebration until the spring of 2021. You also have a clear preference for keeping the class of 2020’s celebration distinct from that of the class of 2021’s. So, in the spring of Amherst’s bicentennial year, we will joyfully celebrate not one, but two commencements, a turn of events we could not have foreseen a few months back but one that will prove to be a fitting way to commemorate Amherst’s 200th birthday. We are looking at late May and early June 2021 and will be in touch as soon as we have confirmed the date of your in-person Commencement. In the meantime, we will hold a virtual celebration later this month at which your degrees will be officially conferred, some details of which you will find below.

May 1, 2020: Staying in Touch

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, and Families,

When Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz ’64, H’74, was asked during our first COVID Conversation webcast on Tuesday what he missed most about Amherst, he first recalled a world history course that focused on what the course called “encounters,” an early version, he noted, of what we now call globalization. “So when I started to write about globalization,” he said, “I reflected a lot on what I'd learned in my Amherst class, as a freshman and sophomore, about encounters, about globalization over time. And it really did shape my mind in a very important way.”

Running throughout Joe’s remarks about the economic implications of the pandemic was an emphasis on the importance of higher education as a sector and the benefits of liberal arts education, in particular, in thinking through the complexities of a response. “What we need,” he said, “is science, but not only science; we have to think about the

Updates on Fall Planning and Financial Assistance for Students

May 1, 2020

Dear Students and Families,

I know that some of you have struggled with COVID-19 infections, including at least one entire family. I hope you are recovering, if you have been ill, and that most of you have stayed well through the second half of the semester. I have no doubt that you have also learned a lot—from your courses, your professors, one another, and also from life under difficult and uncertain circumstances. These very challenging conditions have made learning harder for many of you. I admire your resilience and determination.

You understandably have questions about the fall semester and also about the support for students facing financial hardship through the CARES Act. Let me begin with what we know and are doing to prepare for fall.

April 24, 2020: Staying in Touch

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, and Families,

This week the ravages of COVID-19 came closer to home. We learned of our first confirmed case on the campus when one of our custodians tested positive for the virus. As you may have read in an earlier message I sent, the staff member is at home and has been doing well. 

Also this week, a close friend and colleague lost her mother to COVID-19. Like so many others, she has had to forgo the in-person rituals that help us care for those we love and, when we suffer a loss, to grieve. Today I learned that yet another friend has symptoms that may well be early signs of COVID. She is not able to get tested and I have spent much of today feeling for her and also noticing my own pent-up anger about the lack of adequate testing, not only here, but across the country. I think of the lives that could have been saved—and still could be—with widely available, reliable testing, how much less suffering there could have been among physicians, nurses, and other essential staff.

April 17, 2020: Staying in Touch

Dear Students, Staff, Faculty, Alumni, and Families,

Thank you for your warm responses to last week’s note. The gratitude you expressed to and for our staff and our frontline workers was remarkable. One alumna has offered to host any Amherst College staff members who find themselves in Poland once we are able to travel again. Another has volunteered to help with the “cheering up” efforts on campus by joining Val staff in writing encouraging notes to students. 

Staying in Touch

April 10, 2020

Members of the Amherst Community,

This is a brief message. I know you are unaccustomed to brief messages from me, but I am going to practice brevity in my effort to stay in touch with you. Every Friday, you will receive a short note for the purpose of staying in touch and sharing thoughts in the hope you might share some of yours.

Today I want to acknowledge the work of our frontline staff in dining, custodial services, facilities, student affairs, public safety, and in other domains. I learned this past week that a staff member in Val has gone to the trouble of learning the name of every student still on campus, all 179 of them, so she can greet them personally when they pick up their food. I’m told that students’ faces light up in response to her personal greetings and care.

Anti-Asian Racism

April 7, 2020

Dear Members of the Amherst community,

In a letter I sent to you last week I wrote about incidents of COVID-19-related anti-Asian racism that are increasing across the country as the pandemic spreads. These incidents of harassment, verbal attacks, and physical assaults are doing tremendous harm to individuals and to Asian and Asian-American communities. Estimates from days ago suggested that at least a hundred or more incidents are reported each day, including physical violence of the kind that occurred recently in Texas, where three people were stabbed, including two children. These hateful acts represent the worst forms of ignorance. I am writing again today to express what I imagine is our collective horror at this surge in racism and to ask that you join me in openly condemning it, and in doing everything you can to help end it. I also want to encourage reporting and provide information about resources.