Events of January 6, 2021

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.

Anti-Racism Plan Update

November 23, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, and Alumni,

We write with our first quarterly update on the anti-racism plan you received in early August. As you will recall, the plan, with its focus on combating anti-Black racism, was designed to bolster our broader diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. This status report is intended to let you know where things stand on key commitments, inform you about which offices or groups are responsible for the work, provide as precise a timeline as possible, and explain, when relevant, where final decision-making authority lies. The framework for this work is our overarching institutional commitment to providing the best possible liberal arts education to talented students regardless of their background and means, and to doing so as a community that benefits from diversity, inclusiveness, and equity, free of systemic barriers and incidents of discrimination, harassment, and bias.

Amherst’s Investments

November 24, 2020

President Martin has submitted the following letter to the Amherst Student.

To the Editors:

I write in response to the opinion piece, A Letter to the Administration: When Will We Divest? (Amherst Student, Nov. 18, 2020), about the College’s endowment. I’d like to provide the Student’s readers and the College community as a whole with some important facts that give a more accurate and complete explanation of Amherst’s investments. Before I do, I want to assure the authors of the opinion piece and subsequent petition that the College administration agrees entirely that we must shape the endowment to honor our mission and values while also ensuring that Amherst’s financial needs, now and into the future, can be met without damage to mission activities.

Announcing Amherst’s Preliminary Plans for Spring 2021

October 28, 2020

Dear Students, Families, Faculty, and Staff,

I am writing today to share some of the key elements of our plans for the spring semester. Although the fall has been, by necessity, a different kind of residential experience for everyone involved, it has brought great joy to have students on campus and I am grateful to everyone for their efforts to ensure a successful semester so far. Dean of Students Liz Agosto will continue to communicate with you about spring planning over the next several weeks.

Based on our experience this fall and the continued adherence to our COVID-19 safety protocols in our community, we plan to bring approximately 1,200 students in the spring (versus the 970 or so who arrived at the beginning of the fall semester). We will continue to maintain a low residential density by assigning only one student per room in the residence halls, using at least one residence hall that was not in use in the fall, and maintaining adequate isolation and quarantine spaces.

Fall Update and Spring Planning

October 7, 2020

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

I hope you are staying well and bearing up during this difficult time. We are midway through this historic fall semester; time for a fall update. 

Seven months after COVID-19 forced us to disperse back in March, we are fortunate to have more than half our students on campus, with nearly as many studying remotely. I have the great privilege of living on the campus and have loved seeing it enlivened after so many quiet months. I am also grateful for a beautiful fall with plenty of sunlight on the shades of red, russet, yellow, and gold as the leaves change.

Presidents’ Letter Regarding the Department Of Education’s Princeton Investigation

September 24, 2020

Wesleyan University’s President, Michael Roth, and Amherst College’s President, Biddy Martin, have written the following statement regarding the DOE’s investigation of Princeton surrounding racism and adherence to federal non-discrimination law:  

Across the nation, individuals, families, communities, businesses, corporations, and educational institutions are coming to grips with the country’s legacies of slavery and racial oppression,  which stretch back over four hundred years. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education announced that it will be investigating Princeton University for possible misrepresentations in its reports of adherence to federal non-discrimination law because its president publicly recognized that historic racism has been embedded in the institution over time. 

Amherst Anti-Racism Plan

August 3, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, and Alumni,

For the past few months, I have read, listened, and thought deeply about the experiences of racism and violence that Black students and alumni have shared, and which they endured across this country and also at Amherst. I have spoken before about the environment in which I grew up and the racism and violence that were endemic to it. I know how visceral and violent the belief in white supremacy can be. I have seen it first hand. I know how essential it is to many white people’s identities, even when its importance is unconscious and unacknowledged. Given what I have lived and what I have studied, I know there can be no neutrality about the fact of racism and no legitimate debate about the urgency of confronting it. It is time for me as a president, who is also white, to take stronger stands and to enlist the entire Amherst community in bolder efforts to make Amherst a truly equitable and inclusive place. For me, this is a time to transform what I know and what I have known into what I can do and what I can enlist you to do.

Statement from President Martin About Withdrawal of Restrictive Federal International Student Guidelines

July 14, 2020
To the Campus Community,
I am relieved by this outcome and delighted not only for our international students but all of us who benefit from their many contributions. The presence of international students in our educational institutions and later in our workforce is a benefit to us all.  

Statement on ICE Change Impacting International Students

July 7, 2020

Yesterday afternoon, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced changes to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program for non-immigrant students on F-1 and M-1 visas for academic and vocational study. The changes would force international students to leave the country or transfer to an institution offering in-person classes if their colleges and universities are offering classes entirely online during the fall semester. We are baffled by what we consider a terrible decision, and we condemn it. The announcement goes so far as to suggest that if institutions offering a mix of in-person and remote classes go completely remote during the semester, international students would then have to leave the United States. 

Because Amherst will offer a combination of in-person and remote-learning opportunities, we can and will have our international students on campus and enrolled in classes that involve in-person teaching and learning. However, many

Important Supreme Court Decisions and Our Community

June 23, 2020

Dear Amherst College Community,

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States announced a number of decisions, two of which were particularly important to students, faculty, and staff at Amherst—one affirming protections for the categories of sexual preference and gender identity under Title VII and one rejecting the effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy. We celebrate these decisions on behalf of our students, staff, and faculty as well as the College as a whole, consistent as they are with the value Amherst places on equality and fairness. Along with a groundswell of activism on behalf of anti-racist work in all areas of our society, I hope these decisions mark the beginning of a transformation toward a better future for us all. 

I write today to provide some detail about the decisions and to catch you up on developments this week.

June 13, 2020: Staying in Touch

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

You may have noticed that I’ve fallen off the weekly schedule with these messages, now that much of the country is beginning to open up. I will continue to stay in touch, on a looser schedule, and will provide updates as we reach decisions about how the fall semester will look. I thank all of you who have replied to these messages over the weeks, sharing your stories, reflections, criticism, news, and words of support. Although I have not been able to reply to each of you individually, I have appreciated your messages and been moved by what you have shared. It says a lot about our community that you have been so forthcoming and have stayed in touch yourselves.

Two weekends ago, we gathered virtually from around the world to celebrate the class of 2020, who showed exceptional resilience and a strong sense of purpose in completing their degrees despite the interruption of their on-campus studies by the global pandemic. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a visitor to campus last

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.