Statement on Transgender Student Rights

February 23, 2017

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

I am writing to express dismay at yet another action at the federal level that is diametrically at odds with the values of the College: the decision by the Trump administration to withdraw a mandate that transgender students be treated by their schools in ways consistent with their gender identity. I condemn the rescinding of guidance that helped provide protection for some of our most vulnerable youth. The protections that have been rescinded were issued in the form of guidance under Title IX by the Obama administration. In their brief letter of guidance, the current Departments of Justice and Education explained last night that legal confusion and inadequate vetting of the existing guidance led to the decision to withdraw the protections. They also argued that the issues are best handled at the state and local levels. I agree with civil-rights experts who argue that transgender and other LGBTQ rights are fundamental civil rights that ought to be protected at the federal level. I note that Secretary DeVos is said to have opposed the withdrawal of federal protections. She tweeted a statement in support of LGBTQ rights soon after news of the withdrawal was released. Here is a link to: 1) the letter of guidance issued by President Obama’s Office of Civil Rights; 2) the guidance from Attorney General Sessions; and, 3) Secretary DeVos’ s statement. I want to emphasize that Title IX law has not changed and a range of organizations are offering legal help to transgender students who encounter discrimination in schools, among them Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and the Human Rights Campaign.

Developments in Immigration Enforcement

February 11, 2017

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

Many of you have read or heard about the waves of deportation raids and detentions in various parts of the country. According to government officials, the actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are routine and do not represent an escalation in scale or tempo. Whether or not that is accurate, we know that in the current environment these raids are bound to intensify the anxiety felt by people who are or who could be affected—directly or indirectly. They increase the anxiety, too, of everyone who worries that changes in immigration policy and enforcement may threaten principles on which our college and country depend. That is why I reiterate an unyielding commitment that Amherst will do everything we can using the fullest extent of the law to protect members of our community who could be affected by changes in immigration policy and enforcement and to be a relentless voice in opposition to the threats faced by members of our community.

Today our Chief Student Affairs Officer, Suzanne Coffey, made contact with individual students who have identified as undocumented or as having DACA status. She notified them of several resources that her office immediately made available to them and she called their attention to the College’s website for Undocumented and DACAmented Students.  There are members of the student affairs staff who stand ready to meet with students and provide information and support this weekend and beyond. I have also asked Lisa Rutherford, our Chief Policy Officer and General Counsel, to work with the Office of Human Resources to ensure that staff are aware of resources available to them, and have asked Catherine Epstein, the Dean of the Faculty, to do the same for those who teach here.

Letter from President Martin to John F. Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security

The Honorable John F. Kelly
Secretary of Homeland Security
Washington, DC. 20528

February 3, 2017

Dear Secretary Kelly,

Please accept my congratulations on your confirmation as Secretary of Homeland Security. I know you face enormous and complex challenges in striving to protect our nation.

Among the most complex issues is, of course, immigration, and I wish to join the chorus of college and university presidents who are expressing deep concern about the executive order of January 27, 2017, and who are seeking to have it rescinded.  The leadership of Amherst College has been and remains committed to the security of the country. At the same time, from some thirty years of experience as a leader of three prominent educational institutions, I am completely convinced that the order as constructed and promulgated is harshly unfair to those affected and damaging to the immediate and long-term interests of our country.

Update: Actions on Immigration Ban

February 2, 2017

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

I am writing in response to yesterday’s sit-in, rally, and student demands, which concerned President Trump’s executive order barring entry to the United States for refugees and citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Let me begin by emphasizing my firm commitment to working constructively with you to help everyone affected by the president’s intolerable executive order, which I condemn. I also emphasize that I will not respond to yesterday’s list of demands from the protesters on its terms. To succeed in our opposition to the prejudice and discrimination in the executive order, we have to engage as a community with the sense of purpose I know we share, and with mutual respect. That is the only effective way to accomplish anything meaningful and lasting.

The Place of Athletics at Amherst

Jan. 31, 2017

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, and Parents,

The magnitude of developments on the national front can make it difficult to focus on other matters. But it is important, perhaps more important than ever, that we also advance the work of our institutions and do what’s necessary to keep them strong. I am writing today about one particular aspect of our College life—the role of athletics, an area that was studied by a special committee that completed its work at the end of this past academic year. I write to share their report. The committee, which I commissioned, was co-chaired by Shirley Tilghman, Amherst trustee and president emerita of Princeton University, and Patrick Williamson, Edward H. Harkness Professor of Biology. The committee included several students, two additional faculty members, a coach, a trustee who was a varsity athlete at Amherst, and the dean of students. 

President Trump’s Executive Order Involving Refugees and Immigrants

January 29, 2017

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

Many of you have heard that on January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order suspending entry into the United States for refugees for 120 days; nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days; and Syrian refugees indefinitely. Since then, multiple courts have issued emergency stays temporarily halting the removal of individuals detained after the order. It is unclear how the temporary stay will affect those in transit and it will take time for a legal resolution. We advise Amherst students, faculty and staff from the affected countries, including those who are dual citizens or have green cards, not to travel outside of the U.S. 

Thoughts About Community

December 20, 2016

Dear Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni, and Parents,

As the fall semester comes to a close, I write to wish all of you a restful and enjoyable holiday season. There are too few opportunities in our accelerated lives to be fully present to one another, to read, to wonder, to play, and to reflect. I hope you get a chance to do all of those things over the next couple of weeks and into the new year.

The end of this semester has been marred for many by reports of troubling behavior on men’s athletics teams at several colleges and universities, including one at Amherst. Given the growing number of such reports across the country, I worry that the problem may extend to other teams and that there will be more revelations—here and elsewhere. I am concerned that there may be groups beyond varsity athletics that engage in similar forms of “bonding” through behavior that involves ridicule, denigration, and vulgarity. Condemning such behavior and holding those who are involved accountable is a necessary but not a sufficient response. In this letter I want to reflect on the larger question of how we build positive forms of community.

Statement from the President to the Amherst Community

UPDATE from President Biddy Martin: December 12, 2016

Earlier this afternoon, the College retained Justice John M. Greaney to investigate reports regarding the men’s cross country team. Knowledge of the facts will guide the College’s decisions about disciplinary process. Justice Greaney, a former justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, is currently Counsel at the law firm of Bulkley, Richardson, and Gelinas. 

I encourage anyone who has information that would be relevant to Justice Greaney’s investigation to submit a report (anonymously, if you prefer) at: amherst.edu/go/reporting

I will provide periodic updates of the status of the investigation to the campus community.

Biddy


December 11, 2016

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff, 

Late this afternoon I was informed by the athletic director, Don Faulstick, of an article in the student publication The Indicator that exposes emails and social-media exchanges among members of the men’s cross-country team. These exchanges are supposedly meant to “welcome” new teammates and introduce them to the culture of the team. The messages are appalling. They are not only vulgar, they are cruel and hateful. No attempt to rationalize them will change that. My reaction is one of profound sadness, disappointment, and anger. The athletic director has informed me that members of the team confirm the nature of these messages. The exchanges have been occurring for several years.

Immigration Law and College Campuses

(Traducción en Español)

November 20, 2016

Dear Members of the Amherst College Community,

On November 16, several hundred of our students gathered with faculty and staff on the steps of Converse Hall to express their fears and their opposition to possible changes in American immigration laws and enforcement. Their fears about how changes may affect them, their fellow students, and their families are all too real. At Amherst, we have an obligation to ensure that all our students are able to take advantage of the educational opportunity we offer without fear for their well-being. At this moment, we are particularly focused on undocumented students and students with legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order. We will do everything we can within the limits of the law to support them and fulfill our promise of educational opportunity.

Racist Posters on Campus

November 16, 2016

Dear Members of the Amherst Community,

Yesterday two posters were discovered in McGuire Life Sciences Building displaying skulls of different sizes and linking them to differences in intelligence by race. The poster-makers should have spent their time studying the history of science; they were apparently unaware that phrenology was discredited well over a hundred years ago and that more recent studies showing correlations between skull size and IQ prove nothing. Or, perhaps they know very well that the posters have no worth or use other than offense and provocation. They are playing a propaganda game—a dangerous and hurtful game, but a game nonetheless. Its purpose is to cause pain and, in the process, to put higher education in the cross-hairs by baiting people into confirming right-wing caricatures of college and university communities as bastions of hyper-sensitivity and repressive political correctness.