In 1972, the poet Sonia Sanchez became the first African American woman to join the Amherst faculty. She was also the second person to chair Black Studies. She returned as a keynote speaker in 2018. Read: “We’re Here Because Sonia Sanchez Wants to Reactivate Activism,”
In 1986, prominent feminist scholars founded what is now the Department of Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies at Amherst. Sexuality, Women's & Gender Studies (SWAGS) at Amherst.
Note: The African American Intellectual History Society chose a book by one current SWAGS professor, Aneeka Henderson, for its list of Best Black History Books of 2020.
In 1962, Rose Olver became the first woman to hold a tenure-track position on the Amherst faculty. In 2013, she became the first woman to have her portrait hang in Johnson Chapel. Learn more: “At Last, a Rose,” from Amherst magazine, 2013.
“A people without a thorough knowledge of roots and history cannot move into the future, cannot rest in the proper chair of life.” Poet and activist Sonia Sanchez in 1974, in a memo inaugurating Amherst’s Black Studies department, which turns 50 this year.
Note: Learn about Sanchez’s most recent visit to Amherst.
Black students make up 18.7 percent of our first-year class, setting a “new standard” for “high-ranking liberal arts colleges and the nation's leading research universities,” says The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.
“In every way, my dance is Black, my dance is woman, my dance is me.” Abadai Zoboi ’24 is participating in the Black Art Matters Festival, an affirmation and celebration of art by Black student artists and creators.
Note: Register for the virtual Black Art Matters Festival scheduled for Thursday, March 4, 7-9 p.m.
“We should remind ourselves constantly that we have a history behind us, that we have a character to sustain.” William H. Lewis, 1892 Amherst graduate and the first Black U.S. assistant attorney general, addressing the Massachusetts House of Representatives on Feb. 12, 1913, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Kevin Soltau ’01 started this mural of inspirational Black Alumni in 2000 in the Octagon; 16 years later he returned to add three more portraits. Learn more about Kevin Soltau and the “History on the Wall.”
“My vision for Amherst is that love becomes the center of what the Amherst experience is.” David Rosa ’21, discussing with the Center for Restorative Practices, his hope and vision for Amherst College in regard to racial justice
“My work is entirely based on my identity. I am heavily invested in Black culture and it shows through my artwork.” Lauren Bell ’22 reflecting on her artwork in the Black Art Matters Festival, an affirmation and celebration of art by Black student artists and creators.
NOTE: Register for the virtual Black Art Matters Festival scheduled for Thursday, March 4, 7-9 p.m.
“Amherst is a place where an English major can write a play about gay rights in Buenos Aires, and a world-famous playwright and a Latin American politics expert will help you do it. I can’t imagine any place setting me up for success more than Amherst did.” Kate Stayman-London discussing her novel, One to Watch, in the cover story of the new Amherst magazine.
“I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.” Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at The New School on February 6, 1964; re-broadcasted on Amherst's student-run radio station on December 8, 1964.
“Computer science is a young discipline, but it is now mature enough that it can be helpful to other sciences.” Assistant Professor Matteo Riondato works at the intersection of computer science and statistics.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
“I could hear my dad shout from downstairs. My mom laughed, my brother was a bit overwhelmed too, and my sister asked, ‘Didn’t you win that already?’ ” Jeremy Thomas ’21, who is studying remotely from his home in Texas, on his family's reaction to the news that he'd won a Rhodes Scholarship.
“This toxic value system unsurprisingly originated during slavery. It affects us all. It affects Black women the most.” Chloe McKenzie ’14 McKenzie, an expert on financial trauma, abuse and shame, from “The Real Power of Money.”
Note: Photo of Chloe McKenzie by Justin Wu
“I have a long history of thinking about both the power and problem of fake media.” Alexandra Juhasz ’86, creator of the podcast We Need Gentle Truths for Now, and Distinguished Professor of Film at Brooklyn College.
Note: Photo of Alexandra Juhasz by David Rozeblyum, Brooklyn College
“The essential quality of leadership, I believe, is integrity.” Trustee emeritus George R. Johnson Jr. ’73, P’03, speaking in June after being named a 2020 Legal Legend of Color. Amherst mourns his Nov. 15 passing.
NOTE: George R. Johnson Jr. was one of two students to speak during Commencement in 1973. Read his Commencement address, “The Prize of the High Calling.”
A Tribute to George R. Johnson Jr. by Richard A. Ammons ’74 and Cullen Murphy ’74
“I thought that it would make sense to teach a class where Native people themselves not only are part of the past and the present, but they're going to be part of the future.” Kiara Vigil, associate professor of American studies, from an NPR interview: A Professor On Why It Is Important To Highlight Roles of Native Americans in History.
“I felt like that was the only place in the world I was meant to be at that time, like I could not have pulled myself away from what was going on even if I had wanted to. A floodgate had been opened and it could not be plugged back up.” Amber Boykins ’18 recalling the student occupation of Frost Library that took place five years ago this month.
Note: Andrew Smith '18 created a website about the Amherst Uprising, a protest in which students of color, among others, gave testimony about their struggles and marginalization at Amherst.
Amherst College seeks to enroll qualified students who are actively serving or have previously served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Read about how to apply as a U.S. veteran, and read interviews with some recent alumni veterans.
“Going to a school like Amherst College and being trained in the liberal arts is the academic equivalent of being a tight end in football. Your education trains you to be adaptable and able to fit multiple roles quickly and effectively.” U.S. Air Force Veteran Nathan Needham ’18E. Needham was featured on the Service To School website: From the Air Force to Amherst College to University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
Note: Read more about Needham and others who served in the U.S. military before coming to Amherst.
“As the self-governing community seeks, by the method of voting, to gain wisdom in action, it
can find it only in the minds of its individual citizens. If they fail, it fails.” Alexander Meiklejohn, president of Amherst College from 1912 to 1924, in his book Free Speech and Its Relation to Self-Government.
Note: Learn about the Meiklejohn Fellowship named in his honor. It supports low-income and/or first-generation Amherst students today.
“I believe the most important part of the Incubator program was how it helped me build my confidence in how I can become successful in whatever path I choose in the STEM fields.” Maria Andrade ’23, reflecting on her experience in the summer Incubator pilot program. It aimed to provide students from underrepresented backgrounds with the tools to succeed in STEM fields.
“They are an incredibly caring group of individuals. Their willingness to help others may be difficult to quantify, but it is so palpable.” Cate Zolkos, dean of admission, on this year’s batch of new students, the class of 2024.
Happy Mammoth Day! Classes are cancelled today, Oct. 14, to give students a much-needed break before the weather turns cold. Organized activities include hikes on the sanctuary trails, music and games on the Quad, and games and entertainment for those studying remotely—all produced within the College's health and safety protocols.
Amherst College stands on Nonotuck land. The Nonotuck are one of the many Indigenous groups from Kwinitekw, the Connecticut River Valley. Nearby Indigenous nations include the Nipmuc and the Wampanoag to the East, the Mohegan and Pequot to the South, the Mohican to the West and the Abenaki to the North.
Related Link: Five College Native American and Indigenous Studies
Note: Amherst College is home to an extraordinary collection of books by Native American authors.
“If we, as a country, are to live up to our fiercely held ideals of equality, freedom, and opportunity for all, our government agencies need to work with us and not against us.” Letter by Presidents Martin and Roth (Wesleyan) and signed by 80+ higher ed leaders urging the DOE to abandon its investigation of Princeton for, it claims, failing to adhere to federal non-discrimination law.
“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020). From a 2015 talk given at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Justice Ginsburg visited Amherst on October 3, 2019.
“While you’re in the stillness of your apartment, your house, think about these big issues in your life. Think about the things that you actually want to improve.” Social scientist Arthur C. Brooks, speaking with the Rev. Philip Jackson ’85 in “COVID Conversations: Thinking Through the Pandemic,” one of the College’s online speaker series.
Note: Learn more about the College's Virtual Events Series.
“The moral imperative of women’s suffrage is so palpable to me that I have rarely considered the precarious stakes of the 19th amendment’s ratification.” Robyn Bahr ’10 reviewing By One Vote: Woman Suffrage in the South, produced, directed and written by Mary Makley ’88 to mark the ratification, on Aug. 18, 1920, of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“My biggest fear now is that we’ll go back to ‘normal’ in 18 months and operate as though nothing has changed, nothing has happened. My biggest fear is that we’ll learn nothing.” Alexandre White ’10 works at the intersection of the two most important stories in the world today: pandemics and racism.
“People have asked me over the years, ‘Why did you go to seminary, then study philosophy, and then go to med school’ I feel like there was a reason. It actually all fits together.” Leslie Sanchez-Goettler ’93 is one of 26 alumni featured in our special coverage of COVID-19.
“I don’t know what our new normal will look like yet. There’s going to be a constant reinvention in terms of how we’re living our lives.” Ingrid Katz ’93 is one of 26 alumni featured in our special coverage of COVID-19.
“ It’s vital that we as the queer and trans people know our history and have access to that, both in the grand scheme of the world, and here at Amherst.” Nayah Mullings ’17 in “Invisible No More: A Queer and Trans History at Amherst College,” a documentary by Saren Deardorff ’17.
“Sexual orientation and gender identity are complex and fundamental aspects of our being that deserve recognition in civil rights protections. They also deserve many other forms of protection and embrace.” President Biddy Martin, from her communication to the campus about recent Supreme Court decisions related to DACA and LGBTQ rights.
“What I know is that this generation and future generations of Amherst students will push leaders to confront the ugliness of racism and demand change.” — Norm Jones, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, on the June 19 holiday celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States.
“We’re not tearing the flag, we’re unraveling it.” — Art Professor Sonya Clark describing her 2018 performance piece Unraveling, in which she and audience members would pull apart a Confederate flag thread by thread.
Note: The title of the work was very specific choice of hers, she told Vice at the time: “‘Unraveling’ to me is about an investigation about the history of the Confederacy, the history of slavery, and the history of the oppression of people of African descent that is so deeply embedded in the fabric of our nation. The goal isn't to destroy the flag, but to investigate what it means to take it apart.”
“The individual college youth cannot wait forever until the problem of his education is decided.” — Charles Hamilton Houston, class of 1915, the trailblazing civil rights attorney who created and led the legal strategy that would ultimately end racial segregation in American schools. (Houston: back row, 5th from right)
“What a truly great country this could be if the privileges enjoyed by those who happen to be white were instead opportunities available to everyone.” From President Martin's May 31 letter to campus about Racism, Truth, and Responsibility.