Remembering 9/11 with Rob Spencer '83

Submitted on Wednesday, 9/11/2019, at 9:38 PM

MSNBC’s Chuck Rosenberg devoted an episode of The Oath podcast to an in-depth conversation with Rob Spencer '83, former criminal chief in the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, who led the team investigating and prosecuting 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. Moussaoui is to date the only person ever charged and convicted in a US courtroom for his role in the 2001 terrorist attacks that claimed 2,977 lives.

“One of the things the trial stands for, is that we were able to give even our avowed enemy who told us at trial that if he could he’d come back and kill every one of us, a fair trial,” Spencer said.

“It’s remarkable to me every September 11th that rolls around, that it’s been so many years since then. But it seems like just yesterday,” he said.

Spencer said he thinks about the victims, whose families his team reached out to during the investigation, trial and sentencing of Moussaoui, who is serving six consecutive life terms.

To meet with the families, Spencer said, “it was both incredibly difficult and sad, and there were moments of real joy when people would remember their loved ones, and you know, how wonderful these people were. But overall it was an exceptionally wrenching experience. You would have these sort of hard core New York detectives weeping along with the family. It was remarkable. I think we ended up talking to over thirteen hundred families.”

A transcript of the interview can be found here.

The Civic Heroism of Charles Hamilton Houston

Submitted on Wednesday, 9/11/2019, at 9:35 PM

Social and cultural critic Kevin Peterson, founder of the New Democracy Coalition and Convener of the Fanueil Hall Race and Reconciliation Project, recently devoted a blog post to celebrating the contributions of Charles Hamilton Houston, Amherst Class of 1915, World War I veterans and subsequent graduate of Harvard Law School. Peterson’s column remarked on a recent celebration Harvard Law held in honor of Houston’s birthday, Sept. 3

Houston, the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review, served as a dean at the Howard University School of Law, and a mentor to a generation of African-American lawyers, most notably Thurgood Marshall.   

“What becomes abundantly clear was Houston’s civic heroism and willful capacity to slay racial dragons,” Peterson wrote. "His legal work and vision laid the foundation for the modern Civil Rights Movement, which would span from the 1954 Brown V. Board of Education school desegregation victory to the late 1960s, after the death of Martin Luther King Jr."

Draucker Gets an A-Plus in Climate Action

Submitted on Wednesday, 9/11/2019, at 9:32 PM

Laura Draucker, director of sustainability at Amherst College, is getting the Leader in Sustainability Award from the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported.

The “A+ Award” is in recognition of her leading the creation of a climate action plan adopted by the college’s trustees in January that commits the College to carbon neutrality by 2030.

The awards will be presented at an Oct. 3 celebration at the Hadley Farms Meeting House in Hadley, Mass.

Congratulations, You're In College! Now What?

Submitted on Thursday, 9/5/2019, at 9:55 PM

NPR’s Life Kit podcast devoted a segment to making the most of your first year of college, spoke with Amherst students Aniah Washington ’22 and Marco Trevino ’20 about taking advantage of faculty office hours and programs such as Amherst’s Summer Bridge Program, a three-week residential program that gives first-generation and/or low-income students a starting run on what Amherst College has to offer.

Rick Lopez, dean of new students and Chair of Latinx and Latin American Studies, and Amherst alum, spoke with NPR’s Elissa Nadworthy about the importance of finding connections in the face of imposter syndrome.

“Everyone from almost every background has that fear that they got in here by accident and that if you go in and talk to your professor, that's more and more possibility for them to discover that you're actually an idiot who got in by accident. That's scary,” but it’s important to take that step, he said.

A transcript of the podcast is available here.

A Room of One's Own, College Edition

Submitted on Thursday, 9/5/2019, at 9:52 PM

For the start of the semester, The Daily Hampshire Gazette sought insights from Amherst first year students, not on world events, not on their studies, but on a matter of special significance this past week: how they are decorating their rooms.

“Basically, I was trying to go for a gold color scheme, and I designed the room from there,” Alexis Anderson ’23 told the Gazette of her selections which included pink-and-gold paintings, a pale pink mirror, and white pillows with gold detailing.

In contrast, Gordon Powers ’23 said, “I guess I don’t really have a style. I just want to decorate my space the way I want to,” which resulted in a world map with postcards and other mementoes of his travels.

Ambika Kamath '11: Feminist Science and Promiscuous Lizards

Submitted on Friday, 8/30/2019, at 4:15 PM

“Did male scientists slut-shame a small tropical reptile?” asks the Mercury News, heading an interview with UC Berkeley behavioral ecologist Ambika Kamath '11 about her use of "feminist science" in her biology research.

“The behavioral ecologist studies Anolis sagrei, the brown anole, a small lizard native to the Caribbean and introduced in Florida. For years, it was widely believed that this reptile was territorial, and that females would mate only with the male whose area they occupied. When women scientists first found evidence that might not be the case, their conclusions were dismissed, their findings deemed exceptions, and their papers rejected,” the paper reports.

They wrote, “Kamath, through observation, DNA analysis, mathematical modeling and ‘feminist science,’ determined that the lady lizards were actually, so to speak, pretty hot to trot, despite male researchers’ inability to recognize — or even look for — behavior she says conflicted with closely held male beliefs about female sexual behavior. Those biases, which go back to Charles Darwin and beyond, continue to influence how science is done, and the conclusions that are reached, she says.”

“There are people that say … we would have figured this out without making a fuss,” Kamath told the Mercury News. “People really object to the fuss. People also think that it’s incredibly disrespectful to the work of previous scientists to question it in this fashion. Once I was giving a seminar and someone said, ‘You’re supposed to stand on the shoulders of giants, you can’t kick them in the ankles.’ Very graciously, another senior academic said, ‘Well, what if those giants are standing in three feet of mud?’”

Rosbottom: The Enduring Message of La Résistance

Submitted on Friday, 8/30/2019, at 4:08 PM

Ronald C. Rosbottom, the Winifred L. Arms Professor in the Arts and Humanities and a professor of French, European Studies, and Architectural Studies, recently wrote a column for TIME Online looking at the letters of young French resisters captured by the Nazis during World War II, citing their message as one important to the resisters of today.

“The authors of these letters reveal an assumed bravado mixed with regret and a moving sensitivity toward the loved ones who would read them. They often showed an admirable self-awareness, gave justification for their actions and revealed how they hoped to be remembered,” he wrote. “[They] serve to remind us of the courage of the young people who had decided, often against advice from their parents, relatives and mentors, ‘to do something’ (faire quelque chose) … most resisters at first were non-violent … but these actions could still carry harsh penalties.”

“Today, televised scenes of youthful marchers and demonstrators in Algiers, Hong Kong, Istanbul and in our own nation should bring to mind their predecessors in occupied France,” he concluded. “Their impatience, their perceptive view of a better tomorrow, their faith in the power of solidarity, and their energetic fearlessness serve to remind us, adults, that hope is a thing, that change is possible and that all good life begins with dreams.”

A Mammoth Modern Art Acquisition

Submitted on Friday, 8/16/2019, at 3:37 PM

News of the recent anonymous gift of more than 170 works of contemporary art to the Mead Art Museum hit the art world and beyond this week. Pieces in The Boston Globe, Artnews, Artforum, WBUR and more celebrated the acquisition, which includes works by established artists such as Mona Hatoum, David Hockney, Thomas Ruff, and Cindy Sherman, and number of pieces by a diverse roster of artists from across the United States and around the world such as Dario Escobar, Toba Khedoori, Robin Rhode, and Analia Saban.

“It can be rough out there for museums affiliated with small liberal arts colleges,” wrote The Observer. “No matter how much time and effort is sunk into establishing fantastic facilities and organizing stimulating exhibitions, it’s an unfortunate truth that way more capital and press attention is going to flow towards huge museums in major metropolitan areas. Sometimes, though, a windfall appears out of nowhere.”

“To be able to get that scope of work has a tremendous impact on us, and the quality as well,” David E. Little, director and chief curator of the Mead Art Museum, told The Boston Globe.

“He’s looking forward to the opportunities for students to interact with the works as research resources for projects, and he says he hopes to invite many of the living artists in the collection to speak on campus,” the Globe wrote. “With a student body around 45 percent composed of students of color, Amherst College should offer students access to artwork that speaks to them, Little believes. He hopes this gift will help make that goal a reality.”

Redirecting the Discussion of Access: Tony Jack '07

Submitted on Friday, 8/16/2019, at 10:36 AM

The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students, written by Anthony Jack ’07, was recently reviewed by The New Yorker as “A Refreshing Antidote to Our Obsession with the College-Admissions Scandal.”

“Recent debates over privilege and adversity in higher education have evinced a myopic obsession with the question of access: who gets in, and why,” wrote The New Yorker’s Eren Orbey. “Jack’s investigation redirects attention from the matter of access to the matter of inclusion. Rather than parse the spurious meritocracy of admissions, his book challenges universities to support the diversity they indulge in advertising.”

“Jack spent hundreds of hours listening to his subjects, offering attention and advice in seemingly equal measure. The lasting beauty of his ethnography is that it gives a voice to the students who, as his research ends up revealing, most need it,” Orbey wrote.

Update: Jack recently brought his message to the Association of American Medical Colleges, as speaker at the AAMC's Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. "What I want all graduate students, all graduate schools to understand, whether it's professional or for research, is the same thing I'm trying to get colleges to fully commit to believing: Acceptance does not wash away poverty, it does not wash away disadvantage," he said in an interview with AAMC News. "These students aren’t looking for a handout. They’re ready to put in the work of going to medical school. If you’re willing to do that, you're not taking the easy road out."

Finding the Widow Washington

Submitted on Friday, 8/2/2019, at 9:48 AM

In reviewing Martha Saxton’s new book The Widow Washington: The Life of Mary Washington for the Washington Post, Marjoleine Kars, who teaches history at the University of Maryland, noted the challenges in writing about George Washington’s mother. She wrote that it was a task successfully met by Saxton, Professor of History and Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies and Elizabeth W. Bruss Reader, Emerita.

“Saxton’s task proved challenging as Mary left no journal and few letters. But by piecing together and reinterpreting insights from family correspondence, from the books Mary treasured and especially from her eldest son’s obsessive records, Saxton creates a sensitive and plausible, if at times speculative, picture that richly evokes Mary’s interior life and the world of a slaveholding widow and planter in 18th-century Virginia,” Kars wrote.

She concluded, “In Saxton’s able hands, Mary Washington’s story vividly illuminates the role white women played in the creation and transmission of wealth in early America, the frictions that patriarchal inheritance created between mothers and sons, and the tremendous price paid by the enslaved people who made much of Virginia’s wealth possible.”