President Biddy Martin on the Need to Invest in Public Colleges and Universities

Submitted on Monday, 9/14/2020, at 4:36 PM

“The world needs its Amhersts, but not only its Amhersts,” writes College President Biddy Martin in an op-ed for The Hechinger Report, advocating for state and federal support for public institutions of higher learning at a time when their funding is under particular threat as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Martin presents examples from her own life and family of the value of access to public postsecondary education. She discusses the mutual prejudices between the constituents of different kinds of schools: those who favor the Ivy League and other elite private institutions often overlook or underestimate the work done at large Midwestern universities, while those private schools are derided as snobbish, exclusive and inequitable. But Martin argues that both kinds of schools have value, and that investment in a variety of educational options is necessary for the good of students and society.

“I plead with readers not to yield to the belief that we should elevate any one kind [of education] by denigrating all others,” she writes. “The diversity of postsecondary education has long been a great strength; my family is a testament to the need and the value of institutions and apprenticeships that not only meet different needs but also cultivate different talents.”

Professor Javier Corrales on What the Oil Spill in Venezuela Tells Us About Its Politics

Submitted on Thursday, 9/10/2020, at 4:34 PM

This summer, a state-owned refinery began spilling oil into Venezuela’s Morrocoy National Park, and the country’s increasingly authoritarian government took control of the executive boards of several opposition parties. According to a recent New York Times op-ed by Professor Javier Corrales, “These catastrophes are two sides of the same coin.”

Corrales, the Dwight W. Morrow 1895 Professor of Political Science and chair of political science, describes how the South American nation’s political crisis, collapsing oil industry and environmental degradation all relate to one another—and how the rhetoric and policies of the United States may be contributing to these problems. He concludes, “Venezuela’s descent into authoritarianism has the same source as July’s oil spill: Venezuela is a petrostate that has lost interest in accountability.”

Corrales is currently teaching a course on “The Political Economy of Petro States: Venezuela Compared.” He is the author or co-author of multiple books about the politics of Venezuela and other parts of Latin America.

Fortune Magazine Compares Amherst’s COVID-19 “Bubble” to That of the NBA

Submitted on Wednesday, 9/9/2020, at 3:54 PM

“On the face of it, the NBA and Amherst College have little in common. Except this: Both organizations have resumed in-person activities amidst COVID by forming a so-called ‘bubble,’” wrote Lee Clifford in Fortune magazine on Sept. 5.

Clifford’s article details many of the measures Amherst has been taking to prevent the spread of the virus, both within the boundaries of the campus itself—beyond which students are not allowed to venture—and between campus and the surrounding community. These precautions include, among others, frequent COVID testing, enhanced cleaning procedures, tents to allow classes and gatherings to be held outdoors, and a prohibition on visitors to dorms. There are also contingency plans to switch to an all-remote learning model, and even to evacuate campus if necessary.

The article notes the relative success of the College’s pandemic plan so far, but a commentator points out that Amherst is at an advantage in being a small school with a spacious campus, in contrast to larger universities such as Northwestern and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  

Professor Shayla Lawson on “What You Need to Do” About the Perception and Treatment of Black Women

Submitted on Friday, 9/4/2020, at 2:23 PM

“In order for this period of Black awareness to succeed, you need to seriously readjust the ways you think about Black women.” So begins a recent essay by Assistant Professor of English Shayla Lawson in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Lawson traces the stereotype of the “strong Black woman” back to exploitation under slavery, and points out the underappreciated leadership of Black women in the civil rights, LGBTQ+ liberation, Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements. She links anti-Blackness to current anti-trans rhetoric, as Black transgender women face particularly high risk of violence and murder. Writing as a Black woman herself, Lawson tells readers, “We need you to do what we have done to support you. We need you to use your activism to protect us.”

Lawson is the author of three collections of poems: I Think I’m Ready to See Frank Ocean, A Speed Education in Human Being and PANTONE. Her new essay collection, This Is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope, was hailed on BlackGirlNerds.com as one of the best “Books on Blackness and Womanhood to Read in Your Twenties.”

1892 Amherst Grad Hamp Lewis Highlighted as Pioneer in Football and Law

Submitted on Thursday, 9/3/2020, at 3:46 PM

The Chicago Crusader features a biography of William Henry “Hamp” Lewis, class of 1892, a trailblazer among African Americans in college football and, later, in the legal profession. Lewis was the second Black student to join Amherst’s football team (after classmate William Tecumseh Sherman Jackson) and the first to be appointed team captain.  

Lewis went on to enroll in Harvard Law School and to captain and then coach Harvard’s football team. He wrote the book A Primer of College Football, serialized in Harper’s Weekly, and pushed for new rules and regulations to make it what he called “a safe, sane, and wholesome sport.”

Lewis also served as a Cambridge City Council member, an assistant U.S. attorney for Boston and Chief of the Naturalization Bureau for New England. In 1911, President William Howard Taft named him U.S. assistant attorney general, one of four members of Taft’s “Black Cabinet.” The same year, Lewis became the first Black lawyer admitted to the American Bar Association. After retiring from government in 1913, he built a successful private law practice in Boston and was among the first African American attorneys to join the NAACP's legal team.

Muted Move-In: For Young College Students, a “Strange” Start to the Next Phase of Life

Submitted on Tuesday, 9/1/2020, at 3:53 PM

“It’s kind of strange,” Reid Dodson ’24 says in an Aug. 22 article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “I never expected being dropped off at college and not having my parents be able to help me move in.”

The Gazette includes quotes and photos of several Amherst College first-year students—including Dodson, Allie Ho, Maxime Melnichuk and Ana Mosisa—in its coverage of the start of this unusual school year at area colleges. The Amherst students acknowledge the peculiarity brought about by pandemic precautions such as face masks, but also express appreciation for the College’s COVID-19 testing protocol, as well as excitement about being on campus to begin their undergraduate experience.

The article also describes the move-in process at UMass Amherst and mentions Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges.  

Professor Pawan Dhingra on Kamala Harris' Asian American Heritage and Identity

Submitted on Tuesday, 9/1/2020, at 3:29 PM

Since the announcement of Sen. Kamala Harris as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, multiple media outlets have featured Professor of American Studies Pawan Dhingra as a commentator on the importance of Harris’ Asian American identity and family history.

In an op-ed for CNN, Dhingra describes how the California senator “challenges our understanding of what it means to be Asian American” and how her Asian heritage is often overlooked because she is biracial-- the daughter of an Indian mother and a Black Jamaican father who both immigrated to the United States. Both of her parents were active in the civil rights movement, and Harris credits her mother and grandmother for imparting feminist lessons and values.

“For too long, Asian Americans have been viewed as a monolith,” Dhingra writes. “And while Harris may seem like an outlier, her family's history, and its influence on her politics, reflect many distinct Asian American movements and experiences.”

The professor is also quoted in an NBC News piece on how Harris’ descriptions of her mother resonate with immigrants, and in a Washington Post article about the public (mis)understanding of Harris’ multiracial identity.

English Professor Christopher Grobe Defends the Awkwardness of the DNC

Submitted on Friday, 8/28/2020, at 3:03 PM

Everyone—left, right and center—can agree on one thing: the Democratic National Convention has been a bit, um, awkward,” writes Associate Professor of English Christopher Grobe in a recent op-ed. But that’s OK. “Awkwardness imbues an event with the sense that what we're watching is happening live, even when it has been prerecorded or carefully produced, as is the case with this week's DNC goings on. And liveness, in turn, lends the event the feeling of authenticity, which is exactly what presidential campaigns need most of all.”

In the opinion piece, originally published in The Washington Post, Grobe enumerates the many glitches and odd moments of the convention, and the many media outlets that have commented on them. And he elaborates upon the relationship between awkwardness and authenticity in politics, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when interactions that would ordinarily happen in person are instead often performed through digital screens.

Having come to literary studies through a career in theater, Grobe writes and teaches courses about the “entanglement of literature, performance and media.” He’s the current chair of Amherst’s English department. 

Cassie Funke-Harris Took a Winding Path to Become a College Coach

Submitted on Wednesday, 8/26/2020, at 4:29 PM

“The impact that my coaches had on my college experience and the person I became and the experiences I had—I started to realize how profound that was,” says cross-country Head Coach Cassie Funke-Harris in an Aug. 20 profile on Women’s Running. “I thought, ‘If I can impact even half a dozen people the way they impacted me, that would be really rewarding.’”

The profile touches upon many factors that have led Funke-Harris into her role at Amherst, including her participation in multiple sports as a high schooler in rural Kansas, an injury during her cross-country career at Carleton College (where she was recently inducted into the athletic hall of fame), and her academic background in biology.

Since arriving at Amherst in 2012, Funke-Harris has guided many runners, on both the men’s and women’s teams, to success in NESCAC and NCAA competition. In 2018, she became the first female head coach of a men’s program in the College’s history.

Talking Electoral Chaos with Lawrence Douglas

Submitted on Wednesday, 8/26/2020, at 3:52 PM

With global pandemic and social unrest at home complicating an already hotly-debated election season, national and international news outlets have been increasingly turning to Lawrence Douglas, Amherst’s James J. Grosfeld Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought, for perspective on the possibility that the 2020 election results will themselves be a matter of dispute.

The prospect of the 2020 election results possibly plunging democracy into turmoil is the subject of his new book, Will He Go?: Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020 (Twelve Books).

The book, writes The Atlantic’s Peter Nicholas, “lays out nightmare scenarios arising from a contested election: dueling claims about who won, with Congress and the courts unable to resolve the dispute.”

“The system … depends on people having internalized the norms that make a constitutional democracy work,” Douglas told Nicholas. President Trump has made a career of not keeping to such norms, Douglas contends.

"He has telegraphed that he will not accept an electoral defeat as anything other than as a sign of a fraudulent election. That is an incredibly dangerous situation," Douglas told Al Jazeera’s William Roberts.

“If you are a political junkie, you will love this little book,” writes John K. Collins of the Winnipeg Free Press. “Even if you are not, you may still find it as compelling as a Tom Clancy thriller — except that Clancy never paused for a bit of eye-glazing legal complexity.”

You can hear more about Douglas’s book in interviews he had with National Public Radio’s The Roundtable and The Lawfare Podcast, or read interviews with Vox, Boing Boing, and Watson (for German speakers).

Catherine Sanderson: How Masks Became The New Normal

Submitted on Friday, 5/29/2020, at 12:21 PM

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, head and face coverings were not widely worn in Western countries. Now that social norm is changing, and Scientific American recently went to Catherine Sanderson, Amherst’s Manwell Family Professor of Life Sciences (Psychology), to discuss the dynamic of a new habit becoming an everyday habit.

“Social norms can change rapidly, and it doesn’t take everybody,” said Sanderson, author of the new Why We Act: Turning Bystanders into Moral Rebels (Harvard University Press).

She cited an online experiment conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, in which subjects engaged in social coordination to assign names to an object. The experiment concluded that it only took a quarter of the participants to set the tone.

“They become the social influencers, the trendsetters,” Sanderson said. “You get this sweep.”

“As somebody who studies social norms, it’s astonishing. It’s like a flip in a blink of an eye in terms of this change,” she told the CBC’s Mark Gollom.”I think what we’ve seen is that this is just an unprecedented time. And that’s something that leads to very, very fast shifts.”

Making Biryani With Aatish Taseer ’01

Submitted on Friday, 5/29/2020, at 12:20 PM

For a New York Times series on comfort food, writer and Times contributor Aatish Taseer ’01 shared a family recipe for chicken biryani, a favorite since his days growing up in Delhi.

“When I was 18 and on my way to college at Amherst, I thought ‘I could do without pretty much everything else except this,’” he said. He learned the recipe then, and has been making since.

It’s not a 30-minutes-and-done dish by any means, he explained.

“If you cook it too fast, it can get out of control before you even know it,” Taseer said. “With biryani, in its purest or finest iteration, it’s sometimes cooking all night on a very low heat. What I really recommend is to slow things right down.”

One of Carson's Best Days

Submitted on Friday, 5/29/2020, at 12:17 PM

Though the COVID-19 shutdown brought a premature end to the athletic season, Carson Glazier ’20 told his hometown newspaper, The San Marino Tribune, that he was thankfully able to exit on a high note.

When the season was canceled this spring, Amherst quickly scheduled a final game against rival Williams College, said Glazier, who switched from football to baseball at Amherst, as a pitcher. His last game saw the Mammoths defeat their rivals 11-2.

“Everybody, including our family, friends, coaches, administrators and professors, did what they could to make the game special for us and I will always be grateful for getting to play a final ball game,” said Glazier. “Although the fact that we were being sent home loomed over us, it was one of the best days of my life.”

An Itch for Things Remote

Submitted on Friday, 5/29/2020, at 12:15 PM

In an essay for Critical Read, Jacob Pagano ’18 describes hitting a rut in his sophomore year at Amherst, from which was able find escape and inspiration through the pages of Moby-Dick, a text taught in English Professor Geoffrey Sanborn’s course “American Extravaganzas.”

“In Melville’s world I found, for the first time in months, a thrilling place to roam: over briny oceans, into candle-lit New England inns, about the ‘inmost soul’ of his narrator, and out towards the horizon, where the ‘phantom’ of the whale lurked beneath milky seas. When I finally looked up, I realized that I had been walking up and down library rows, book in hand. I was smiling.”

Reading With Ilan Stavans

Submitted on Friday, 5/22/2020, at 11:26 AM

"Isolation has its benefits” for bookworms like Ilan Stavans, Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture, who recently shared with the Daily Hampshire Gazette what he's been reading while social distancing.

“Part of me has always wanted to be a hermit; I have now been granted the chance,” he remarked. He listed Jorge Luis Borges, Edmund Wilson, Gabriel García Márquez, William Shakespeare and Hannah Arendt as some of his current pandemic reads.

“I’m at an age, 59, when I am attracted to ‘proven’ books, not only those that have survived the test of time but books that, when I finished reading them long ago, I remember having a sense of companionship,” he told the Gazette.

Those wanting to get in on the reading with Stavans might be interested in his online book club, which was the subject of another story in the Gazette. “Restless Reads,” a virtual book club co-sponsored by Stavans’s publishing company Restless Books and the Jones Library in Amherst, last month hosted an international discussion with about 100 people talking about Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” over two sessions. The group plans to hold monthly zoom sessions about classic titles from the publisher’s catalog.