Update from President Biddy Martin and Norm Jones

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.

Please view updates to the plan.

We also want to make you aware of several developments that were not included in the August 3 plan:

●  We have established two new committees to help move the work forward. The first is a Faculty Leadership Committee charged with developing proposals for the parts of the plan that require faculty actions and/or decisions. This committee is co-chaired by Amrita Basu and Khary Polk and includes Brittney Bailey, Sony Coráñez Bolton, Sonya Clark, Rhonda Cobham-Sander, Solsirée del Moral, Pawan Dhingra, Darryl Harper, and Jen Manion, in addition to the president and provost. Alumna Chaka Laguerre ’08 also serves on this committee and on the subcommittee charged with designing the biennial meetings of students and alumni with the leadership of the College. The committee has been divided into several subcommittees, focused on race and racism in the curriculum; diversifying the faculty; biennial sessions for reports and proposals from students and alumni; designing the senior scholars’ program; and selecting external reviewers (see #7, below). The subcommittees have been meeting weekly and shared their tentative proposals in a full committee meeting this past week. Over the next few weeks, committee members will consult with colleagues and develop final proposals before the beginning of the spring semester. Those proposals or recommendations that require the approval of the faculty, including any that affect curricular policy, will be taken up by the relevant faculty governance committees in the spring.

We have also established a student advisory group, made up of e-board members from campus affinity groups. The members are Basma Azzamok ’22, Waleed Babar ’21, Dalya Ackerman ’23, Joelle Crichlow ’22, Bella Edo ’21, Jennifer Garcia ’22, Maya Hossain ’21, Yvette Kiptoo ’23, Sunghoon Kwak ’22, Alexis Scalese ’22, and Jiajia Zhang ’22. The student advisory group has met weekly with the president this fall to discuss elements of the antiracism plan and overall DEI goals. In December, the student group will meet with the Chief of ACPD, John Carter, to discuss his preliminary plans for changes to ACPD. In the coming weeks and months, the advisory committee will meet with members of the staff and faculty as needed.

We want as many staff members as possible to be engaged in and contributing to the work outlined in the anti-racism plan. To that end, each senior staff member is responsible for involving staff in their divisions in setting and meeting unit-specific and broader College goals.

●  The College recently joined the new Liberal Arts College Racial Equity Leadership Alliance (LACRELA). The Alliance, which collaborates with University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center, is dedicated to working against systemic racism and fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion on its member campuses. LACRELA will provide member institutions with seminars, trainings, surveys, and other resources. More than four dozen liberal arts institutions have joined LACRELA, the founding members of which were DePauw University, Oberlin College, Occidental College, Pomona College, Macalester College, and Skidmore College.

●  Amherst held three events to honor the legacy of the Amherst Uprising five years later. The first, organized by Professor Kristen Luschen and Eboni Rafus-Brenning, Director of the Multicultural Resource Center, was a conversation on Black student activism with Stefan Bradley, Professor of African American Studies at Loyola Marymount University, Kyndall Ashe ’18, and Jeremy Thomas ’21. The second event, organized by the President’s Office and Andrew Smith ’18, featured alumni who were central to the sit-in and occupation of Frost Library, including Katyana Dandrige ’18, one of the three women who organized what was imagined to be an hour-long show of solidarity with Black students at Yale and the University of Missouri. A recording of the event is available on our website. The third event was organized by Professor Sheila Jaswal and featured the development of “Being Human in STEM,” a program that she was inspired to invent with students to continue the momentum of the Uprising. HSTEM is a student-led course that draws on lived experiences, data, and academic literature on racism to build a stronger and more inclusive community for all. A recording is available on our website.

●  The President’s Colloquium on Race and Racism debuts Thursday, December 3, at 7 p.m. EST with Imani Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and a faculty associate with the Programs in Law and Public Affairs, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Jazz Studies. The conversation will be moderated by Anthony Jack ’07, assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Shutzer assistant professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

We hope the updates are helpful and invite you to send your comments and suggestions using our web-based comment form. Please also check out the College’s new Taking Action Against Racism page for additional resources.

Biddy Martin and Norm Jones