Amherst College Is Ill-Equipped to Handle Racist Violence and Threats of Racist Violence

On Saturday night, several white lacrosse players and other white students screamed and chanted “N*gger! N*gger! N*gger! Goodnight, N*gger!” outside of a Black lacrosse player’s room, while the Black lacrosse player and another Black student were inside of his room, as reported in The Student and further confirmed by additional sources. The two Black students were the only Black people present on that floor. There is no question of to whom this threat and act of violence was directed. The utterance of this word is not only an act of violence in itself, but it is a historical signal for further, physical violence. Considering both the contemporary and recent racial history of white mobs and lynching, this act cannot only be understood as the use of a “racial epithet,” but can only be reasonably understood as a threat of violence. Out of fear for himself and his friend and in self-defense, the Black lacrosse player then punched one of the white players. He is now at risk of facing consequences from the college and is potentially under threat of expulsion. 

The Amherst College Black Student Union recognizes that some of this narrative may be more detailed than other versions of this narrative. Other accounts of this incident may not match this narrative because the investigation done by the Amherst College Police Department and Amherst College Office of Student Affairs has been unsalvageably compromised by bias and remains incomplete. The immense amounts of discretion involved in the investigation and the lack of processes in place to specifically handle incidents like these concern us even more than this particular manifestation of a broader pattern. 

The perpetuation of violent discriminatory behavior of many students who are allowed onto Amherst’s campus with little to no anti-racism and bias training and no accountability is a problem in and of itself. Most importantly, however, this incident exposes institutional ineptitude as it regards to handling a series of threats of racialized violence. It is another clear instance of the college’s lack of specific processes to handle situations like this, from the very recent such as the swastika incident last spring or the noose in fall 2017 to even the decades-old, like when crosses were burned on Drew House quad in 1979; these all lacked adequate responses from the college. Furthermore, this issue has been raised historically, from the 1969 moratorium and the 1994 sit-ins to 2015’s Amherst Uprising, the college has been given plenty of notice of the ways in which it is complicit in racist violence. 

Clearly, Amherst’s recent history is not a far departure from the history of the rest of the country. The complete lack of process for incidents like this reflects tacit approval for them to occur in the future. Furthermore, this lack of process begs the question: will it take the escalation of one of these racist threats for the college to listen?

To be clear, our aim, as always, is to make Amherst the most inclusive community and to sincerely ensure that members of this community feel safe, however, safety cannot come without accountability. While we and the directly impacted parties expect nothing less than an apology from the men’s lacrosse team, we take further issue with the role the college administration has played in the perpetration of a threatening, racist environment at Amherst. The absence of any particular policy to handle threats of racist violence and racist violence itself reveals a deeper-set need of the college to put in place distinct structures and processes to address racism on campus; this absence may not be a want but a desire.

 All members of this community must work to find the best methods to not only hold the college accountable but moreso ensure that the college lives up to its purported values as opposed to the shallow moral stance it retreats to without committing to substantive — even radical — change instead of continuing to allows acts of white supremacist violence to happen specifically against Black students.

Contrasting the college’s recent efforts to diversify our community, the college clearly cannot structurally support the vast population of students of color on campus. How can a school that so widely advertises its “majority-minority” student body, so frequently fail to protect the very students they market? How can a school expect students to feel safe when time after time racism persists with little or no consequence? One must conclude that these failures are intentional. Continuing to fail to structurally address the following questions can only lead to further violence and attrition, harming the lives of Black and other marginalized people in the process.

Please be safe both on campus and as some of us return home.

Love Black Love, 

Amherst College Black Student Union

[email protected]