Anonymous at Amherst: Uncovering the Contra

The Amherst Contra is an anonymous student publication on campus. Assistant Features Editor June Dorsch ’27 investigates its origins, controversies, and relevancy.

In the fall of 2022, Ross Kilpatrick ’24E decided to confront an issue that he observed at Amherst: an almost homogenous discourse.

“Part of what it means to go to college is you want to have your ideas challenged,” Kilpatrick said. In reality, he said, students’ political views tend not to change during their time in college, an issue he attributes to a lack of substantive debate.

“I wanted to encourage people to engage in these kinds of discussions that I felt like we weren’t having more broadly as a campus,” he added.

Notably, he is not conservative and considers his own political views to lie within the campus’ liberal mainstream. Kilpatrick felt the conservatives that do exist on campus only felt comfortable sharing their views with their friends, not publicly.

To encourage these students to share their views with a wider audience, he founded The Amherst Contra, a broadside in which any Amherst student can anonymously publish their opinions. It is distributed around campus to places like Valentine Dining Hall and the Frost Library, but it has little digital footprint (its website is currently not operational).

The Contra is ideologically neutral and is willing to publish articles from the left and the right. It also welcomes criticism, with the back side of the paper dedicated to rebuttal letters from readers.

Since its creation, The Contra has published 13 articles, with topics ranging from cereal milk to the conflict in Palestine. Current Editor-in-Chief Beckett Quirk ’26 said that even opinions that are not about national or international politics are part of highlighting different political views.

“Thinking more critically about how we engage with campus can also lead to broader political considerations,” he said.

Writers can choose to be anonymous so they feel comfortable sharing more radical views. “You can say things that you might fear that people are gonna judge you if you were to say them publicly,” Quirk said.

Writing in the first issue, Kilpatrick made it clear that “My desire in publishing Contra is not to provoke anger … and I don’t want pieces whose purpose is to anger.”

But anger has been a consistent response to The Contra since its inception.

The 2022 article “In Defense of Hamas” was one of the most controversial. The anonymous writer of that piece said that calling Hamas a terrorist organization “is at best hypocritical and at worst false.” They argued that if Hamas was called a terrorist organization, then Israel and the U.S. government should be too, because “they are equally as violent and less justified.”

Angry students threw away stacks of copies of The Contra. Senators on the Association of Amherst Students even debated defunding the organization. The article was leaked online, spurring more criticism on social media and third-party news.

“I feel skeptical of the approach that they’re taking — [it] seems like they’re being somewhat intentionally controversial,” Ian Behrstock ’26 told The Student at the time.

Kilpatrick said, “I was thinking ‘In Defense,’ not like Hamas was good but like there’s this reasonable context around Hamas. That was the way I was thinking of the title.”

Kilpatrick apologized at the time of the backlash and reiterated his regrets in his interview for this article.

“I think it was reasonable [that students said that] this title is kind of unnecessarily inflammatory. And so I didn’t accomplish our goal, trying to encourage discussion. And in that way, we did fail, and I regret the way that that was titled … if I’d done it again, I would have chosen a different title and then [it would’ve] hopefully had a better response on campus.”

The article damaged the reputation of The Contra.

“We’ve made some enemies with the Hamas piece,” Kilpatrick said. “People regularly throw away all the articles, which is very annoying, so I’ve had to fish them out of the trash.”

Other articles have received criticism as well. The anonymous writer of “Would We Be Better Off Without Democracy?” and “Against Hook Up Culture” wrote to me via Quirk about the reactions they witnessed to their articles.

“The articles I wrote sparked a lot of attention, sometimes very negative attention. I did not take the strong pushback personally, but it was interesting to hear people angrily discussing the article or insulting the person who had authored it,” they said. “Initially I didn’t even care about publishing anonymously, but in retrospect, it was probably the right choice.”

“Maybe there are people [who] think some things should be beyond the pale of discourse,” Quirk said. “I just disagree with that, at least with any of the things that we’ve published so far.”

While The Contra was created to be a publication for creating discussion about different views, the student body has largely viewed it as going too far.

Mikayah Parsons ’24 does not read The Contra but is wary of the ethics of the publication.

“I understand its purpose to be an increase of discourse without the backdrop of cancel culture, which I think is an admirable goal,” they said. “But I think whenever it comes to espousing hate, or if it’s based on a certain group’s identity, then is that something that should still be published?”

Perhaps more significant is the fact that The Contra seems to have lost some of its relevance. Due to its more infrequent and erratic publication schedule, a lot of students do not care about it as much. I spoke to nine students, and none said they read The Contra.

This is especially true for first-years. Only one first-year I interviewed had even heard of the publication.

Part of the reason first-years may not have heard of The Contra is because there have only been two issues since they have been on campus. The Contra’s publication schedule is inconsistent because they struggle to find writers to contribute.

“It’s always hard to get people to write. People are [busy] so we hadn’t had as many as consistent semesters as I would like,” Kilpatrick said.

“We need submissions. We always want submissions,” Quirk said.

One of Quirk’s goals as he starts his tenure as editor-in-chief this semester is to publish more consistently and frequently.

“I just want to make sure more things get published,” Quirk said. “[Other than that], right now, there’s nothing of consequence.”