The Amherst College Republicans (ACR) will face penalties after a formal complaint was filed to the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) regarding transphobic language used in the ACR GroupMe in response to the release of the Common Language Document (CLD). The Judiciary Council (JC), a body of authority under the AAS, held a private hearing on April 4 and announced its decision to the student body in an email on April 8. The hearing came after The Student published screenshots of the ACR’s GroupMe, which contained several hateful comments. The screenshots were also circulated among the larger student community.
The JC announced that current ACR executive board (E-board) members and E-board elects must step down from their positions and are prohibited from taking on E-board positions in any registered student organizations (RSOs) for the remainder of their college careers. To remain recognized as an RSO, ACR must release a formal statement in The Student “affirming that they condemn hate speech specifically with regards to the widely circulated incident from their GroupMe before the end of the academic year.”
The JC has also submitted a report to the Office of Community Standards and will amend the AAS Constitution to require sensitivity training for all RSO E-board members starting no later than Spring 2020.
In the email to the student body, JC Chair Daniyal Ahmad Khan ’22 wrote that the complaint involved “the continued legitimacy of the Amherst College Republicans as an AAS-funded registered student organization based on reports of discriminatory language, or hate speech.”
According to the Honor Code, Khan continued, “Any behavior which constitutes verbal abuse of any member of the community for reasons that include, but are not limited to, race, color, religion, national origin, ethnic identification, age, political affiliation or belief, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, economic status or physical or mental disability will be regarded as a serious violation of the Honor Code, and anyone found responsible for such behavior will be sanctioned.”
JC members ruled that certain ACR members were in violation of the Honor Code and that the ACR E-board failed to uphold the AAS Constitution.
It is unclear what actions ACR will take next. In an email to ACR members obtained by The Student, ACR President Rob Barasch ’19 writes, “I’m sure you’ve all seen the email that was sent out to the entire school about our club. However, we will be meeting tomorrow night … as usual. We will be having elections for next year’s board as planned.”
“Our meeting topic, after speeches, will be Amherst College and this whole fiasco and Judiciary Committee,” Barasch added.
Members of ACR declined to comment.
On April 9, the AAS sent an email to the student body condemning ACR’s actions. “Members of the College Republicans [made] light of the issues that transgender and other marginalized students face and [used] derisive language to bully LGBTQ+ members of our community,” the email said. “The AAS stands with students with oppressed identities and affirms our commitment to a more inclusive culture among student groups and across campus at large.”
At the private JC hearing, Lindsay Turner ’19 explained why she felt action against the AC Republicans was necessary. “I am completely in support of freedom of speech,” she said in a statement that she read. “I believe that free speech is a critical practice that allows our campus to engage in thoughtful discourse. The exchange of different ideas is essential to the evolution and growth of us all … I am not here to suggest the formal dissolution of the Amherst College Republicans. Their existence is protected by freedom of expression.”
“They mocked trans people and the very real tribulations and legitimacy of gender nonconformity,” Turner said. “Each of these comments were rewarded with likes … This response, or lack thereof, implies that this kind of problematic rhetoric is highly normalized within their collective. And this normalization speaks to an inherent group nature of exclusion and discrimination.” Turner, in her statement, demanded that the AAS condemn and defund ACR. “I strongly suggest that these funds be reallocated to the Queer Resource Center,” Turner said.
Other students also responded swiftly following the controversy over the CLD. After the CLD was removed from the college’s website, the Black Student Union (BSU) discussed issuing a statement to President Biddy Martin. “We sent a letter to different organizations, but then decided not to release it,” BSU Senior Chair Claire Hawthorne ’21 said. “We didn’t garner the support that we expected … A lot of groups weren’t united on a decision either way. There was a lot of intergroup dialogue about the document, which is understandable.”
“That doesn’t mean we’re stopping. We’re currently in the process of thinking of a different way to go about it because we do think that the document should be reinstated,” Hawthorne added. “It was about showing support for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. We thought they were trying to put something powerful and impactful out into the community.”
As for the future of ACR, Hawthorne believes little will change after the release of the JC’s ruling. “I am very curious about how the administration will respond,” Hawthorne said. “ACR has been engaging in disrespectful language, and you just can’t do that.” “They will still operate at the end of the day,” Hawthorne said. “They don’t rely on the school’s funding. You can reserve a room as a student and continue to meet in that manner. [The JC’s sentence] will send a message to the underrepresented groups on campus that at least someone cares.”