In an email sent to students, faculty, and staff on April 26, President Biddy Martin provided an update on the college’s 2020 Anti-Racism Plan. The email detailed initiatives in a multitude of areas, including research on Amherst’s racial history, admissions, faculty and staff diversity and development, and mental health and well-being.
Released in August 2020, the college’s Anti-Racism Plan was formulated in response to student calls for a more racially equitable campus made in campaigns like Reclaim Amherst and #IntegrateAmherst. The college has provided periodic updates on the plan over the past two years, with the last update being sent this past October. Last Tuesday’s email followed the same form as the previous updates, outlining progress that has been made in each of the many areas the plan covers.
Starting with the work to address the college’s racial history, the email wrote that the Racial History of Amherst College Steering Committee established The Racial History of Amherst College, an online chronicle of student research into the history of race and racism at Amherst.
Student research will also directly support the work of the Racial History Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, a new hired position designed to investigate the college’s historical relationship to slavery and make that history visible to the public and college community. The search for the fellow commenced in early February, and the college expects to have a candidate by Fall 2022. Additionally, the college joined the Universities Studying Slavery consortium to benefit from collaboration with other institutions.
To improve DEI going forward, the Board of Trustees established a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee in May 2021, which continues to meet regularly. Additionally, each senior administrative staff division within the college created its own diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, which are aligned within a new equity framework that articulates the overarching goals guiding the college’s efforts.
The plan also includes updates on admissions. The college announced “significant expansion” to its financial aid in October 2021 by increasing financial support to both low-income and middle-income students, while providing students with the highest levels of need in each class year with an additional $1,000 annual access grant.
In addition to expanding financial aid, the college continues aiming for diversity in its admissions. Among the 1,026 admitted students for the Class of 2026, 62 percent are domestic students of color, 22 percent are first-generation college students, and 9 percent are international students. Martin wrote, “we anticipate that the Class of 2026 will be one of the most racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse in the College's history.”
Following the challenges in the U.S. Supreme Court against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina’s affirmative action programs, the college is organizing an amicus brief in support of the holistic consideration of race in admissions.
. , which is when an organization who is not a party to a legal case but who is permitted to assist a court by offering insight that has a bearing on the issues in the case. In addition to encouraging diversity in admissions, the college continues to aim for diversity in its faculty. This spring, the college hired seven faculty of color out of nine new tenure-line faculty members. In Fall 2021, 27 percent of faculty were people of color, compared to 16 percent in Fall 2011. Martin wrote that percentage will be higher after this year’s hiring is complete.
The college has also made efforts to improve inclusion and transparency within the faculty development process. The college relaunched “Black at Amherst,” a monthly community-building lunch series for faculty and staff, “In recognition of the isolation that we know Black faculty and staff experience,” according to Martin. This spring, all academic departments completed tenure criteria. The Office of Faculty Equity and Inclusion created additional faculty development programs, and is running the Pathways Program for associate professors, which “intends to help associate professors clarify their goals for the next period of their careers.”
The email also detailed how the college aims to focus its curriculum more heavily on anti-racism, with “most academic departments” preparing a report on their anti-racism initiatives, and providing faculty members from various disciplines with stipends to integrate anti-racist content and pedagogy into existing or new courses. Fifteen faculty members will be offering sophomore seminars broadly focused on issues of race next academic year.
To foster greater diversity and inclusion among faculty, the remote work pilot for 2021-22 is nearing completion, which, “will help attract a more diverse set of candidates for a range of positions at the College,” according to Martin.
The college also recently hired an Assistant Director of Workforce Equity and Inclusive Leadership to “support new workshops and learning opportunities for staff and faculty on race, racism and anti-racism, allyship, and communication across differences.” A total of 464 staff and faculty members participated in workshops on anti-racism and inclusive practices this past year.
Additionally, the Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion is piloting the Faculty and Staff of Color Partnership Program to “support professional and personal development of faculty and staff of color,” and a parallel program will be instituted for white staff and faculty “to engage in anti-racism education and community-building”.
The email also described the completion of the Campus Safety Advisory Committee’s report in April 2022, which resulted from student activism in support of changes in the role of ACPD. Following the report, the Board of Trustees decided not to disarm and abolish ACPD.
Martin’s email also detailed diversity efforts within the Counseling Center. This semester, Dr. Darien McFadden, the new director of the Counseling Center, has recruited and hired for open positions with, “a goal of continuing to increase the diversity of the Counseling Center staff.”
The email also reiterated Martin’s April 18 statement that the college is bringing in a group of outside experts to, “help us develop alternatives to having ACPD as the go-to response to such crises.” The Riseling Group's team will include a former police officer, a college president who spent her career in Student Affairs leadership, and a physician, among others. The group will meet with “a range of campus constituencies, including the Campus Safety Advisory Committee, before making recommendations on mental health initiatives and responses to mental health crises.”
In response to the college’s history, Martin wrote that, “having received a summary from the initial working group, our next step will be to charge a committee to determine principles for naming and renaming spaces at Amherst College.” This group will continue the signage project by Sarah Montoya ’21 and the Native and Indigenous Students Association which recognizes the Indigenous communities on whose ancestral land our campus stands.