As students of Amherst College and members of the Amherst town community, we do not exist in a vacuum. Our actions have an effect on the greater community within the Town of Amherst. We, as a group of low-income student advocates, are of the opinion that our student body owes it to the non-student community to think about how we affect the lives of people outside of the college.
As an institution that benefits from high property taxes, the college and its community need to think critically about the people who have been physically and systematically displaced. In our opinion, the letter endorsed by neighbors and professors in the Amherst area is fraught with thinly veiled classism and an abuse of privilege. A number of places in the letter where we find a lack of self-education and an abundance of fear-mongering include:
- “Moreover, the Pratt Field complex is currently open to the public … and our research has indicated that the project will most likely result in the closing of this recreational area to public access.”
This blatantly classist response to the situation, endorsed by some college faculty, is appalling and the fact that it is met with frightening submission instead of critical questioning on the part of the signees is doubly so. The assumptive power that has been asserted by certain members of Amherst College over this public facility is unjust and requires more examination on the part of the letter’s signees.
- “Our group includes individuals with a diverse set of expertise relevant for the assessment of this proposal.”
The list of “diverse” individuals who were consulted include only people who were afforded the privileges of making lofty judgements about people in immediate distress. If people who represent the experience of someone in crisis were consulted, it was not mentioned in the letter.
- “No neighbor used these statistics to form and promulgate negative opinions of specific individuals, nor ever would we. Instead we use this valuable data … to reach the conclusion that the Valley CDC’s plan is inadequate, failing to provide around-the-clock support for this vulnerable population.”
This passage ignores the privilege held by many of the people on that list, claiming that because this project is in their backyard, they deserve special concessions, including an overnight supervisor for the complex.
This kind of watch might be necessary for individuals living in a prison or a halfway house, not people with agency who are paying their rent and living independent lives. These residents also don’t consider the limited resources from which nearly all public housing nonprofits suffer. We are upset at the immediate impulse of college affiliates to reject rather than welcome. In the future, we hope these residents recognize that they have agency in the proper development of these initiatives through donations to Valley CDC and similar nonprofits.
- “This record of police activity at Valley CDC properties indicates that despite the screening processes by Valley CDC, many problems remain.”
We are shocked at the lack of consideration given to the role of profiling, which causes increased calling and policing around areas of low-income housing. We are saddened to believe that this is exactly what will happen when these new residents move in.
In conclusion, our goal as a group is not to reject or attack those who endorsed this letter. Instead, it is to invite the larger Amherst community to take a critical look at the roles we all play as people occupying positions of privilege in meeting needs and encouraging empathy across all types of barriers. According to the joint letter, it took 21 hours for the individuals who signed the petition to decide that 28 people in immediate need should not receive housing. We hope they will take longer than 21 hours to consider our concerns and carefully examine their actions.