Ensuring Our History Does not Become Our Future

It has become a frighteningly ordinary experience for Amherst students to open their email inbox and find a notice from the administration of a “racist incident.” This vague subject line typically reflects the opacity with which the rest of the message is written — as if the email from last time was copied and pasted.

If there have been enough emails about “racist incidents” that they have started to feel standard, then Amherst College has a problem much larger than email etiquette on its hands. Namely, with every new email, racism at the college trends upwards — an alarming and unacceptable progression.

The most recent of these incidents occurred on the night and into the early morning of Saturday, March 7 and March 8. An email was sent out the following Monday by Dean of Students Liz Agosto, ambiguously informing the community that “there was an altercation between two students involving the use of racist language.” Coverage by The Student and a storm of social media posts (including ones that specifically named the perpetrators) revealed that members of the men’s lacrosse team had chanted the N-word outside a Black teammate’s dorm.

The fact that this is not an isolated incident by the men’s lacrosse team is enough to prove that the disciplinary action taken in response to racism on campus has not been enough. Previously, the members of the team were found to have drawn a swastika on an unconscious student’s face; other members participated in a GroupMe exchange targeting trans and gender non-conforming staff at the college. The college’s response to these events expressed the same sentiments as the most recent case have brought, reassuring the community that the administration was taking the matter seriously and conducting an investigation. Evidently, this response was not enough, as less than a year later, the same team is involved in yet another “racist incident.”

To be sure,  the college makes a concerted effort to determine and execute the necessary disciplinary action against the perpetrators. For example, regarding the most recent men’s lacrosse team incident, President Martin notified the community that the team would complete “an educational program,” be prohibited from engaging in “team-bonding activities” and “not participate in NCAA postseason next year.” These penalties reflect a well-intentioned sentiment on the part of the administration.

However, despite the administration’s genuine attempts to remedy these incidents, the problem remains. Amherst students of color continue to feel marginalized within an environment that outwardly pledges inclusivity. Indeed, most of the “racist incidents” at Amherst College do not get email alerts. Racism at the college, and in the United States at large, comes in many forms, including microaggressions that go unjustly unaddressed. Combating racism in all of its varieties is a long-term endeavor that will take more than just a single college’s administrative decision to complete.

 Thus it is clear that the racial divides on our campus requires more than just emails and investigations  — there must be an overhaul of the system and culture at large. 

In light of this, a new project prompted by the Black Student Union, called #IntegrateAmherst, launched in an effort to call on the administration to make these needed changes. The Editorial Board supports this project and its mission to cultivate a college campus that doesn’t just purport inclusivity but actually executes it across racial lines. 

Among its other initiatives (including a letter circulating around social media with over 150 pages of signatures), #IntegrateAmherst will be launching its very own series in The Student beginning next week. The series will include pieces by current students and alumni explaining the context and need for an overhaul of the college’s culture. 

Overall, responding to individual racist incidents as they come is not a long-term solution to eradicating racial divides at the college. If we are to ensure that our history does not become our future, then systemic change must happen now.

Unsigned editorials represent the Editorial Board (assenting: 10; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 3)

Editor’s Note: The Editorial Board stands by #IntegrateAmherst’s core goals of greater campus inclusion and need for institutional racial bias responses, and we support the opportunity to hold these complex conversations across our digital forum, as remote learning has halted casual, in-person dialogues. We encourage members of the Amherst community to join this discussion by submitting an opinions piece. All future articles published under #IntegrateAmherst do not reflect the opinions of the Editorial Board unless otherwise stated. Issued on April 10, 2020 at 3:02 a.m.