Amid a national reckoning with anti-Black racism and the aftermath of multiple racist incidents on campus — and robust student plans to address them — President Biddy Martin announced that the college will adopt a sweeping anti-racism plan in an email to the community on Aug. 3. The extensive proposal, a product of recent student activism surrounding anti-Black racism, highlighted seventeen changes, ranging from implementing more bias-training for faculty and students and more mental health support for Black students.
Perhaps most evidently, the plan addresses specific community efforts to combat racism at the college such as the June alumni letter calling on the college to implement more actively anti-racist policies, calls from students to abolish the Amherst College Police Department (ACPD), the formation of the @BlackAmherstSpeaks Instagram page highlighting Black students’ encounters with racism on campus, and the #ReclaimAmherst and #IntegrateAmherst campaigns, both of which sprouted out of the Black Student Union’s (BSU) efforts to force the college to contend with its own institutional racism.
Amongst other actions, the plan pledges to transfer ACPD resources and roles to such departments as the Office of Student Affairs and Residential Life, establish lecture series and visits from scholars of “anti-racist scholarship and policy” and implement the Center for Restorative Practices at Amherst College (RPAC). The center will continue James E. Ostendarp Professor of Psychology and Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Officer Allen Hart’s pilot for restorative practice consisting of “dialogue-based conflict resolution and community-building.”
The plan comes on the heels of the March 7 incident that saw three lacrosse players yell the n-word outside of a Black teammates’ dorm room. Martin previously responded to such racism with letters to the community, resources and information. In June, following the resurgence in momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, the college had also developed a donation matching campaign — at the suggestion of the BSU. However, according to Martin, the anti-racism plan establishes a “more nuanced and comprehensive approach than we have taken.”
According to Kyndall Ashe ’18, co-founder of @BlackAmherstSpeaks and the #ReclaimAmherst campaign, the plan represented a culmination of years of activism, including her work during Amherst Uprising five years ago. “My initial reaction was first joy. Having a plan dedicated to anti-racism is an active acknowledgement that the college has a problem to solve and hearing these ideas from the president is important,” she said.
Other changes include promises to hear the voices of Black students and alumni in biennial sessions and establish a standing committee within the Board of Trustees and an external review board for diversity, equity and inclusion. The plan includes provisions to increase the racial diversity of its faculty and senior staff, introduce policies condemning racially-motivated discrimination into the Student Code of Conduct and throughout the college and establish a committee of community members led by Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Norm Jones. In an effort to ensure the curriculum reflects the values of inclusion, the college seeks to develop curriculum with specific focus on race and racism.
Though the plan demonstrates new progress on anti-racism on campus, activists have also been attuned to areas in which it could be more comprehensive. Haylee Price ’18, co-founder of @BlackAmherstSpeaks and the #ReclaimAmherst campaign hopes to understand how aspects of the plan will be put in action and reflects on the ways in which the #ReclaimAmherst campaign might inform the implementation of such policy changes.
“Why are the Black community testimonials every two years? [We should] listen to Black community members now … when they report problems. When they say ‘redoubling their efforts to provide anti-bias training,’ will they be having trainings twice as frequently? Will more people be trained? In #ReclaimAmherst, we required a reputable external source to provide training, and for anti-racist policies to be included in faculty, staff and student-worker contracts,” said Price.
“I think the mental health commitment is something that should be addressed by people like Darien McFadden and Lola Brown in the Counseling Center. I think bias training is fine, and I am unclear of its metric of success beyond completing the training. The most useful thing about training, in my estimation, is that it lays the groundwork for accountability,” added Jeremy Thomas ’21, BSU’s campus and alumni liaison.
As proposed in the #ReclaimAmherst campaign, the anti-racism plan will provide mental health resources to support Black students. The campaign calls “upon the college to achieve administrative and leadership parity with the demography of its student body,” changes that the plan satisfies with its efforts to increase faculty and staff diversity and support. It pushes for the idea that “the curriculum will mandate learning about race for graduation.” While the plan does not specifically push for this change, it addresses the importance of “making race and racism more central to teaching” and outlines initiatives that will make such curricular development central to their mission.
While the plan covers a wide range of changes, Ashe, Price and BSU’s Junior Chair Ayodele Lewis ’21 also expressed the need for it to contain more specific dates and metrics.
“Some points had firm deadlines like the student code of conduct, renaming the Diversity and Inclusion Office, and the hiring of a new psychiatrist and mental health support staff to support students of color. [However, there could be] improvements in the language and the urgency in which it addresses issues because there are some vague terms,” said Lewis.
“Many of the [statements] did not have quantifiable dates and timelines. What are the quantifiable metrics that they will be measuring this [change] on?” wondered Ashe.
“I think the best thing that can be added to this plan right now is to go through every point and add a quantifiable metric about what they would like to see coming out of these committees and reports. Say you want at least X more black faculty members, at least X more black trustees, by X date. We can’t always be striving; we eventually have to reach a goal,” said Price.
“These metrics are important because [they hold the community accountable]. [I want to see] what the committees that they’ve committed to actually look like and how the plan will come into play. If this [plan] is something we see [implemented] by the end of the 2020-2021 year, then it shows that the plan is being addressed and not falling into the back burner. In the next five years, who will actually see all of these ideas come into place and what will these ideas look like?” said BSU President Crichlow.