In Honor of Amherst Uprising

A few days ago, I walked into Frost to start my homework for the night. As I walked through the doors, I was surprised to find myself remembering Amherst Uprising for the first time in a few years. I had forgotten that Nov. 12 marked the third anniversary of Amherst Uprising, a sit-in at Frost Library organized by three black women who are alumnae now. While it started as an hour-long moment of solidarity with black students facing violence at Yale and the University of Missouri, it expanded into a powerful weekend in which black, brown and other marginalized students shared their stories of institutionalized racism and oppression at Amherst with their fellow students, faculty, staff and members of the administration.

The event was often difficult and soul-crushing, but also regenerative, inspiring and beautiful. I was a first year at the time, so I didn’t know much about the Amherst that existed before. But the sense that I got was that people were finally discussing the often unspoken and insidious dynamics of this campus: the racially and socially segregated spaces in our dining halls and libraries, the white athlete-dominated social scene and the racism and discrimination students face from the people are supposed to teach them. They were the unfortunate truths that many people of color had already experienced here and warned each other about. But what made it so powerful was that it was the first time that they were being voiced to the rest of the Amherst community with the attention and time they deserved. Finally, students understood what their peers were going through — they heard the stories of the people that they have class with and cried alongside those they shared the same rooms with. Personally speaking, Amherst Uprising shed a whole new light on the violence against black students that I hadn’t noticed before at Amherst because of my own identities as an Asian woman. It was an exercise in empathy and building each other up. Even for those who avoided Frost, the impact of Amherst Uprising resonated throughout campus.

Today, a majority of Amherst students never experienced Amherst Uprising. Much like the Social Dorms, Merrill Science Center (and apparently a boothless back room of Valentine Dining Hall), it is a spectre of the past — something we only hear about once in a while. The senior class, who were first years at the time, will be the last to have been in Frost that November weekend. This isn’t to minimize the legacy of the movement — it was the discussions during the sit-in that have pushed Amherst to be a more inclusive place in the past few years. To name a few, we have established a new mascot, there are more staff of color in the counseling center and there are more resources surrounding diversity and inclusion, like the resource centers’ new spaces and staff.

I do wonder, however, why we don’t celebrate Amherst Uprising every year. There have been very few events commemorating the sit-in since 2015. During my sophomore year, which was a year after Amherst Uprising, members of the community reconvened with performances and personal statements to celebrate the deep impact that the sit-in had created. But after the first anniversary, these acts of remembrance have ceased. If there were any events commemorating it, I didn’t catch them, which gives me the sense that many other students did not either.

What happened during Amherst Uprising was emotionally taxing for the students who spoke that weekend, and an event like that can take so much out of students who are also trying to study and live and get through college. We don’t need to recreate the event annually, but we do need to acknowledge the pain, growth and strength that marginalized students showed that night. It is about creating institutional memory in which we remember the transformative growth that we promised to each other. Furthermore, it’s about acknowledging that Amherst is still a very difficult place to exist in for many bodies. It’s true that Amherst has become more hospitable for students of marginalized backgrounds, and that in itself should be a cause for celebration. But these spaces of inclusivity, like the resource centers or affinity-based theme housing, are separated from the wider, collective spaces on campus, like Frost or Val, where violence, harassment and exclusion against students of color still exist. We would be mistaken to think that one weekend magically did the trick.

I strongly urge my fellow students to remember Amherst Uprising, even if you weren’t there. Ask your peers, professors (and even Biddy!) It was the story of students who made this place home for a lot of us who did not think it could be.