This article is a part of The Student’s #IntegrateAmherst op-ed series. The series intends to act as a forum for a multitude of perspectives to engage in a dialogue surrounding the Black Student Union’s recent #IntegrateAmherst movement responding to racism at Amherst College. Articles included in the series represent the opinions of the authors themselves only and are not necessarily endorsed by the BSU. To contribute your opinion on these events and topics, please contact [email protected] or [email protected].
I was shocked to read of the events that took place at the college last month, in which some members of the men’s lacrosse team shouted the n-word outside the dorm of their Black teammate. I could not believe that in the year 2020, people (let alone Amherst students) could even remotely think that this was acceptable behavior. We should not whitewash the gravity of what these words represent because the act of saying them represents a flippant disregard for the intrinsic human value of your Black classmates.
But yet, it had indeed occurred at my alma mater, over 30 years after I had received my diploma on that bright spring day with my proud parents seated on the quad in the shadow of Robert Frost Library.
After my initial shock had passed, I began to reflect on last month’s events. What makes some of us feel superior to others? Is it our socioeconomic status? Gender, sexuality or race? Ethnicity, religion or nationality? Is it citizenship?
As a physician and scientist for the last 25-plus years, I have taken care of some of the most powerful people in the world as well as some of the most vulnerable. All of these cases have shown me that illness, suffering and death do not discriminate.
So what is it that gives some a sense of superiority over others? It’s certainly not rooted in any sort of science.
What kind of society would we create if we felt that we had no civic duty to each other? What kind of world would we live in if no one tried to make it a better place? Where would we be if everyone remained silent when witnessing abuse — be it physical, psychological or verbal? If history is any indication, we would be in a society with no beauty, a society full of cruelty because empathy would be of no value to us — and certainly not a society to be proud of.
Amherst, as an institution of “higher learning,” has an obligation to teach its students that we are part of something larger than ourselves. It has an obligation to encourage and reinforce the desire in each and every one of us to want to see and create more beauty in society.
We, in turn, have the obligation to be active participants in our “higher learning.” The very act of learning is the process of realizing how much it is that we do not know. This process gives us the humility and empathy we need to acknowledge when we have faltered in what we have said to others, done to others, or failed to do for others.
People of conscience and consequence in history, which we aspire all Amherst students to become, have consistently found the humility to define themselves and their actions within the much larger context of society. It is this conviction that served as the basis for their strength, resilience and perseverance in striving to improve the lives of others because it was for the greater good.
I hope that my simple reflections will serve as a basis for us to engage in an open and honest dialogue in which we are unafraid to learn from one another. For, we have so much to learn about one another such that, together, we can do our part to make this world a little bit of a better place.
Nadia Biassou ’88 MD, PhD
Amherst Wade Fellow 2019-2021