Jay Lassiter: A Committed Student and Caring Teammate

Jay Lassiter’s time on the golf team and in the classroom has been formative in his time at Amherst. Preparing to attend law school next year, Jay’s absence will be felt.

As a fellow Californian and member of the Amherst College golf team, I was excited to get to know Jay Lassiter this past year. Despite only spending one year together, it was clear that Jay is someone who is dedicated to and passionate about his work and will always greet you with a smile.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing Jay for the Features series “Thoughts on Theses.” Over the course of the interview, I got to learn more about the academic and personal passions that drove Jay’s decision to pursue a law, jurisprudence, and social thought (LJST) and Black studies double major. Because of the pleasure I had in writing Jay’s Thoughts on Theses article, I was excited to have the opportunity to write his commencement profile and chat with him again.

Life Before Amherst

Jay is a native to sunny Los Angeles, California. Throughout his childhood he often traveled across both the United States and the globe. Growing up, Jay practiced Taekwondo, and holds a black belt.

Despite being from the other side of the country, Jay said that he decided to attend Amherst because “I loved both of my high school visits to Amherst. I did the Amherst fly-in program and stayed with a bunch of my high school friends who already went to Amherst. They showed me a great time here and it made me want to come.”

Life at Amherst

The transition from warm California to Massachusetts for college was difficult because of the rural environment and new weather conditions he had not been exposed to before.

“It was really new to me, and made for a different lifestyle than I had at home,” Jay said. “But then I really learned to appreciate it these past four years.” He added that it was challenging to meet new people due to the many Covid restrictions and that he is continuously meeting new classmates to this day.

But the bigger hurdle to adjust to Amherst was the pandemic. Jay started his first semester in the fall of 2020, and restrictions made socializing difficult.

The isolation of the pandemic, though challenging, pushed Jay to find new ways to connect on campus. For him, this meant walking onto the golf team.

“I decided to join the golf team to give myself more things to do,” he explained. “I was pretty bored being locked in my room, and golf gave me the opportunity to get out, which I really liked. Also, through golf, I was able to build friendships which I otherwise wouldn’t have had.”

Jay revealed that while he had no intentions of playing collegiate golf, he now cites it as “being one of the biggest parts of my Amherst experience.” Jay attributes a large portion of his Amherst experience to Thomas (Tommy) Whitley ’24 and Benjamin (Ben) Byman ’24, the two other current seniors on the men’s golf team, with whom he grew close to after joining the team. Indeed, the bond formed by being together on the golf team meant that, while Jay spent a lot of time on his sport, he still spent much of his free time with his teammates.

Jay is not only a friend for many, but , as a senior he is also a role model for both the underclassman on the golf team and students across campus.

“Jay combines a passion for scholarship with an ability to make everyone in a room, space, or golf course feel like the most important person in that space for the betterment of himself, the team, and the Amherst community,” Byman said.

Jay’s presence has not only been recognized by his peers, but also by the golf team’s head coach, Elizabeth Geene. “Jay has been an exceptional leader on our golf team,” she said. “As his coach, I have appreciated the opportunity to get to know Jay over the last four years and admire his dedication to our program and the Amherst community overall. He will be missed next year by his teammates and coaching staff. We know he will be incredibly successful in the future, and we look forward to seeing all he accomplishes.”

As part of the golf team myself, as soon as I came to Amherst it was clear to me, as it is to anyone on the team, the impact Jay has had on the golf team. His leadership skills shine through his compassion for his teammates and willingness to support them in any way he can.

When he’s not balancing sports and academics, Jay now spends his time on campus as a member of the Black Student Union (BSU). But much of his free time isn’t spent on campus at all. Jay started pursuing activities off-campus as a means of escaping the isolation of campus during the pandemic, but he has continued to spend much of the free time he has visiting friends and family at other colleges and in New York, watching basketball games in Boston, and traveling.

Jay also had the opportunity to study abroad during his junior year.

“I loved going abroad and definitely recommend it as it is easily the best part of my college experience,” Jay said. “I went to London, and got to work while I was there in the field that I want to pursue.”

During his semester abroad, there were many ongoing higher education strikes which limited the classes he was able to take.

“Although I took interesting classes (‘Caribbean Drama,’ ‘Moral Philosophy,’ ‘Intro to Islam,’ ‘Urbanism’), the teachers’ strikes meant that I rarely actually had class,” Jay said. “So, I got to really make the most of my time abroad. I traveled all throughout Europe.”

Besides classes, Jay also participated in many fun activities while abroad. “I got to meet up with a bunch of my friends who also studied abroad in Europe. I also visited my Dad in Italy, my mom and grandmother in Ireland, I saw the northern lights in Iceland, rode camels in Morocco, went to the bathhouses in Budapest, saw a Jay-Z show in Paris, and went to the Berlin Orchestra.”

Jay also worked during his time abroad for the entertainment law firm Clintons, which is a field he hopes to pursue as a career.

While golf and extracurriculars have shaped a large part of Jay’s Amherst experience, he acknowledged that his time spent in the classroom was just as formative.

His first-year seminar course, “Secrets and Lies,” was taught by William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science Professor Austin Sarat. The small size of the class and its engaging nature was a perfect model of what an impactful Amherst class would look like for the rest of his four years, Jay said. As an LJST major, Jay also spoke highly of his time taking classes with Bertrand H. Snell 1894 Professor in American Government Martha Umphrey.

“Professor Umphrey was one of the best professors I had at Amherst,” Jay said. “Through [‘Law’s History’ and ‘Law and Love’], I quickly appreciated what a great thinker Professor Umphrey is. Her ability to approach arguments, concepts, or books from so many perspectives and with such nuance made her classes incredibly engaging.”

After going to a predominantly-white high school, becoming a Black studies major was a way for Jay to be in environments he previously did not have access to.

“Being able to have Black studies as a space where most of the students and professors were Black was new to me ... having that at Amherst has been amazing,” he said.

Alfred Sargent Lee ’41 and Mary Farley Ames Lee Professor of Black Studies Olufemi Vaughan is one of Jay’s favorite professors, and he took “Intro to Black Studies” with him his sophomore fall and a Black studies thesis workshop his senior fall. Jay said that he thinks highly of Vaughan because of his encouraging personality which pushes his students to fully engage with ideas. Jay also attributes his decision to write a thesis to Vaughan.

“Outside the classroom, we had many intriguing conversations on social justice issues, especially those at the intersection of race, class, and gender in U.S. society and around the world,” Vaughan said. “These issues are of deep concern to Jay. He wrote a brilliant summa thesis on the Black Panther Party.”

Jay also mentioned Charles Hamilton Houston ’15 Professor of Black Studies and History Stefan Bradley as someone who played an integral part in his experience at Amherst.

Bradley, for his part, said that “Mr. Lassiter is really the best Amherst has to offer.” He continued, “I’ve had him in class and as a mentee. Regarding his academic work and his thesis, he’s tenacious and indefatigable. That’s impressive enough, but he is a top-tier leader outside of the classroom. He is a compassionate and empathetic member of the campus community. What the world needs now is more young people like Jay Lassiter. I was lucky to be part of his academic journey.”

Jay’s thesis, which explores the ramifications of repression on individuals within a movement, is one of his greatest accomplishments at Amherst. “The fact that there is a physical manifestation of my work is a really good feeling,” Jay said.

When I asked him for an update on his thesis since our last conversation about it for The Student, he revealed that it ended up way longer than he expected — totaling 158 pages. The massive thesis details Jay’s family history in the Black Panther Party to explore the ramifications of repression on movements in the U.S.

“Professor Loggins and Professor Bradley were my two thesis advisors,” Jay said. “They each added something different to my project and were helpful in their own ways. Professor Loggins was helpful in keeping me on track and ensuring that my work progressed consistently. With such a long project this can be difficult, so Professor Loggins’ guidance benefitted me. Professor Bradley pushed me to be more creative and approach some of my topic’s questions in new ways. I consider myself truly lucky to have worked with advisors like Professor Bradley and Professor Loggins who brought such positive energy and constructive insight to my thesis.”

Life After Amherst

As an LJST and Black Studies major, Jay is pursuing a career in entertainment law and will be attending the University of Chicago’s law school this upcoming fall.

In part from his experience working at Clintons, he is confident that entertainment law will be a field that can balance his “academic and personal interests.”

Further, Jay is excited about life in the city. “After being at Amherst I look forward to being in a city again and Chicago is a super fun place,” Jay said.

Having gotten to know Jay at Amherst, I think it is safe to say that Jay will excel in law school — and that an exciting future awaits him in Chicago.