On Promises Left Unfinished

A pandemic, a civil rights movement, an election — amid a series of local, national and global upheavals, last year looked different at The Student. Besides our transition to an entirely digital distribution, we deepened our commitment to holding individuals and institutions accountable in order to build a more just and equitable Amherst. We were reminded of our responsibility of serving a diverse community and taking concrete steps to become a more accessible and inclusive space. We turned inward and interrogated our work as a newspaper, a privileged platform with flaws but also the profound potential for creating and uplifting constructive dialogues. 

Over the past year, The Student has critically examined the college’s anti-racism plan, highlighted campus activism such as the #ReclaimAmherst campaign, reflected on the legacy of Amherst Uprising, advocated for political participation and much more. The momentum carried over to this special issue where we have taken a deeper look at the history of Amherst Uprising and traced its impact on current students and organizations at the college.

As we step into the new semester, our guiding questions remain: What can we do as a student organization to better serve our community? What can we do to initiate and promote constructive levers of change both within our newsroom and without? 

In order to answer these questions, we must first reckon with our past as an organization, in particular, our failures to publish a diverse range of underrepresented voices and eliminate entry barriers for students to participate in our newsroom. We acknowledge that some of the promises we made last July remain unfulfilled. We have yet to perform a comprehensive readership survey nor launch a Quantitative Data Report that illustrates who is writing and who is written about. We still need to work on building more consistent relationships with other groups and organizations on campus. As for our dedication to an inclusive mission, we need to provide more training opportunities for students of color and underrepresented identities in order to help equip them with the tools for entering our newsroom.

We approach this semester with humility and unwavering commitment to our goals and promises, aiming to adapt and improve our journalism in order to best serve the Amherst community. 

One of our major goals in the coming semester will be making our paper more representative of the college as a whole, echoing one of the main goals we specified last July –– intensifying our editor’s checklist to stop and reflect on the identities of our interviewees. Our News section will be hiring new editors for bias and fact-checking, as well as featuring marginalized members of the community more frequently in “Staff Spotlight” and “Thoughts on Theses” articles. We hope to diversify our Opinion section, both in terms of the people who feel inclined to write for us as well as the content we have to share. We want to address any and all concerns –– large and small, formal and informal, social and institutional. In Arts and Living, we hope to work with our campus artists to publish more art — be it visual art, poetry or short stories — and take deeper, longform-style dives on campus life from all perspectives, especially underrepresented ones. The Sports section has pledged to equalize coverage of male and female sports and is aiming to increase its article output on Amherst sports teams as opposed to the national teams it also covers. 

In addition to these section-specific goals, as an organization, we would like to deepen our efforts to connect to the whole of the community by reaching out to various student organizations and academic departments over the upcoming weeks in order to find and foster writers who may not be immediately drawn to the idea of sharing their writing and ideas to the whole of the community. We will be making the submissions process clearer and more efficient, with a submissions form in every newsletter open to the entirety of the college community as well as our neighbors in the town of Amherst and the surrounding schools. 

These goals, representation and connection, are closely intertwined with each other. Stronger connections and more meaningful interactions with the rest of the Amherst community are essential to the diversification of the voices we uplift, and vice versa. 

As one of our most important functions, we will continue to hold the college accountable. Beyond fostering a sustainable structure of activism, the college needs to persist in making concrete administrative policy, pedagogical, and curricular changes executing the anti-racism plan. 

The Steering Committee on the Racial History of Amherst College has initiated a project to coordinate and disseminate research on the college’s racial past. New policies designed to address and prevent identity-based harassment are expected to take effect at the beginning of this semester. It will be followed by a portal through which complaints of identity-based harm can be submitted and reviewed by a team of professional staff and faculty. 

By the end of this semester, we expect to see the diversity, equity and inclusion goals that all senior staff members have set for their particular areas of responsibility, as stated in the college’s anti-racism plan update. We will continue to call for a more mandatory racial justice education within the student body while maintaining the freedom of an open curriculum. We would also like to see a visible change in our on-campus policing structures, such as shifting resources from the Amherst College Police Department towards funds for student employment and campus well-being. Echoing our stance from an earlier editorial that the college must take immediate and decisive actions beyond its promises, one of our priorities in this semester is to make sure that the promises don’t just remain words. 

As we continue to face down the crises of a global pandemic and racial injustice, we recognize the privileges and responsibilities of our platform. By transforming our internal culture and strengthening our external relationships, we strive to re-imagine our newsroom and become active participants in the community we serve, not merely as onlookers. This year, besides the ongoing spotlight of campus activism, you will hear more fresh voices that more accurately reflect our community, spread out as those voices may be. 

We are committed to providing the campus with a paper that not only tells the real stories of our community in its entirety but allows for community members to share their stories themselves. We view fostering open and honest discussion about life at Amherst, both its strengths and its flaws, as the best way to improve our college, celebrate it and unite as a single community even in this era of remote learning. 

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