Over the last few weeks, the Amherst College community has been pushed to make controversial decisions: taking down the Common Language Document (CLD), responding to the men’s lacrosse team’s anti-Semitic behavior and, most recently, disciplining the Amherst College Republicans (ACR) for discriminatory language in their club GroupMe. Each of these conflicts has been handled in distinct ways with varying success. Two weeks ago, the Editorial Board argued that President Biddy Martin’s abrupt shutdown of the CLD was unproductive and implemented an executive decision that impacted the community in a negative way. On the other hand, there has been little public discourse about disciplinary actions for the lacrosse team’s behavior. Nonetheless, we believe that the Judiciary Council’s (JC) decision on how to discipline ACR is well thought-out and indicative of a need for the democratic process on the Amherst campus. We should use this calculated and informed judging process to settle future controversies.
Six members of the JC voted unanimously that the ACR violated the Honor Code in a way that merited sanctions. The punishment that will be implemented contains several features. Members on the executive board (E-board) of all registered student organizations (RSO) will be required to participate in sensitivity training. ACR E-board members were forced to step down and will not be allowed to hold similar positions on any RSO for the remainder of their time at Amherst. And finally, ACR was ordered to provide a statement in The Student declaring it condemns hate speech and acknowledging the language in their GroupMe.
We believe this punishment befits the transgression. There was talk of defunding the ACR, and that — similar to the decision to take down the CLD — would have been a gross overreaction. Defunding the ACR would have shut the door on dialogue and dramatically increased the polarization of this group on campus. A democratic community necessitates a fundamental need to address disagreement, disrespect and even discrimination in a productive manner. The sanctions on ACR create potential for genuine growth and learning from harmful, bigoted behavior. This punishment is neither too much nor too little. The role that elected student representatives played in reaching this decision sets an example for the future.
The Judiciary Council is one of three branches of the Association of Amherst Students. The purpose of the JC is to make sure that the AAS Constitution is upheld on campus by the AAS, RSOs and the general student body. In the case of the ACR, the six members of the JC believed that the ACR E-board failed to uphold the Constitution and the Student Code of Conduct. Clearly, these six representative are only a miniscule portion of the Amherst community, but their unanimity speaks loudly. We believe that incorporating students into this decision-making process is crucial. The student body at large should invest more time in participating in forums such as the AAS so that everyone’s values are equally and well represented. We feel that the student government is underappreciated at the college and that it has the power to bring satisfaction to our diverse student body.
Taking down the CLD stands in stark contrast to this function of student voice. President Martin went ahead and made an executive decision, which is not productive for dialogue and ideological diversity. Some will say this was exclusively an administrative issue, but perhaps over time the ideas and voices of the Amherst community can play a role in what was a decisive ruling. Amherst College is a privileged microcosm of the world at large and we must learn to be active, democratic citizens. Pointing fingers and shouting matches should be — and in this case, were— replaced with an organized, deliberate judging process that sets sophisticated and productive disciplinary action.
Unsigned editorials represent the Editorial Board (assenting: 8; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 5)