Possible Racist Incident in Cohan Under Investigation
The college is investigating a report of a group of individuals who used racist language while tearing down posters that highlighted people of color. The incident, which reportedly took place on the second floor of Cohan Residence Hall on Sunday, Nov. 17, was disclosed to students in an email from Dean of Students Liz Agosto on Tuesday, Nov. 19.
Upon receiving the report, the college launched an investigation according to Agosto. The Amherst College Police Department (ACPD) spoke to the reporting students and now seeks information from the larger community.
“At this point we do not have enough information to move forward,” Agosto said. “As our community is one in which students can come and go from our residence halls without barriers, we are reaching out to the full student body with the hope that someone might have information about this incident.”
“Any action that targets individuals or groups because of their identity violates our expectations for and policy of respect for persons, weakens our community and is intolerable,” Agosto added. “We appreciate the students who shared what they observed and we are taking this seriously.”
Agosto and Chief Student Affairs Officer Karu Kozuma declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Cohan residents received an email about the incident on Sunday, which was “basically the exact same email that they sent out to the whole student body,” said resident Petra Zuñiga ’22. According to Zuñiga, a resident took a screenshot of the email and sent it to the dorm-wide group chat, asking what was going on.
In the email, residents were told to reach out to Student Affairs if they needed support. “[It] was a really nice sentiment, but I definitely feel like there’s been very little actual information about what happened,” Zuñiga said. “I don’t know what exactly happened but I would like to know whether or not it’s people in our building.”
Cohan resident Andrea Mirow ’22 said she is “pleased” that the Office of Student Affairs is following up and “taking this matter seriously.”
“From what I hear, these are serious allegations and very concerning,” she wrote in a comment to The Student.
Zuñiga, like others interviewed by The Student, said she hopes to have more of a conversation about what exactly happened.
“As a person of color and also living with mostly people of color and just like knowing the population of the dorm itself, I think there’s a bunch of people that are directly impacted by that, and it’s not okay for it to just be swept under the rug,” she said.
Alex Lee ’22, a Cohan resident, said he was confused when he first heard about the incident. As a self-identified person of color, he also said he was uncomfortable to hear about the report of racist language in his dorm.
“It’s pretty standard to know not to say those kind of things,” he said. “I think it’s pretty disrespectful in general … especially in a dorm that I’m living in. I guess I’m curious to know who were the people involved.”
Not knowing who were involved, what happened or how the investigation is going adds to the distress, Zuñiga said. “It just feels like a slightly unsafe environment,” she said. “This is racially charged discourse, right? I don’t know what it looks like but … I would want it to be clear that there is a very specific conversation and some form of repercussions for [the perpetrators].”
Association of Amherst Students (AAS) President Avery Farmer ’20 said he is “frustrated that this kind of event continues to happen on campus.” Though Student Affairs notified Farmer of the incident prior to the all-student email on Tuesday, the AAS has not yet had a chance to meet to formulate its response.
“Whoever it is, it is scary that people in our community are engaging in behavior that seems targeted to marginalized people and … in this incident specifically people of color,” Farmer added. “I think any event is too much, and we’ve definitely had too much of that since we’ve been here. I really hope they find who’s responsible and hold them accountable in a way that makes it so that those people never do that kind of thing again and hopefully it doesn’t happen anymore on campus.”
According to Zuñiga, Student Affairs has not followed up with additional emails to Cohan residents or extended support specific to people of color since Sunday.
Agosto has urged the culpable individuals to come forward and encouraged anyone with information to contact ACPD by calling 413-542-2291 or submit a Community Standards Report, the latter of which allows for anonymity.