I was initially going to write about what being a trans ally has meant for me over my four years at Amherst. I intended on pushing readers to consider their place as we pass the halfway mark of Trans Awareness Month, especially those who do not identify with or fully understand the lived struggles of transgender or gender non-conforming individuals (that’s some cis-gender privilege). I wanted to encourage everyone to participate in the several available events that honor and celebrate trans lives in our world and on our campus. However, after the events of this past weekend, I realized my intentions would not be enough. I realized that an open invitation is not one that people feel the need to accept. I realized that the people “outside the library,” who either missed the sit-in or were personally against it, needed a little more than a push. This is for you.
First, I think it is necessary to acknowledge the simple fact that not everybody who missed the sit-in this past weekend embodies every type of privilege and thus rejected the ideas and intentions behind the movement. At the same time, not everyone in attendance is a helpless sufferer of our community. However, it is undeniable that something incredible happened over the span of 72 hours, and only those who shared the space are capable of truly understanding that experience. It was not until these three days that some truly intimate and enlightening conversations finally happened for hundreds of students. The library had become the thriving, collaborative, welcoming community that Amherst has consistently prided itself in fostering. Students, faculty, staff, alumni and President Martin came together in order to address a prominent problem on campus.
As an active participant, not a leading organizer, of the weekend, I would like to share a few impactful things that I witnessed unfold at Frost Library. The first is one that many people are aware of at this point, but also one that has been the most misconstrued. On Thursday, Nov. 12, members of our community shared difficult stories of how their race, gender, sexual identity, class, ability, nationality and other social identities have made their experience at Amherst far worse than what they expected. Our peers shared stories of oppression, both overt and subtle, that caused them to feel inadequate in an environment that does not allow every student the time, space or support to respond to such incidences. This was NOT simply people crying about having their feelings hurt, but rather people identifying repetitive and intolerable flaws in our campus — flaws that have driven far too many people to perform poorly or even leave Amherst. The room lit up as people heard experiences that both echoed and differed from their own. Soon enough, what began as a one-hour sit-in for solidarity across college campuses nationwide quickly became an evening of solidarity among our peers and greater community.
The second highlight of the sit-in was that the library evolved from a place of personal and individual study to a safe space and a temporary home for many. Of course, the sustainment of the space required group effort and support. It was quickly understood that if we were going to spend a few days in the library, we needed to take care of it. All attendees worked to keep the space as clean as possible, even with boxes of pizza flying everywhere and hundreds of students filling the space. Throughout the weekend, the resource centers, Valentine Dining Hall, Frost Cafe, Grab-n-Go and supportive alumni provided food. Additionally, many spaces and events mobilized in order to be accessible in the library. Professors relocated their classes, Marsh Coffee Haus relocated their event and the Queer Resource Center literally relocated their center — providing resources and support services. Overall, our community created a space in which people felt supported and able to be the best versions of themselves. This was incredible.
The third and perhaps most impactful part of the weekend was the amount of dialogue that happened in one collective space. For the first time, students, staff and faculty were connecting and engaging in dialogue across difference. This experience served as a catalyst for authentic community engagement. For three days, conversations that are typically restricted to weekly one-hour meetings within the First Generation Association, Black Student Union, La Causa, Pride Alliance, the three resource centers and other affinity groups were all happening in one large space. Perhaps the more important point here is that these conversations were happening with members from ALL areas of our community, and they were focused toward changing the place in which students spend four years and employees of the college may spend most of their life working.
These were the three things that stood out to me most through my experience as a participant in the sit-in and Amherst Uprising movement over the weekend. However, I would still like to return to the topic of Trans Awareness Month and how this is just one part of the bigger Amherst picture. On Friday, the mobilized Queer Resource Center held their weekly Queer Talk event and there were faces in the circle that I have never seen at Queer Talk before, let alone in the Queer Resrouce Center. The general topic of the discussion surrounded transgender visibility and how we can support trans individuals and trans people of color. While most people in the space did not identify as transgender, they were receptive and engaged in the conversation. Most people expressed concerns that they did not completely understand what it meant to be an ally, particularly to trans individuals. Some people also expressed the concern that the Queer Resource Center and other spaces can come across as exclusive for those who identify within their respective communities. The idea that the straight people cannot approach the Queer Resource Center, men cannot approach the Women’s and Gender Center, white people cannot approach the Multicultural Resource Center, and similar feelings for different affinity groups is the mindset that has caused some of the problems which led to this weekend’s series of events. This needs to stop.
After the sit-in ended following President Biddy Martin’s address to Amherst Uprising, a group of students gathered to discuss what should be expected next. Someone shared the point that the students in Frost are of a similar mindset and have a similar goal in mind, but it is the people not present who may not understand why this is so important. In light of this, I would like to push all of the individuals who avoided the library this weekend. Whether you had too much work to do, felt completely against the cause (even if you may not fully understand it) or just did not know how to be an active ally — I challenge you to show up. Talk to someone about what is happening at Amherst and on other college campuses. Go to an event on campus that might make you feel uncomfortable. Lean into discomfort, stop by the resource centers even if you don’t think they are “for you”, learn about race, gender, class, sexuality and other identities even if you don’t think they impact you. Because they do. This is not an open invitation — this is a necessity!