Reflecting on the Administration's Response to the CLD

Many parties had much to say about the Common Language Document (CLD), a document released and then quickly taken down by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion with the stated purpose of helping the college community “come to a common and shared understanding of language” and bringing about “effective communication within and across difference.” President Biddy Martin referred to the guide as “anathema” and incompatible with the values of freedom of thought and discussion in a statement released on March 20. The statement replaced the document on the college website.

Let us focus on the response of the CLD’s opponents, who took swift action to see it condemned. An article published on March 21 by the Boston Herald reported that senior members of the Amherst College Republicans complained to the college’s administration over the document. The AC Republicans seem to have reached out and given formal statements to another news website, The Daily Wire, just hours after the release of the guide. Individual members of the group are also quoted in statements to these press outlets.

I find it ironic that the AC Republicans argued, in the mode of conservative campus groups across the country, that the CLD stifled free speech even while countering it in a deliberately indirect and clandestine way. The Herald reported that the CLD was deleted after the Republicans “howled in protest.” This is false.

Rather than approach the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, (ODI) which called the guide “a living document,” with their complaints — which I assume they did not do since no news piece about the incident said anything about communications with ODI staff — and rather than seek any public forum within the college community to discuss their opinions, they immediately sent copies of the guide and gave statements to the right-wing trash press, hoping to start a partisan furor. They aired their complaints not to students who felt differently about the guide, nor to the office that created it, but directly to the college administration, and it is obvious they knew that their side had the kind of leverage that overrides free discussion: in today’s political climate, any college or university administration is understandably fearful of being at the center of a bitter, publicized reckoning on free speech in higher education.

The AC Republicans may object to the CLD with the guide’s stated purpose containing definitions of political concepts that are not apparently linked to shared understanding of racial/ethnic, gender or sexual identities. They should make their complaints known using the free speech they want to protect.