It’s hard not to feel empowered and inspired by Amherst students lately. Last Monday, somewhere between 250 and 500 students met on the steps of Frost to remember Michael Brown’s death with a moment of silence and a walk around the quad chanting “hands up, don’t shoot.” On Sunday, anyone on or around the first-year quad could see the group of UMass and Amherst protesters who walked through the town to raise awareness about the injustice of the non-indictment in the Eric Garner case. In October, members of our campus organized our own Black Lives Matter awareness week and responded decisively and collectively against the small All Lives Matter backlash. All this is not to forget the student-led campaign to change the mascot or the great work the Green Amherst Project has done mobilizing the divestment movement
There are plenty of myths about life at Amherst. There’s apparently no dating scene. Everyone is an athlete. Everyone goes abroad. We’ll all get jobs right after graduation. But one of the biggest impediments to our education outside of the classroom is the idea that Amherst students aren’t politically active. According to those who think the Fiske Guide to College’s word is law, a student should go to Wesleyan if they want demonstrations and political outrage. Amherst is for indifferent intellectuals and the thinking man’s jock.
This kind of thinking creates complacency. The majority of Amherst students are supposed to passively look on while the Democrats rally to get out the vote or the Republicans bring various speakers onto campus. We can tacitly support divestment but shouldn’t actively storm Converse Hall to disrupt a board of trustees meeting. The most common response to an issue close to home, like the question of our Lord Jeff mascot, is either “I don’t care” or “Why a moose?”
Students have been at the heart of every political movement in recent history. University students went on freedom rides throughout the South to make a public statement about black rights in America. Chinese undergraduates protested against the communist government in Tiananmen Square. We Amherst students learn about social justice in our classes and develop our critical thinking skills in every facets of life. As liberal arts scholars, as pretentious as it sounds, we have a responsibility to analyze the world around us and then react to it. We have the duty to work to create social change. It is time to break the bonds of our stereotypes and remember: “The personal is political.”
Amherst, for all its problems, has been a fantastic place for political activism lately. Our community has been an inspiration for anyone trying to find sense in the tragedy of Ferguson. The recent demonstrations on not only our campus but also at colleges across the country have shown the power of the student voice and the need for change. We are in the middle of another civil rights movement, another pivotal moment in American and world history. Amherst students have the duty and privilege to be a part of this progress.