Police Profiling at Amherst College: an anecdote

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(Liya Rechtman)– I was decidedly excited for Luau TAP this year. Not shit-faced hot-mess crazy-excited, like my freshman year, but ready to go out dancing in the social quad with the rest of campus.

However, my night did not go as well as planned. As I walked onto campus with a friend, attempting to find senior-who-knows-where-keg-is B, a police officer stopped me. “Excuse me! Young lady! Stop right there!”

I was not holding a solo cup, not stumbling, not having sex on the quad, not carrying a boom box or a 6-foot bong, not… Well, you get the idea. Friend A and I were simply walking from Stone to Coolidge in pursuit of Senior Friend B.

My crime? – You ask. Our crime was not looking like we “belonged on this campus,” or, as the cop rephrased seconds later, not looking like a “normal Amherst student.”

WHAT??!?! WHAT?

I’m sorry, officer, that I’m not a boy in polo and boat shoes. Amherst started admitting women about thirty years ago, and with them the admission office let in the dykes, hippies, and gender-queer and gender-non-conforming students as well.

Adding insult to ignorance, the officer then went on to say: “May I see that… um… gentleman’s ID too?” pointing to my friend.

Perhaps you need a little context. My friend has short hair and wears slightly baggy pants. She is identifies as female but tends towards being more masculine or gender-queer presenting. I was in Doc Marten boots and a dress.

My apologies for leaving the high heels on the hill so I could actually walk to and from my dorm. My apologies for not realizing that, as a woman, I had to be attached to an “Amherst” man (described above) in order to look “right” or “normal” on TAP night.

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I didn’t realize that it was the job of the Amherst police to tell anyone who wasn’t doing anything wrong where they were, and weren’t supposed to be. Amherst is, as far as I know (and please correct me if I’m wrong) an open campus, and part of a consortium of other schools. Further, what happened to pursuing a diverse student body?

It’s true that each school has its own unique personality. The five colleges are often likened to the five Scooby-Doo characters with Amherst as Fred, the straightedge jock, but that is just a stereotype. There ARE variations on that theme, and the variations are not anomalous. Before that night, I had never felt like I didn’t “belong” on campus. I worked hard to get here (and friend A probably worked harder than that, to be fair). I am an active participant in this school, and I am grateful for education that I’m getting. I feel like I work in order to deserve it.

Maybe we should be thinking a little bit more about what it means to be members of not just one college, but a community of colleges. Clearly there are several bigger issues here than my personal relationship with the Amherst police. Namely, who decides what an Amherst is/looks like? And, if the officer was working on the assumption that we were students from one of the other schools, what does that say about the Amherst-ians relationship with five-college kids?

<3 ConstantLy