Members of the Amherst College community congregated in front of Valentine Dining Hall at noon today to protest the executive order signed by President Donald Trump that effectively halts immigration from 7 Muslim-majority nations. Gathering in front of Val, hundreds of students, faculty members, and staff marched around parts of campus and settled in front of Converse Hall, where a list of student and faculty speakers gave speeches condemning the executive order released last week.
Aubrey Grube ’18, one of the organizers, explained that “this executive order is not an abstraction: this directly and indirectly effects many members of our community. The College has not responded appropriately or sufficiently to protect these affected members.”
Chief among the demands listed by the organizers was that the College should “strongly” and “unequivocally” condemn the executive order. Protesters decried the “mild” and “weak” letter issued by President Biddy Martin in response to the executive order, and pointed to the much stronger messages issued by peer institutions like Harvard, Yale, Cornell, and Boston University. Additionally, protesters criticized the sluggish response of the Administration, including the International Students Office – the latter sent an email informing students about the Chinese New Year but failed to mention the devastating impacts of the executive order on the International Students community.
Professor Deborah Gewertz (Anthropology Department) expressed solidarity on behalf of the faculty, a large number of whom had signed a letter of support. Reading the letter of support, Gewertz declared, “We unequivocally condemn the executive order and join our students in calling on the College administration to do the same. We also join our students in calling on the College to devote all necessary resources to supporting those affected by the Ban. We reaffirm our principles of equality and democracy, and unconditionally reject the Trump regime’s politics of racism and fear.” As of 3 pm, around a hundred faculty members have signed this letter.
Others who condemned the ban included Rabbi Bruce, who spoke on behalf of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. He also reaffirmed the importance of welcoming those who wish to, for various reasons, settle in the United States, pointing out that every non-Native American, at some point in their family histories, also immigrated to the US.
Immediately before the official rally began, it was reported that around a dozen students had occupied President Biddy Martin’s office in Converse Hall. They stated that their sit-in would continue until the list of demands (which were read out to the crowd) were met. The occupiers were reportedly threatened by both administrators and the College Police, who started patrolling the building in attempts to remove the protesters. President Martin, visibly incensed, tried to argue with the occupiers to evacuate the building.
Towards the end of the official protest, which lasted a little over an hour, President Biddy Martin spoke to the crowd, contesting the version of events presented by the protesters. She claimed that the administration had reached out to all the students and faculty members involved (including the employee stuck outside the country), and that the College strives to protect all its members. Her speech was not well-received by some of the students impacted by the ban, who claim that the College has not made an active effort to reach out to them, and has made only “abstract commitments” and professions of sympathy rather than proffering tangible material and legal protections.
As of 3 pm, reports are being received that there are still around 20 students occupying President Martin’s office.