To the Amherst Community,
No doubt, the present climate (both on campus and as it relates to society at large) is one of volatility, discomfort, and palpable fear. Instances such as these challenge the character and resilience of community, and can, if not handled properly, foster division, magnify mistrust, and force us to belabor each other’s faults and shortcomings. As promogulated in the message below, I believe apathy yields silent complicity; ultimately working to perpetuate problematic instances like the one that transpired on September 5, 2017. It’s incumbent upon all of us (victims, allies, and bystanders), to reject a passive ideology, and to work diligently and actively for the change we hope materializes, both on campus and in the world.
On September 9, 2017, I wrote the below message to members of the administration, to which scores of alumni from vastly different ethnicities, class years, and walks of life affixed their names in solidarity. To be clear, the administrative response was swift and reassuring, noting, among other things, the severity with which they are treating the issue, the despicable nature of the act itself, and an intention to take seriously the concern and plight of students through active dialogue.
In sharing this message with the community, I hope it provides solace to persons of color, women, and all students who may see, in recounting my experience, facets or tenets of their own. In so doing, and as the compendium of signatures make clear, I hope you recognize that you are not alone, that there are people to which you can always reach out to for advice, and that your struggles and strife, while unique and potent presently, will not bind you forever, that you will be able to overcome these obstacles, and that through adversity, we are tested, made better, and made more resilient. I pray that, in times of hardship, both present or future, you will always be reminded of this message from students who came before you.
In addition, I hope this clarifies for allies and other students the hardships and realities particular members of the community are forced to internalize and fight on a daily basis, and that it can provide a frame of reference by which to empathize and assist in constructing a campus community that works to involve all of its members.
– Kobina Quaye ‘15
I write in response to the disturbing and inexcusable racist actions that transpired on September 5, 2017, involving the hanging of a noose on Pratt Field. Such a deliberate act of hate cannot go unpunished, and cannot be remedied with words alone. Every reflection on these instances requires the same preface: we know racism still exists, that there are institutions (public and private) devoted to its posterity, that this is not the first of these instances (and won’t be the last), and that once again, the aggrieved is forced, despite it all, to assimilate to “normalcy” in their daily activities.
In the public imagination, as well as in practice, Amherst’s reputability as an academic institution remains largely unchallenged. Its diverse and open curriculum, the caliber of its faculty, the rigor of the community’s academic ethos, and its emphasis on fostering intellectual skepticism promulgate this fact.
The scope of its opportunity, assessed from history through the present day, is virtually limitless; with former presidents and politicians, federal and supreme court justices, award-winning authors, actors, and artists, all claiming alumnus status. The value of the Amherst education can hardly be overstated, of which I am a product and proponent (I am currently studying at Columbia Law, and I don’t doubt that the education I received accounts for a significant portion of my current circumstances).
But while I acknowledge the academic value of the Amherst education, as a person of color, I never found myself with much “school spirit.” I did not cheer for the football or lacrosse teams with pride. I did not wear Amherst clothing with a sense of honor, but of marked infamy and shame. I felt an imperative to self-isolate and self-segregate, as more and more places on campus shifted from feeling merely uncomfortable, to patently unsafe. The classrooms started to reek of entrapment, the community spirit felt more diminished, the air more fraught with division, the dining hall less welcoming to persons with brown and black skin, the campus itself too volatile: indeed, over time, my Amherst experience began to feel like something to be merely endured, not one to be enjoyed. It was marketed as a grand experience; however, it was one to which I could not fully claim entitlement, because of certain (obvious) immutable characteristics. Of course, every criticism has a corresponding qualification (hence my first paragraph): I indeed met people I am proud to call life-long friends and allies. Faculty, students, and staff alike, of all walks of life.
However, too often are empirical exceptions relied upon to dispute non-universal claims and truths. The establishment of some good cases cannot be properly said to mitigate or annul the rising ubiquity of egregious ones. The list of campus “incidents” targeting women and students of particular religions and color is long, and would be longer still, absent a palpable fear of reporting on behalf of the aggrieved population.
The MRC initially living in the basement of Keefe, being delayed by an estimation that a game room may take priority; countless anecdotes, where classroom microaggressions are overlooked and posited as overreactions; a week devoted to recognizing the value of Black lives defaced by students crying political foul; a young woman failing to find any recourse after the most physically and emotionally scarring experience imaginable (and the hundreds more who have been forced into silence); the prioritization of a murky sense of free speech rights over the bodily security of students; the revelation of an athletics team’s systematic manner of speaking about women and persons of color; the hurling of racial expletives towards students in the socials and written on cars in snow; the few non-obligatory “days of dialogue,” where again the onus is placed upon the aggrieved to educate their aggressors; the Financial Aid office curtailing monetary grants to persons of color who have to struggle to afford the rising cost of tuition; the countless instances and experiences persons of color face and internalize on a daily basis.
The world itself provides no further solace. White supremacy, racism, and Nazism permeate politics and social interactions. An executive who encourages police brutality, openly discriminates against minorities, and revokes programs under the guise of nationalism: indeed, “Make America Great Again” sounds more like a dictatorial salute instead of a weak political slogan.
Philando Castille, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald; all victims of a system designed to bring about their untimely and unjust deaths.
This is all to say, in sum, two things.
First, that in my experience (and that of several others), the relevant question isn’t the harm, but the subsequent silence that yields tactful complicity of that harm (as a metaphor, murder isn’t what intimidates the public: it’s the thought of murderers roaming free, without justice finding them). A noose, while traumatizing and reminiscent of a shocking historical fact, is made more terrifying by the silence that emboldens its proponents. Persons of color, of particular religions, and of certain ideologies and beliefs, are not just insecure, they are being commanded to live in constant fear by those who seek to harm them, and by the complicity of those who fail to actively denounce them.
Secondly, considering these facts, it is incumbent upon us all to recognize the inadequacy of passive judgment, and the need for active recourse. In a world where solace cannot be found in school, on the street, on the television or radio, or even sometimes in our own homes, it is imperative for those with power and privilege to use it. Denunciation, even in its strongest form, is not adequate to allay the well-founded concerns of students of color. Securing peace of mind requires substantive action: a commitment to holding the individual(s) responsible with harsh sanctions; to institute mandatory cultural competency education for sports teams and social groups; to provide incentives (such as cancelling sports seasons or social initiatives) to yield timely reporting of these instances; to diversify administrative, scholastic, and athletic faculty boards; to liaison with persons of color and affinity organizations often and much; and, most importantly, to treat this on par with any other substantive threat that may face the Amherst community. To be clear, this is not an “incident,” and none of the aforementioned cases are isolated. It is a threat to the physical and mental security of all persons who would like to call Amherst College their home. I would hope (and expect) the circumstances would be treated as severely as, say, knowledge of one walking around the school with a weapon: the exigency is tantamount.
I offer these opinions with no particular recourse in mind beyond what I have mentioned. I have been away from the school for some time, and it’s plausible that some of these suggestions may have been instituted, and may therefore be gratuitous (in which case, I obviously apologize for my oversight). Even assuming the truth of this, however, a larger problem still remains: the recurrence of these instances. Patterns and frequencies are illustrative, I believe, of circumstances. Of cultural tendencies. Of ideologies, and also of priorities. It’s important that we continue to ask questions about why these instances recur, how, if at all, they may relate to admission and administrative structures, and how we, as persons, may be complicit in its perpetuation. However, what’s imperative following this incident is that substantive attention is given to the plight of current students, and an approach that prioritizes their well-being and proposed initiatives. It is a day that I never thought I would see or hear of on the Amherst College campus, and one that will be carved into its historical annals for time immemorial.
Amherst has demonstrated its capacity for “positive” change in the past: the MRC was moved, attention to student concern was granted, and (most recently) the problematic mascot was done away with. Indeed, I hope that same spirit of amelioration can be carried through here, and it’s primarily from this belief in the administration that this message heralds. Though too often, a bit of advancement becomes a license to atrophy, and moral reactive attitudes become supplanted by apathy. And, unfortunately, often each instance of change comes after bitter work, and not generally or immediately accepted with openness.
I am an Amherst alumnus, and, as such, am uniquely interested in its trajectory. But I am also a person of color, who can understand instantly the fear students now face even more potently walking around campus. We all still share that fear, either walking down the street, or in predominately white neighborhoods, or around police officers. Make no mistake: the resilience of the aggrieved community will always outweigh the spite of the hateful, but such a battle will always be waged absent comprehensive steps toward appropriate sanctions and community healing.
I remain grateful for the time I spent at Amherst, and, in full reflection, the experience I had there. But, as stated before, recognition of the good cannot overshadow the specter of the heinous.
It’s nothing short of unjust for this paranoia to bleed so potently into a place devoted to safety and learning. I hope that this serves as a reminder of the progress that has yet to be made, of the doubtless need for liaison with current students and groups, and the suffering of those who still strive to call Amherst a place to look upon with fondness.
I hope you’ll agree.
Kobina Quaye ’15
|Aida Orozco ’14||Greg Genco ’10E||Rachel Nghe ’16|
|Albert Joo ‘15||Hyunsun Roh ’15||Ralph Washington ’16|
|Alejandro Javier Paulino ’14||Imani Marshall ’16||Rebecca Chun ’17|
|Alexander Sondak ’13||Irma Zamora ’17||Rebecca Emiru ’11|
|Alexandra James ’16||Jacqueline Chavez ’16||Robert Edney ’14|
|Alina de Cordoba ’16||Jake Samuels ’13||Sabrina Lee ’15|
|Allyson A. Leach ’14||Janna Joassainte ’17||Samanta English ’15|
|Andrew Drinkwater ’17||Jeanne Lee ’16||Saran Hall ’15|
|Andrew Lindsay ’16||Jelani Long ’14E||Seanna McCall ’17|
|Araceli Aponte ’17||Jelani Rooks ’13||Shanera Brodie ’16|
|Arlette De La Cruz ’09||Jensen Bouzi ’14||Shaunpaul Jones ’17|
|Ashley Felix ’15||Jessica Maposa ’17||Sidney Lin ’17|
|Ashley Finigan ’08||Jessica McMillin ’15||Siobhan McKissic ’12|
|Ashley McCall ’12||Jesus Zelaya ’16||Stephanie Sneed ’08|
|Ashley M. Montgomery ’16||Jia Liang ’17||Susanna An ’13|
|Asia-Sierra Millette ’11||Jia Mizell ’13||Talia Plummer ’15|
|Benaias Esayeas ’18E||Joelle Comrie ’14||Thais Calderon ’17|
|Bolatito Kolawole ’14||John Riggins ’12||Thais Laney ’16|
|Briana Hanny ’13||Juan Enrique Davila ’06||Thomas Matthew ’16|
|Brianna Wiggins ’15||Karen Blake ’17||Uchechi Onyebuchi ’15|
|Candice Jackson ’17||Kayla Collado ’16||Valerie Salcido ’17|
|Caroline Katba ’15||Lauren Carter ’17|
|Caryce Tirop ’17||Lauren Horn ‘17|
|Changhee Han ’12||Lexi Ligon ’17|
|Chloe McKenzie ’14||Lilia Paz ’16|
|Christina Croak ’13||Lorraine Thomas ’16|
|Christina Gutierrez ’09||Maïkha Jean-Baptiste ’10|
|Christine Ayanna Croasdaile ’17||Mapate Diop ’16|
|Christopher Lewis ’13||Matt Randolph ’16|
|Christopher Porras ’12||Maya Sisneros ’13|
|Cole Morgan ’13||Mbatang Acha ’17|
|Constance Paige ’15||Megan Kim ’16|
|Cristian Navarro ’16||Melissa Aybar ’14|
|Daejione Jones ’15||Mercedes MacAlpine ’16|
|Daniella Bennett ’17||Myles Gaines ’17|
|David Huante ‘16||Natalie King ’14|
|Dee Mandiyan ’10||Nia James ’15|
|Donna Kim ‘16||Nicole Sanches ’13|
|Elena Villafana ’14||Nneka Ugwu ’16|
|Elias Baez ’15||Noely Mendoza ’17|
|Emerson King ’16||Tomi Williams ’16|
|Emily Figueroa ’11||Ornella Noubissie Wafo ’16|
|Erika Sologuren ’13||Paula Escobar ’13|
|Evan Nabrit ’06E||Pierre Joseph ’15|
|Everlena Tenn ’16||Quincy Ogutu ’16|
|Farah Haidari ’16||Rachael Abernethy ’16|
|Francis Comesanas ’13||Rachel Duong ’16|
|Gabriel Wirz ’15||Rachel A. Johnson ’15|
Note from the Editor: AC Voice received this on September 13 but was unable to publish until today.