Amherst Uprising: A Timeline (Updated)

Thursday, November 12th, 2015:

Three women of color organized a Sit-In in Robert Frost Library in solidarity with black college students nationwide who experience the daily effects of white supremacy in academia. At 10:40am, Catherine Epstein, Dean of the Faculty, sent out an email to all faculty members notifying them of the Sit-In and encouraging them to permit their students to attend.

At 1pm, students began trickling into Frost Library. Dean Epstein was in attendance. Around fifteen minutes into the Sit-In, several students began speaking about how the Sit-In was a great motion of solidarity but wasn’t enough to recognize and combat the racism on our own campus. Because President Martin was en route to Japan on college business, Dean Epstein read a letter on President Martin’s behalf. While we do not have the letter that was read, President Martin’s letter emphasized that she would pay the utmost attention to the racial tensions existing on campus once she returned from her trip.

Students were upset that President Martin was not on campus. The open discussion continued. Around 3pm, Dean Epstein notified all students present that President Martin cancelled her trip and would be returning that evening. At 4:04pm, following student demands, an email from Student Affairs was sent out to all students notifying them that the Sit-In was still happening and that all students were welcome to attend. However, classes were still not cancelled, so many students remained unable to attend.

Around an hour later, a group of student-representatives from fifty-four different affinity groups, clubs, and other student organizations gathered to create a list of immediate demands. Immediate in that they must be initiated within the next 48 hours and completed by 11:59PM on Wednesday, November 18th. This group came to be known as Amherst Uprising. Throughout the four hours of planning, Amherst Uprising received advice from faculty members, administrators, and professors who all stood in solidarity.

While Amherst Uprising created the list of demands, the open discussion continued and the crowd grew, including members from each of the colleges in the Five College Consortium. The immediate demands can be found here. Both short-term and long-term goals are in the works.

Around 9:30pm, President Martin arrived. Amherst Uprising shared their demands with her. Amherst Uprising stated that they would be occupying Frost until the demands were initiated. Students were then asked to document the event by taking pictures of the space and posting the images to different social media sites with the hashtags: #AmherstUprising, #SitInSolidarity, and #RadicalCompassion. President Martin was asked to sign the list of demands after they were read aloud to show that she understood them. President Martin stated that she could not commit to the demands without there being some rewording of them.

Additionally, three Amherst students came forward and declared a hunger strike. The hunger strike and Amherst Uprising did not associate with each other. When asked about their demands, the three students declared that they did not have any. President Martin immediately encouraged those students to practice self-care and to not harm their bodies. The microphone was then taken from President Martin by one of those three students participating in the hunger strike. President Martin promptly left. The three students have since issued a statement.

The occupation of Frost library continued throughout the night. Food and drinks were brought in to sustain the students. Amherst College Police arrived to ensure the protection of the students.

Friday, November 13th, 2015

In response to the events on Thursday, several professors dedicated their classes to discussing the Sit-In. Several professors even cancelled their classes. Other professors resumed classes as usual according to their syllabi. Some professors have argued they are willing to support but feel that they have a lack of access to the movement itself.

At 11:00am, Amherst Uprising, comprised of students who spent the night in the library and others, met again to craft an email clarifying the immediate demands. Individual students reached out to professors and staff notifying them of the recent events and requesting their presence in the library.

Rick Lopez ‘93, former head of La Causa, was scheduled to do a talk, “Culture Shock to Culture Change”, in the McCaffrey Room in Keefe Campus Center for Life Stories. The talk was instead brought to Frost Library and the topic of student activism was heavily explored. More students began trickling in around 12pm as Rick Lopez spoke to the group.

At 1:11pm, an email clarifying the demands was sent to President Martin; John Carter, Chief of Police; Cullen Murphy ‘74, Chairman of Board of Trustees; Carol Allman-Morton & Elizabeth Anema, Alumni and Parent Programing; and Catherine Epstein, Dean of the Faculty.

Since then, several groups have either postponed or altered the content of their meetings and/or events, including but not limited to, Dance and Step at Amherst College (DASAC), Marsh CoffeeHaus, interviews for the Career Center’s Government and Non-prof Trek, and the African and Caribbean Student’s Union (ACSU) EXPO-Losion. Check with these groups for more information.

Around 3:00pm, President Martin requested a meeting with student organizers to discuss the list of demands and future steps.

Various media outlets have also reported on Amherst Uprising and the occupation of Frost, including but not limited to, The Daily Beast, Business Insider, NEPR and The Washington Post. They predominantly focus on the issue of freedom of speech. Other outlets have begun getting in touch with organizers and members of the movement.

On Twitter, there have been mixed reactions, with some voicing their support for the movement, and others critiquing it on the grounds of “violating” free speech. Some of these Tweets have been vitriolic and negative, including a death threat to participants.

A fake account for Amherst Uprising, @AmherstUprising, began sending out messages not condoned or supported by the movement’s organizers. It is still unclear whether the owner of the account is even a student at Amherst. Regardless, the official Amherst Uprising Twitter is @UprisingAmherst. A mass notification text message system was also created. Additionally, Amherst Uprising now also has an official website.

The group of students meeting with President Martin returned, announcing that she agreed to meet almost all of the demands directed towards her. However, President Martin said she could not fulfill the demand to send an email denouncing the Lord Jeff as an inherently racist mascot to students, faculty, staff and alumni. She did express that the timetable for the Board of Trustees to address the issue of the mascot has now been pushed forward to January of 2016. The rest of the demands will be addressed in a community-wide email President Martin will send out in the near future.

In response to this, Amherst Uprising began an escalation as promised. This consisted of the creation and dissemination of posters distancing Amherst students from the Lord Jeff as a mascot. Students also created large poster-boards to bring to and hold up at the Amherst vs. Williams televised football game the next day, November 14th, 2015. The posters were in support of Amherst Athletics but not of the Lord Jeff.

At 8pm, President Martin came to Frost to speak to the students gathered. President Martin spoke with students in Frost, but did not directly address her stance on the demands. Many students were not satisfied with President Martin’s statement. Marsh CoffeeHaus (a student-directed performance event) took place soon after in Frost Cafe, taking the theme of the movement, with President Martin in attendance. Amherst Uprising continued to occupy Frost overnight, with students working on posters for the next day and continuing to discuss more long term goals for the movement.

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

Students met in front of Converse at 8:30am to leave for the Amherst vs. Williams game which took place later that afternoon. They were equipped with signs indicating student support of our team, our athletes, but not our inherently racist unofficial mascot, Lord Jeff. Amherst’s football team won the game with a strong anti-Lord Jeff presence in the crowd. Some individuals an alumni expressed dissatisfaction. One student of Native descent was accosted by an alumnus.

Back on campus, there was also a meeting during the day in which Students of Asian Heritage discussed their role in the Amherst Uprising movement. The students, who on Thursday announced they would go on a hunger strike, released a new statement on Amherst Soul stating that they have ended their hunger strike, and apologize for the way in which it detracted from Amherst Uprising and its demands on Thursday.

At 4:30pm, five students attended The Mead to speak with members of the board before their private reception. Their plans were executed as follows: they spoke with the director, David Little, and the curator about concerns aligned with Amherst Uprising. Their conversation focused on racial and cultural sensitivity towards the new photograph by Andres Serrano, a portrait of a member of the Klu Klux Klan, which was without a caption for approximately a week; the Lord Jeffrey Amherst portrait, currently placed in the entrance of The Mead; and the presence and locations of artwork by (and depicting) people of color past and present. They are in the process of speaking with the curator, who agrees to continue an ongoing relation between The Mead and students of Amherst Uprising.

At 6:30pm, students and faculty gathered to talk about how to make this movement as inclusive as possible. At 8:00pm, the movement split up into 11 sub-sections in order to specify short term and long term goals to combat racism and systemic oppression on our campus. The topics discussed were Cultural Competency, Academic Policy, Prospective Students, Hiring, Events, Student Resources, Mascot, Funding, Alumni, Mental Health, and an Overflow group for other suggestions not encompassed in the above.

At about 10:30pm, a representative of Students of Asian Heritage made an official statement of solidarity with the Amherst Uprising movement. Shortly after, representatives from each of the 11 sections presented the compiled list of short and long term goals on each topic, available to the community in a Google Doc.

There is also a Google Form where people can anonymously submit any further suggestions they wish to voice. Submissions were also taken via a suggestion box and the Amherst Uprising email account. Amherst Uprising sit-in continues.

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

At noon, President Martin delivered her statement in Frost Library. Her statement covered nine of the eleven demands. The unmet demands include Cullen Murphy ‘74’s, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, statement of apology and President Martin’s condemnation of the unofficial inherently racist mascot Lord Jeff.  

The Sit-In has since ended. Afterwards, students stayed in Frost Library to discuss their thoughts on President Martin’s statement. At 8pm, there was a meeting to discuss the membership, leadership, and structure of Amherst Uprising going forward.

The fake Twitter account has been suspended.