What This Sit-In Is About: An Open Letter to President Martin, the Amherst College Republicans, and the Similarly Confused

I am writing this letter in the hopes of correcting a confused and particularly harmful presumption about the intent behind today’s sit-in: namely, that the students involved were misdirecting their anger towards the Trump administration’s discriminatory executive order by lashing out at the Amherst College administration instead. I address this most urgently to you, President Martin, who directly implied in your statement at today’s rally that the protesters are failing to “manage our emotions,” suggesting that this sit-in is the consequence of thoughtless and irrational impulse rather than deliberate planning. Additionally, I write this with the Amherst College Republicans in mind. A prominent and chronically well-dressed member of the club took time out of his day to stop by the sit-in and laugh at the protesters, and while it is of course his right to do so, I think it is fair to infer that he, and possibly others in the club, have misunderstood what exactly we are protesting. I expect further that other administrators, students, and observers might follow the lead of our president in misunderstanding or deliberately misconstruing our intent, and so I hope to make our intent clear to anybody else who is confused. Finally, I believe that the intent behind the protest comes through clearly in the demands that were read today, as well as in the second paragraph of the introduction to those demands, published today in the AC Voice. Therefore, this letter should not be misconstrued as a hasty attempt at “fixing” our demands; rather, its sole aim is the clarification of what has already been said.


The protesters understand well that you and the College administration have no power to undo an executive order signed by the President of the United States, and we understood that when the demands were being written. It is hard for us to see how anybody with an ounce of the benefit of the doubt could ever assume that anybody who has taken the time to involve themselves with resisting the current political tide would hold such a naive belief about the powers of an academic institution. As such, it is intellectually dishonest and frankly disrespectful to assume in any way that today’s sit-in was a poorly planned emotional outburst on the part of people who had somehow not yet realized that you, as President of Amherst College, have no say over the actions of President Trump. This is, however, exactly what you yourself have done, by accusing the protesters of callously targeting your administration—an administration which portrayed itself before the protestors today as doing everything in its power to help its students—without taking a second to consider that we may have had something else in mind when we gathered to sit at the door to your office.


You said at the rally today that you “do not feel like the right target” for our protests, but in fact you and you administration are exactly the group at whom we intended to direct our energies. This is because today’s protest is not a vague, emotionally charged, and intellectually confused backlash against the executive order released last week; it is in fact a very deliberate response to the College’s failure to meet its promises to its students in the immediate aftermath of the order. Contrary to President Martin’s statements today, the College did not remotely do everything in its power to help students who were directly and indirectly affected by the order. The Office of Student Affairs did not reach out to any of the affected students until prompted by concerned faculty members, and the International Students Office—whose stated mission is “providing international students with immigration and visa advising, programming, and support”—still has not contacted affected students. Furthermore, the College has not provided any access to legal resources for affected students, whose lives were utterly destabilized by the executive order and who are understandably in need of the concrete reassurance that only the guarantee of firm legal support can provide.


In these ways, then, the College has wholly failed to attend to the immediate mental and material well-being of affected students. The College did not even offer the symbolic support of an unequivocal condemnation of the executive order in its official response. These failures, which fall squarely on the shoulders of the College, are what made this protest necessary, and we believe that it is therefore self-evident that there could be no other target besides the College administration itself. Our criticisms of the College’s tepid and unfeeling response should appear even less extreme in light of the fact that peer academic institutions have released statements which did precisely what the College’s statement failed to do. For example, Cornell University’s statement immediately denounced the order as “fundamentally antithetical to [the university’s] principles,” and proceeded to offer comprehensive resources, including a 24-hour phone number for students affected while travelling and the guarantee of legal assistance for students whose immigration statuses are uncertain. Stanford University offered a similarly robust statement, promising “outside pro bono legal counsel” and other concrete legal resources. We are therefore firm in our belief that our demands cannot be construed as unreasonable. The College’s mission statement ends with the proclamation that “its graduates link learning with leadership”; surely, then, there is no excuse when the College itself fails to demonstrate the kind of leadership shown by its peer institutions in doing everything possible to guarantee the security and well-being of their students.
With all this in mind, we would like briefly to restate our main demands: 1) a firm condemnation from the College, 2) adequate access to legal and material resources for those affected, and 3) a properly staffed International Students Office. How did we choose the wrong “target” in addressing these concerns to you and your administration, President Martin?

by Aaron Cooper-Lob