The Association of Amherst Students (AAS) Senate issued a statement on Oct. 11 in response to a series of hateful emails sent to Black student groups at UMass Amherst. In its message, the Senate stated that its members stand in solidarity with the Black community at UMass, apologized for its lack of action to this point, and acknowledged the harm and alienation caused by the silence of the college.
The anti-Black emails that spurred the AAS response were sent over the course of several weeks dating back to late August. According to UMass’s Vice Chancellor & Chief Diversity Officer Nefertiti A. Walker, the emails were “vile, blatantly racist, and violently offensive.” Bishop Talbert Swan, President of the NAACP in Springfield, shared a screenshot of one email on Twitter in which the sender had said that they “look down upon” Black organizations and called Black students “unintelligent” and “clearly stupid.” The emails accompany several other anti-Black hate acts at UMass that have occurred this semester. Namely, there have been several reports of students yelling anti-Black racist epithets and hateful messages sent via the “Contact Us” forms of university-registered student organizations.
In the AAS meeting that followed the most recent incident, several attendees expressed their concerns that the situation had not been brought up by Amherst College students and the administration. As a result, senators Sirus Wheaton ’23 and Mia Griffin ’23 drafted an AAS response. Wheaton spelled out how the letter came to be in an interview with The Student: “The [incidents that have occured at UMass] are hurtful, and I was really surprised that we hadn’t discussed it. So Mia and I sat down and wrote the letter. Angelina [Han ’22], the AAS president, helped. Our goal was to look out for the whole Amherst community.”
Han explained some of the impetus for sending the email: “I think it was important to acknowledge the harm that was done to the UMass community and felt by members of our own campus. We share the same town, share classes, and visit each others’ campuses. It is important for us to also reflect on the work we each have to continue to do to make our campus more inclusive and safe.”
Wheaton noted that he was disappointed that the onus of writing the letter fell on two Black individuals. “I felt [that] it was kind of unfair, especially given that I brought up the issue in the AAS meeting, that the responsibility of writing the letter was left to me and another Black person. We were essentially left to write the letter with no other help,” he said.
After Griffin and Wheaton had finished the email draft and the AAS voted to send it, the two were eager to issue the statement right away. However, there was significant pushback from other senators after the AAS vote. “[Senators] came in and had a bunch of complaints about the letter after we’d already voted to send it out,” Wheaton said.
Wheaton explained that the requests for changes to the letter’s phrasing made an already late response become even later. He noted that most debate surrounded a particular line of the email: there was “specifically a lot of talk concerning the declaration that Amherst is mostly wealthy and white.”
Amherst’s relative lack of support for UMass and their Black students was the first issue addressed in the AAS email. The email read: “Amherst has failed in supporting UMass and their Black students. President Martin’s recent email regarding her ‘anti-racism’ plan update was still glaringly absent of any mention of the email, nor was or is there any other kind of existing support — whether that be by showing up physically for UMass’s demonstration, or providing financial support and/or resources for impacted Five College Consortium students.”
The Senate took responsibility for failing to “cultivate a safe, inclusive community with UMass and the rest of the Consortium.” After apologizing, both for themselves and on behalf of the college, for letting the Five College Black community down, the AAS relented that inaction signals complacency, an attitude they deemed is all too prevalent at the college.
Advocating for the administration to make real change, the message asked Martin to “stop posturing” and “meet the demands and outlines of campaigns such as #ReclaimAmherst and #IntegrateAmherst.”
The email concluded with a call for Martin to prove the sincerity of her anti-racist “assurance[s].” The Senate asserted that the college and its “overly-white administration” must do their part to abolish the racism, hatred and bigotry that has shown up in Five College Consortium.
The AAS Senate has not met since the statement was sent and has yet to determine future steps. The administration has, however, responded to them about the email, with Wheaton reporting that he and Griffin have scheduled a meeting for Oct. 13 with Dean of Students Liz Agosto to discuss the controversy. “We're having a meeting with Liz to talk about the school's role and how she felt about the email, which she was not very pleased with,” Wheaton communicated.
The Student has requested the administration’s response to the AAS’s email and will update this article upon receipt of their response.