Dear Athletes, Allies and Members of the Amherst College Community,
As students and people of color, we inherently navigate a complex situation. When do we feel that we’re taking up too much space? When do we feel we haven’t had the opportunities to take up enough? We constantly defy expectations and raise the bar, but we are also constantly met with resistance and obstacles. Despite these challenges, all of us made it to Amherst College — a prestigious institution which we hoped would live up to its professed devotion to allaying the anxieties fostered within our broader society.
Through good and bad, most of us have been able to find our own successes and our own communities here; yet, the unique struggles that define the reality of people of color have persisted. In fact, many of our other inextricably connected identities compound the experience of being students of color. For a small sum of us, one complicated dimension of identity is our position as athletes. Each day, we live the trials and tribulations facing every other student of color on campus. Then, we go to the field or the track or the court or the pool or the pitch and live those experiences in more nuanced ways and often with fewer protections. That reality, which can often be isolating and lonely, illuminated the necessity for a community that understands the particularities of this unique experience. That necessity is what the Council of Amherst College Student Athletes of Color (CACSAC) strives to meet, and that community is what we hope to create and maintain.
As student athletes of color, we hold ourselves to the standards that are expected of white athletes with the added vested interest in what happens within our other communities. We value kindness and understanding and we abhor ignorance and complicity.
Given the egregiousness of the most recent incident involving the men’s lacrosse team, we felt compelled to speak as an organization to not only address all of the terrible things wrapped up in the aftermath of this incident but to also to voice our unwavering support for the member of our community who is one of the victims of this incident.
As student athletes of color, this incident felt particularly personal because the aggressors in the situation could have easily been our own teammates and friends and, for some of us, were. This incident is one that is deeply painful because of the N-word’s deep history and its associated trauma and violence. There is a sense of betrayal that comes when people you may have trusted show a part of themselves that clearly has no regard or respect for you.
As an organization, we condemn those members of the men’s lacrosse team who chose to act ignorantly and violently; we condemn those members of our community who have chosen to remain complicit through their silence and inability to hold others accountable. As much as each member of a team is a separate individual, what is a team if not the sum of its parts? Teammates, as well as coaches, are accountable for the cultures that they collectively create. The men’s lacrosse team has demonstrated an enduring, toxic culture that has condoned repeated incidents of racial and discriminatory violence. For this fact, which acts to the detriment of the greater Amherst community, all are responsible.
On behalf of CACSAC, we are asking members of the men’s lacrosse team first and foremost to accept responsibility for the actions and words of their teammates rather than implicitly requesting to be absolved of their transgressions. Asking for forgiveness necessitates an acknowledgment of responsibility. We thus ask the members of the team to personally recognize and admit honestly to the ways in which they have contributed to this pattern.
Additionally, we ask them to not only condemn the behavior of their teammates but to make a concerted commitment to actively change the culture of the team. While this incident may have been instigated by a few individuals on the men’s lacrosse team, their letter to the community — published in The Student last week — identifies team culture as an issue. Again, it is one thing to recognize that there are issues but another to take responsibility for these issues and to commit to working on them. We ask that the team members acknowledge that failing to address and educate themselves and their teammates on certain issues and experiences is what allows for the manifestation of a culture of disregard and disrespect — both within the team and the greater campus. As the letter stated, the words you have written in your letter are just that: words. And as also stated, actions are the only thing that will show commitment t0 what those words should mean. We hope to see you uphold that commitment.
This has been an incredibly disheartening and challenging situation for so many people in the Amherst community to work through. We, as CACSAC, have felt nothing but disappointment and disgust over the fact that this has happened at all. We are steadfast in our belief that the expulsion of the incident’s three perpetrators is the only consequence that matches the magnitude and deplorability of what occurred. Additionally, we completely support the victims of this incident and believe the student facing disciplinary action should remain a student at Amherst. We condemn violence and recognize that any use of the N-word is, by nature, an act of violence in itself. The potentially violent reaction that a Black person might have to hearing that word come out of a white mouth should be considered an act of self-defense.
With all of this said, we believe in the future. We believe in moving forward and we believe in moving forward together. We support the letter and demands that the Black Student Union has created in response to this incident. As CACSAC, we also have expectations about what we would like to see change. We call on administrators to work in conjunction with the athletic department to create and facilitate comprehensive, educational diversity and inclusion training in which all teams and coaches are proactively required to participate.
We call on our allies to not only stand by us and condemn what has occurred but to also contribute to the work of repairing the parts of our campus that have been fractured for so long. We specifically call on our white fellow athletes to recognize the immense privilege tied up in holding both white and athlete identities. We call on them to use that privilege to do something meaningful. Instead of just expressing disgust at the events that have transpired, do the work to make sure they don’t happen again. Build relationships with the people of color on your teams, get to understand their experiences and then build relationships with people of color who aren’t on your teams. Create personal stakes, so the thought of something like this happening means the thought of it happening to someone you know and hurting someone you care about.
This incident revealed something deeper and darker about how people at Amherst behave, both out in the open but, more importantly, behind closed doors. The implications of the choices uncovered here will not be solely remedied by people becoming friends and listening to each other’s stories. It also necessitates a serious look at the systems in place that have allowed incidents like this to go unchecked in the past. It requires a commitment from the entire Amherst community, especially the white athletic community, to educate themselves on the histories of people of color and why certain words can have such violent and resounding impacts. But what all of these necessary changes have in common is that they require an investment in truly healing what has remained broken for so long.
We call on you, our Amherst community, our fellow members of CACSAC and people of color, our white allies and our white peers who haven’t quite known what to do to be an ally, to join us in condemning ignorance and complicity and in seeking out community and education. We call on you to support all people of color on our campus and to stand up against people who do the opposite. We call on you to help us create a more inclusive Amherst. We sincerely hope you answer that call.
The Council of Amherst College Student Athletes of Color