During the week of Oct. 16, The Amherst Contra, a publication that voices unconventional opinions through often anonymous submissions, sparked controversy with a piece titled “In Defense of Hamas.” The article concerned the Israel-Palestine conflict, arguing that “while Hamas may aptly be called a terrorist organization, if they are one, Israel and the U.S. government are equally as violent and less justified.”
The Contra, which is edited by Ross Kilpatrick ’24E, allows students to submit opinion pieces that challenge the campus’ generally accepted point of view on a topic. Kilpatrick has expressed that one of his primary goals for the publication is to start discussion among Amherst students, as he believes that students tend to agree on most issues.
The piece was placed in various locations across campus on Monday night, Oct. 17, and immediately prompted strong reactions from many students. In an interview with The Student, Kilpatrick noted that he had to reprint and redistribute the article on Wednesday afternoon as it had been removed or thrown out by students.
Yet, this didn’t stop a picture of the article from circulating online. Several news sites, including The Jewish Journal, published articles critiquing the college for the article. The article was also circulated by several accounts on Twitter. On Oct. 19, a Twitter account titled “StopAntisemitism” posted an image of the article accompanied by the caption “Horrifying - @AmherstCollege students newspaper ‘CONTRA’ publishes a piece ‘In Defense of Hamas.”
Several people also took to Instagram comment sections to voice their opinions on the article. The Contra’s official Instagram page has been flooded with comments tagging the college and President Michael Elliott’s Instagram pages. One comment read, “To defend an organization that outwardly advocates for the death of all Jews is not activism, its antisemitism.”
Other comments left under multiple unrelated posts on the official Amherst College Instagram expressed further disdain for the article, labeling the college as a facilitator of antisemitism.
On campus, many students found the article offensive. Kilpatrick reported that several Jewish students reached out to him expressing their concerns regarding the article and explaining that they felt marginalized by its publication.
Immediately following the spread of this article across the internet and campus, steps were taken by the administration to support students hurt by the piece.
Laurie Frankl, the director for civil rights Title IX coordinator, hosted an open conversation on Wednesday, Oct. 26, in collaboration with Rabbi Bruce Seltzer for students affected by the article, as announced in an Oct. 25 email sent to Jewish students by Chief Student Affairs Officer and Dean of Students Liz Agosto. Frankl also opened her doors and emails to anyone who wanted to reach out and talk about it.
“I received several emails about the article,” Frankl said. “The students who contacted me described concern about an anonymous endorsement of an internationally recognized terrorist organization.”
Seltzer also held several conversations with students affected by the article. “The article impacts some students’ Jewish identities and comfort in expressing support for Israel, the only Jewish country and the home of family and friends of campus members,” he said.
Seltzer also mentioned future support opportunities on campus, including collaboration with the Center for Restorative Practices to have conversations regarding antisemitism and personal identity surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict. He also emphasized that “one important thing is to remember that a person is not just a belief or viewpoint, but a member of our campus community who has feelings and relationships that may be impacted by the discussion.”
Ian Behrstock ’26 reported that the article caught his attention for being intentionally provocative. He felt he could engage with the content of the piece itself, but had issues with the title of the article, which he found overly inflammatory. “In a debate that is so polarized — and this one is as polarized as it gets — you really don't want to shut people down,” he said.
Kilpatrick expressed regret regarding the title of the article which, in openly claiming to defend a terrorist group, caused harm to many readers. “In retrospect, I wouldn’t have titled [the article] that,” he said, “because it doesn’t really accurately reflect the content of the piece.”
He felt that the article was ruined by the title, and any discussion regarding the material whatsoever was halted because of it.
At the Association of Amherst Students meeting on Monday, Oct. 24, senators discussed the article and what they should do about it.
Some senators expressed disapproval of The Contra’s publication standards and advocated for the defunding of The Contra, which received funds from the AAS earlier in the semester to help cover its printing costs.
“We should remove funding for the rest of the semester or not fund them in the future until better editorial practices are put into place,” said senator Gillian Quinto ’23.
Others noted that defunding may not be allowed within the AAS’ policies, and some questioned the timing of this push to defund The Contra, noting that the publication had also previously published articles that were harmful to other groups of students.
Behrstock agreed with this sentiment, referencing a past Contra article calling to end Native American Land Acknowledgements as harmful to Indigenous students on campus. He found it interesting that no one seemed to care about that article and the effect it could have on Native students on campus.
While the AAS may treat The Contra differently in the future, the college will not be taking action against the publication. Kilpatrick explained that the administration did reach out to him about the article and said the content was within the college’s speech codes. Thus, it is classified as protected free speech on campus.
In a statement to The Jewish Journal, the college likewise maintained: “Amherst prizes and defends freedom of speech and the freedom to dissent in a respectful manner. As the College’s statement on academic and expressive freedom states, ‘At times, the desire to foster a climate of mutual respect may test the college’s duty to protect and promote the unfettered exchange of ideas. On such occasions, the college’s obligations remain clear. The liberal arts cannot thrive absent the freedom to espouse and debate ideas that are unpopular, controversial, discomfiting—and even seemingly wrongheaded or offensive.’”
Regardless, the controversy has certainly caused concern among the student body regarding The Contra and its future publications. “I feel skeptical of the approach that they’re taking — [it] seems like they’re being somewhat intentionally controversial,” Behrstock said. He added that overly provocative pieces are unable to create an environment for discussion, and instead serve only as an opportunity to spread controversial opinions and hate speech.
Community members also expressed concern regarding The Contra’s structure as an anonymous publication. “The anonymous nature means [students] don’t know if they are sitting next to the author in class or in Valentine, which adds to their discomfort,” said Seltzer.
In light of all this, Kilpatrick expressed his regret for the harm the article brought to students on campus. “I can see why it caused controversy,” he admitted. “And it upset some students, which is not our intention. That was just our mistake.”
Despite backlash from the student body, the future of The Contra seems unshaken. The publication is in the process of becoming a Registered Student Organization. Plans are also currently underway to release a website with all of the published articles available online. Although, Kilpatrick explained that the “In Defense of Hamas” article’s title will be changed to more accurately reflect the content of the piece.