On Sunday, Amherst College President Biddy Martin delivered a statement at Amherst’s Frost Library in response to a student movement called Amherst Uprising. The movement began last Thursday when three students organized a library sit-in to demonstrate solidarity with students of color at Yale University, University of Missouri and other schools across the country. In her speech, Martin addressed nine of the 11 demands presented by Amherst Uprising. The demands that remain unaddressed are a statement of apology from Chairman of the Board of Trustees Cullen Murphy and a condemnation of Amherst’s mascot, the Lord Jeff, by Martin herself.
Rather than respond to the demands item by item, Martin sympathized more broadly with the students’ concerns. “When I met yesterday in my office with a small group of student organizers, I explained that I did not intend to respond to the demands item by item, or to meet each demand as specified, but instead to write a statement that would be responsive to the spirit of what they are trying to achieve – systemic changes that we know we need to make,” Martin said in her statement to the campus. “I also talked about why apologies of the sort that were demanded would be misleading, if not downright dishonest, suggesting, as they implicitly would, that I or the College could make guarantees about things that are much larger than a single institution or group of people.”
The movement developed as the sit-in that started Thursday morning turned into an open discussion about racism on college campuses and at Amherst specifically, and later in the evening, student representatives from 54 student groups and organizations met to create their list of 11 demands and goals for Martin. On its website, amherstuprising.com, the group described its demands as “immediate,” promising to respond with civil disobedience if these goals were not acknowledged within the 24 to 48 hours after their demands were made and not completed by Nov. 18. The website also includes a broader description of the group’s goals: “We have begun this movement, Amherst Uprising, in an effort to change the status quo for a more just and inclusive environment within our campus. We demand that Amherst become a leader in the fight to promote a better social climate towards individuals who have been systematically oppressed.”
When the students first organized on Nov. 12, Martin was on her way to Japan to complete college business, but she cancelled her trip and returned to Amherst from Washington, D.C., later that night in order to respond to the protests and meet with the students of Amherst Uprising.
On the evening of Nov. 13, Martin met with the leaders of Amherst Uprising. According to the students, Martin agreed to meet most of their demands, but she said she was unable to send an email condemning the school’s mascot and instead explained that the Board of Trustees would meet to discuss the mascot in January.
The Amherst Uprising leaders responded with an escalation of protest that included making posters condemning the Lord Jeff to distribute at the Amherst-Williams football game on Saturday.
Students and faculty continued to meet throughout the day on Nov. 14, discussing short- and long-term goals as well as ways to make the movement more inclusive.
The library sit-in lasted for three nights, ending on Sunday after Martin delivered her statement.
“We do have faith in Biddy,” Thomas Keating, a spokesman for Amherst Uprising, said in a statement to masslive.com (“Amherst College protesters on college president: ‘We do have faith in Biddy,’” Nov. 16). “As she said in the letter, she can’t go item by item and speak our demands into existence.” The group is now working to determine its plans and goals going forward.