Thoughts from an Amherst College Parent

I am on the road and really don't have much time to write, but I feel compelled to give a few thoughts on the whole Amherst College situation that has blown up in social media over the last 24 hours.

Yesterday (Thursday) my son called me to tell me about a sit-in he found himself a part of in the library (I must admit to being vaguely happy he was actually in the library). He is not like me, and tends to observe these kinds of thing with an amazing dispassion.  He is fascinated by people with extreme views and loves to observe them.  For example, he always enjoys stopping and listening to the religious zealots preaching outside of Comicon when we visit.  It is almost an anthropological approach.

So I will say up front that most of the views here are mine, not his, since he reported most of the events as merely something interesting that happened to him.  I also say this because I don't want anyone on campus getting the idea they need to start some sort of totalitarian campaign against him, a fear that you will see is well-justified below.

His main observation of the original sit-in was that people seemed to have enormously negative experiences as persons of color on campus and he found that surprising.  He reported that people talked about their life at Amherst as, say, a black female, being a living hell, one that my son found hard to jibe with the general intolerance in the classroom for even an ambiguously racist comment.

I certainly understand that people of color still face a headwind of at least minor racist B*llshit.   I am reminded of one Amherst student telling me about having guests at a southern country club function trying to order drinks from him because he was black.

But when I grew up in the 60's in Texas racism meant that kids I knew actually went out gay-bashing in Montrose (the traditionally gay district in Houston) and the new black kid in an all-white school got beaten up every day (I will confess I had mixed fealings about both of these, since I was otherwise the bullying target of choice in the class and sometimes appreciated the split focus).  Against this backdrop, it is hard for me to consider a school that gives black applicants a substantial break on SAT scores for entrance and whose President turned around from a trip to London to address concerns of ethnic minorities to be institutionally racist.

Besides, it seems like kind of an insult to your parents and grandparents to call an Anglo wearing a sombrero to a party "violence" when those previous generations faced the real thing.  It's a bit like telling your granddad who lived through the Bataan death march that the University starved you by letting you out of class 30 minutes late for lunch.

One thing my son reported was that there were a lot of threats made against white students who somehow were not present in the library at the sit-in, as if non-presence at an unannounced event was somehow in and of itself racist.   The general tone of the discussion was very authoritarian -- everyone should be forced to be here, everyone should be forced to take diversity courses, etc.

The other thing that came out of the meeting was substantial vitriol aimed at a sign that appeared in a dorm window.  The media has not really been very specific about the sign, but it read "Free Speech 1776-2015".  All things being considered, this was a pretty tame commentary, especially since the protesters themselves kept talking about the concepts of free speech being dated.  But none-the-less, the student who posted it was being treated like the second coming of Adolf Hitler.

So today, some of the students confronted the school President Biddy Martin (who had turned around from a trip to London to meet them) and basically served her with an ultimatum, demanding that on the spot she sign a list of demands listed here.  The demands are alternately non-nonsensical and and totalitarian.  A few highlights:

  • The document essentially demands that Ms. Martin and the Board of Trustees apologize for all manner of past sins that have nothing to do with their own actions, or those of the College, or even those of the alumni of the College.

"President Martin must issue a statement of apology to students, alumni and former students, faculty, administration and staff who have been victims of several injustices including but not limited to our institutional legacy of white supremacy, colonialism, anti-black racism, anti-Latinx racism, anti-Native American racism, anti-Native/ indigenous racism, anti-Asian racism, anti-Middle Eastern racism, heterosexism, cis-sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, ableism, mental health stigma, and classism."

This is a sort of secular original sin, and is common among these SJW movement.  The error of racism is that it puts on people an original sin based on the circumstances of their birth which they cannot erase through any sort of good behavior.  This movement shares the same error, putting on whites and straights and rich people and males and the Amherst community and a variety of other groups the same sort of original sin.

I will add one irony, that Ms. Martin is probably a lot closer in her beliefs to the protesters than I am.  I do not know her politics, but it is impossible to imagine she would be made President of Amherst College without being vetted in advance as reliably Liberal/Progressive.  This is not Left vs. Right, but Robespierre turning on his fellow revolutionaries.

  • I find this bit scary:  "Amherst College Police Department must issue a statement of protection and defense from any form of violence, threats, or retaliation of any kind resulting from this movement."  I will bet you a million dollars that a) you are thinking this means physical violence or disciplinary action but b) the authors mean "retaliation" to include verbal criticism of any sort, such that this very article would be considered "retaliation".
  • "President Martin must issue a statement of apology to faculty, staff and administrators of color as well as their allies, neither of whom were provided a safe space for them to thrive while at Amherst College."  I am willing to believe Amherst is not perfect and that there are *ssholes that make life difficult at times for people of color there, but it would be hard to find another place on the entire planet that is a safer and more welcoming environment for ethnic minorities that Amherst College.  What are they going to do in the real world?
  • This paragraph has gotten a lot of attention, as it should:

5.    President Martin must issue a statement to the Amherst College community at large that states we do not tolerate the actions of student(s) who posted the “All Lives Matter” posters, and the “Free Speech” posters that stated that “in memoriam of the true victim of the Missouri Protests: Free Speech.” Also let the student body know that it was racially insensitive to the students of color on our college campus and beyond who are victim to racial harassment and death threats; alert them that Student Affairs may require them to go through the Disciplinary Process if a formal complaint is filed, and that they will be required to attend extensive training for racial and cultural competency.

The author of the fee speech poster needs to be punished because, why?  Because he or she was obviously dead-on correct in their analysis of the movement's goals?  Essentially they are saying, "yes you are right, we want to destroy free speech but you are not allowed to tell people that is what we are doing."

  • I have no problem with ditching "Lord Jeffs" as a mascot. First, it is a terrible mascot name.  Second, while ironically Amherst would have been considered a pretty enlightened and tolerant master by the colonists of the time, he did suggest the whole TB blankets to the Native Americans thing and since that is the only story anyone knows any more about him, its really a bad association.  I suggest "Redskins" instead  (OK, just kidding.  I am not a Redskin name supporter.)  The "moose"  (Meese?) suggestion is awful.  I would support a Dartmouth style solution of calling them the "Purple" before I could climb on board with "moose".  Or maybe in the spirit of the times they can be the "mauve".As an aside, Amherst College has a nice little art museum (which owes most of its existance to Standard Oil money, which I am sure the faculty and students try to ignore).  There is a really interesting portrait of Lindberg there I have never seen before.   Anyway, all the pictures have a short descriptor about the work as one would expect.  EXCEPT the one for the painting of Lord Amherst himself, which has a descriptor about 20 inches long because about 18 inches have been tacked on up front making sure everyone understands what a horrible idea the TB blankets were.  It reminds me of the Enola Gay in the Smithsonian, which I am told is still without any kind of label or plaque because no one could agree on how much vitriol needed to be spilled in the description about how bad dropping atomic bombs on civilians is.  Which gives me the idea that every portrait in a public space of FDR needs to begin by talking about the unconscionable internship of Japanese and every portrait of Wilson needs to start with what an awful racist he was. Time to rename the Wilson school at Princeton!
  • Curtis

    I'm a reasonable man. I want to be fair. I'd ask the mob to join me on the corniche in Dubai and have a little chin-wag and then tell them that if they didn't like it at my fine school, they can leave and if they persist in being unpleasant ignorant culls, I'm kicking them out.

    Why don't other reasonable people do that with the crybabies? They get paid if they have them around trashing the place or not and there's plenty more where they came from.

  • mlhouse

    First, the United States might not even exist except for the military capabilities of Jeffrey Amherst. That is a pretty good "mascot" to have.

    Second, with respect to the TB blankets. At the time, the Native Americans were the enemies of the colonist and English. They were vicious. The little whimps at Amherst would be begging for protection if they still roamed. And protection is what Amherst provided. It gets old with the revisionist history that essentially pretends that the Native American population was some sort of peaceful group of hippies at one with nature. They were not.

  • Russ R.

    If Amherst is a private school, then the First Amendment isn't applicable.

  • ano333

    "President Martin must issue a statement of apology to students, alumni and former students, faculty, administration and staff who have been victims of several injustices including ..., mental health stigma"

    She has to apologize for those stories several years ago about how "conservativism" was actually a mental disorder?

  • ano333

    I'm not seeing where anyone suggested that it did. The concept of "Free speech" is not always synonymous with the "1st Amendment".

  • ano333

    It is certainly ok to criticize past uses of biological warfare (or indeed all warfare), especially when the uses of the bio-weapon were invading territory already inhabited by people...

  • mlhouse

    Define "inhabited".

    Regardless, what is inherently wrong about the revisionist history is that it uses a 21st century standard to judge one side then a fantasy to judge the other. The Native Americans were guilty of horrendous offenses against English colonist and other tribes. They and their leaders were no less guilty of any offenses than Jeffrey Amherst. They simply were on the losing side of technology, living lives that could not be sustained against those advances.

    Further, Jeffrey Amherst was a professional soldier sent by his government to fight the French and their Indian allies. HE had very little interest in colonies. When he was asked a decade later to be the commander of British forces in the Revolutionary War he refused. So again, one reason the United States exists and the Revolutionary War was even fought was because Amherst, along with Wolfe and others, defeated the French in North America. Without that defeat the English Atlantic colonist needed protection from the French in Canada by the Crown. In fact,during the peace treaty stage of the French and Indian War the French were given the opportunity of getting back their possessions on the continent or the two islands of Guadalupe and Martinique. They chose the islands which were much more valuable than all of the lands of Canada and Louisiana.

  • marque2

    Having someone ask you for a drink at party because they mix you up for something else is not exactly racist. When I had a sales job many years ago, I had to wear a suit. If I went into a Target or some other retail store to get something, during lunch, customers there would invariably ask me where something is located and if I can help them find it. Instead.of blowing up and telling them they are racist against my WHITENESS I politely said, I don't work here.

    Some people look for ways to be offended.

  • marque2

    It went both ways. Cheroke Indians never rose against us with arms and yet more and more of their land was taken away and then the were voted off the iand so to speak. The peaceful tribes ended up being force marched to Oaklahoma, with those who couldn't walk or too sick shot by American soldiers. Only the Seminole were able to really fight back, so only some of them were removed from Florida.

    So look where all the niceness and kindness got them.
    Also the Indians who first met the Pilgrims were also very friendly.

    I think some of the Indians tribes got more hostile when they realized we were hostile invaders. Yes I agree about half of what we hear about Indians in false, but there is definitely truth in the statement that as a country we mistreated them over many years.

  • marque2

    And we guilty of horrendous crimes against the Indians as well, force marching 5 friendly Indian tribes to Oaklahoma in the trailnof tears where more than half died in the journey, many by US soldiers who shot at the Indians wantonly for any microagrssion, or just because they were sick. Most of those tribes and especially the Cheroke never laid arms against the US, and actually had peace treaties with us.

  • Craig Loehle

    I am white and very average. I am constantly asked for help at hotels when wearing a suit because people think I work there. I find it amusing, but could equally be outraged for some reason or other.
    Part of the "safe space" BS is the failure to understand that the world at large doesn't give a cr*p about your existence, is indifferent, that white people can fail and be fired and get divorced and get arrested too. That everyone suffers in life. Some people are crippled or deaf. I go out of my way to help old or short people with their luggage on the plane or opening doors for everyone. If you focus on others, you can always find people you can help. Much more productive than grievance-mongering.
    The original sin thing really bothers me. The last time my family owned slaves was....never. If we are going to go with hereditary sin, how about we are all responsible for past relatives who committed crimes, going back to the civil war. I bet that would rope in even the nuns.

  • kidmugsy

    I called my first Honda motorbike the Enola Gay. It was interesting to observe who saw the joke and who didn't.

  • Onlooker from Troy

    These groups are just begging for nasty violent backlash for their over the top ridiculous claims and demands. This could get very ugly.

  • mlhouse

    Yep. And based on historical standards by how conquered peoples were treated how does that rate?

    IF you use 21st century standards on 18th and 19th century policy it is terrible indeed. But by the standards of the time, including those of the native tribes, it really wasn't all that out of the norm.

    If we throw out the historical achievements of people like Jeffrey Amherst because by 21st century standards they have a few warts, then we throw out all of history, Native American included.

  • Clare Steen

    Issuing an ultimatum is a great conversation-ender. This ultimatum will instill fear, and fear stops humans from thinking effectively. The students need to seriously re-examine their goals. They demand an apology from the institution for the institution's history. What would a presidential apology actually change...? The environment on campus that's mostly affected by student actions? Unlikely.

    On an unrelated note, the correct plural of "moose" is "moosen:"

  • marque2

    Even in the early 1800's they knew taking Cherokee land away from them and forcing a march was wrong, which is why the congressional measure won by only one vote (just like today - they got all the votes they needed and let others vote with the principled side. )

  • mlhouse

    There was nothing "nice" or "kind". Their approach was what they considered their best interests. They made a mistake.

    As far as the Indian "realization", they made a mistake. They saw, particularly the tribes on the Eastern seaboard, the opportunity for trade. They could acquire materials of infinite value: iron and steel goods, firearms, and cloth for items that they considered to be virtually worthless: furs, pelts, and "title" to land. They thought that they could control events. But what usually happens when you think you can control events it backfires.

    The Indian tribes were just too primitive to compete against the Europeans. They did not have the technology or cultural infrastructure. Right or wrong, that is how history works.

  • jdgalt

    It already is ugly. It would be less ugly if the people using force were on the side of good.

  • jdgalt

    Not true once they accept federal money. And they all do, except Hillsdale College.

  • jdgalt

    Not "we". None of us did it, and some of us don't even have ancestors that did it. So we're not guilty and should be shoving back at these SJWs.

    The same goes for discrimination against black people.

  • jdgalt

    And the Supreme Court ruled the move unconstitutional. But Andrew Jackson defied them, ending any possible claim that we are a "nation of laws but not of men".

  • marque2

    More proof that for every gross extortion to one side, there is a gross extortion 180 degrees away as well.

  • marque2

    I get your point. I was referring to we as a country. But I agree with you. I recently was in Oklahoma visiting museums about the trail of tears. As sad as it was I realized, I had nothing to do with it, my relatives probably had nothing to do with it, and there is nothing I can do to change what happened. What I can do, to be most respectful is to treat the Native Americans with the same respect as I would anyone else.

  • marque2

    You are right to some extent - the federal government can deny them money if they don't act on things like diversity quotas, Title IX, and free speech. But then the government is only going to enforce free speech, when it is the speech the government likes. Stand up for not having all these stupid false protests so I will have an easier time studying and you will get zero help from the feds.

  • HenryBowman419

    A fellow I grew up with, Michael Nunnally, wrote a book on the conflicts between Americans and Indians: American Indian Wars: A Chronology of Confrontations Between Native Peoples and Settlers and the United States Military, 1500s-1901. It is a simple listing of every violent encounter that he could catalog (basically, no commentary).

    The number of violent encounters was amazingly large, and I'm sure that Mike, who died prematurely due to complications from asthma, could not possibly have documented them all. Both sides were often vicious—I think it's the nature of such conflicts.

  • mlhouse

    Sorry about your friend.

    But yes, the conflict along the what can only described as a technological line was to the death. But most of that death was caused by microbes that the combatants did not even know existed.

    But, the native way of life was basically ended once they established trading relationships with the European traders and settlers. That is one aspect of this story that the left wing revisionists cannot understand. They immediately understood the value of the advanced European goods and most of their primitive methods were long forgotten. But because the Indian cultures were primitive without written language and true numerical systems, they had no chance of being able to "appropriate" it (to tie in with another Coyote post) independently of the Europeans. They essentially created economic dependency on European trade. The natives were never going to win and made significant strategic choices, like supporting the French, that hastened their demise.

  • Arrian

    Be careful of painting with too broad a brush, that's how you end up with atrocities like Gnaddenhutten.

  • Daublin

    It's a classic case of a movement long outliving its benefit.

    People really love being part of something, and a movement that redraws the line for what counts as an Other is always going to attract lots of interest.

  • Mike Powers

    A guy at Target got really angry with me when I asked him where someone was.

    But, bro, you're in Target wearing a red shirt and khakis, and you're getting something off a high shelf while a woman stands there watching you. "Is there some reason a robot made of wax can't take a nap standing up with his eyes open in a wax-robot museum? Or does that CONFUSE you?!"

  • marque2

    There is the rub I wasn't in a red shirt with Khakis, I was wearing a business suit, and people just assumed I was some kind of manager or something.

    I would imagine dressing up in a suit and tie for formal party and be accidently asked for drinks. Or the reverse, accidentally underdress for the party, and be asked for drinks - assuming the wait staff is not as well dressed.

    It just doesn't rise to the level of racism when someone assumes you are the help. And as I have pointed out, especially when I was younger, it happened all the time to me, and I was and still am White.

  • Lawrence Karch

    "The Office of Alumni and Parent Programs must send former students an email of current events on campus including a statement that Amherst College does not condone any racist or culturally insensitive reactions to this information."
    Guess they won't leave you be even if you've thankfully left this insane asylum.