Amherst Students Protest ‘Free Speech,’ Demand ‘Training’ for Offenders

Protests demand the school president apologize for signs that say “free speech” died at Mizzou. Then they want her to find the offenders and teach them tolerance.

11.13.15 7:18 PM ET

Students protesting at Amherst College have issued a list of demands to administrators that includes making them apologize for signs that lament the death of free speech.

A group calling themselves the Amherst Uprising listed 11 demands they want enacted by next Wednesday. Among them is a demand that President Biddy Martin issue a statement saying that Amherst does “not tolerate the actions of student(s) who posted the ‘All Lives Matter’ posters, and the ‘Free Speech’ posters.”

The latter posters called the principle of free speech the “true victim” of the protests at the University of Missouri.

Going further, the students demand the people behind "free speech" fliers be required to go through a disciplinary process as well as “extensive training for racial and cultural competency.”

The protests at Amherst come on the heels of protests at the University of Missouri, Yale, and Claremont McKenna College. At Mizzou, officials resigned after criticism of how they reacted to alleged racist incidents on campus. Students at Yale protested an email sent by a college administrator about Halloween costumes, saying it made them feel unsafe. And at Claremont McKenna, a class president resigned her post after appearing in a photo with two students dressed in ponchos and sombreros.

Amherst students also asked administrators to excuse them from coursework and classes so they could participate in protests and sit-ins—and they want the school to warn alumni that racist or critical responses of the protests will not be tolerated.

Amherst, in western Massachusetts, is considered one of the country’s top liberal-arts colleges. Nevertheless, the students say it’s steeped in racism.

President Martin must also apologize for the college’s “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,” the Uprising says.

They also insist the president condemn the “inherent racist nature” of school mascot Lord Jeff, a nickname for Jeffrey Amherst. Amherst was a British army officer commonly believed to have masterminded the idea of giving Native Americans smallpox blankets during the French and Indian War.

The college's FAQ pages says it “is accurate to say that Lord Jeffery Amherst advocated biological warfare against Indians, but there is no evidence that any infected blankets were distributed at his command.”

“We demand that Amherst become a leader in the fight to promote a better social climate towards individuals who have been systematically oppressed,” their statement reads. “Furthermore, we demand the College acknowledge its ethical and moral responsibilities as an institution and community of our world.”

Three students also started a hunger strike.

“We want to stress that any action taken by Amherst College to address the demands made will not erase the fact that it exists within a larger system of oppression,” Sharline Dominguez, Cristina Rey, and Carolina Vergara wrote in a blog post apologizing for not discussing their actions with other activists. “We believe that we will not be free until this larger system is deconstructed.”