Amherst College Disorientation 2017

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Amherst College Disorientation 2017

Date

2017

Place

Amherst, MA

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AMHERST COLLEGE

DISORIENTATION

2017
LAYOUT DESIGN: Esperanza Chairez ‘19 & Rojas Oliva ‘19
COPY/CONTENT EDITORS: Esperanza Chairez ‘19, Crystal Ganatra ‘19,
Huey Hewitt ‘19, Rojas Oliva ‘19, Abby S. ‘18, Stefan Yong ‘18 & Erika Zambrano ‘19.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Latrell Broughton ‘20, Kaelan McCone ‘19, Rojas Oliva ‘19,
Olivia Tarantino ‘15, & the Pioneer Valley Workers Center.
Thank you to all the students, faculty, staff, family, friends and strangers who
made this communally funded guide possible. Thank you also to Collective
Copies for the Co-Op worker power that printed the physical object in your
hands.
Check out our website at amherstdisorientation.wordpress.com, where you
can find previous guides, detailed footnotes, and more recommendations!
If you have questions or comments, or would like to submit a piece to our
website, please email amherstdisorientation2017@gmail.com.

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CONTENT

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INTRODUCTION
COMMUNITY LIFE
ORGANIZING
RACE, CLASS & GENDER
GOING FORWARD

IN POLITE COMPANY: AN
INTRODUCTION TO DISORIENTATION
Bryan Doniger

4

A TIMELINE OF RESISTANCE
Direct Action Coordinating Committee

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A TALE OF TWO COLLEGES
Brian Z. Zayatz

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FAILURE IS AN OPTION
Rhonda Cobham-Sander

14

SOCIAL CAPITALISM & NEOLIBERAL BEHAVIOR

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HOW TO GET WHAT YOU WANT
ON THIS CAMPUS...
Paula Pena

19

WHAT RIGHTS?
Kristin Bumiller

23

NO JUSTICE; NO PRIDE
Huey Hewitt

26

FROM LA FRONTERA TO
AN IVORY TOWER
Esperanza Chairez

30

ON INTERSECTIONALITY
Crystal Ganatra

33

TRAGEDY & FARCE
Marc Daalder

37

REFUSING TO ‘ADJUST TO INJUSTICE’...
Hannah Holleman

40

HOW, WHERE & WHY TO JOIN
STRUGGLES
Rojas Oliva

43

RECOMMENDED READINGS

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Ryan Cenek & Abby S.

3

IN POLITE COMPANY:
AN INTRODUCTION TO
DISORIENTATION

Sindhu said in a 2016 interview with
the Chronicle of Higher Education, a
college like Amherst is “only possible
within the current economic reality.”
The divisions and struggles played
out at Amherst are, in Sindhu’s
account, curious iterations of the
contradictions “in society” writ large.1
Amherst is populated by an increasingly diverse, anti-elitist student
body yet funded by the wealthy and
privileged. If this is the case, then
orientation is doubly insidious: condemning only in name the very forms
of inequality that the institution currently depends on for its existence.

Bryan Doniger ‘18
“This is to be noted: nothing is less
polite than rigorous conversation
pursued to its end.”--Richard Gunn,
“Marxism and Philosophy,” qtd. in
Endnotes
In the inaugural issue of Disorientation, Jeffrey Feldman wrote that
“orientation has orientated us away”
from asking critical questions about
how life at Amherst is shaped by
class, race, and gender conflicts.
Through a week-long series of shallow and easily skippable sessions on
diversity and multiculturalism, the
college provides you with the tools
necessary to politely skirt around
Amherst’s central rifts: “As long as
we know that race, class, and gender
exist as concepts, then we’ve done
enough.” An orientation like this
risks making anti-racism and antiheterosexism into mere status markers—as if one can be an activist or
ally simply by saying the right things,
knowing the right terms, and sharing the right Facebook posts. How
should we act, given our privilege?
Orientation converts this essential
question for students of the liberal
arts into just the sort of etiquettegame that rich kids at Amherst have
played for centuries—How should we
behave?

Our Guide rejects this orientation.
Community life at Amherst will only
improve, we argue, if community
members learn to speak, think, and
act rigorously and directly when
faced with Amherst’s array of contradictions. Our goals are twofold. First,
we should provide a useful guide
to the conflicts that mediate life at
Amherst. Second, we should offer a
critical introduction to activist work
at Amherst: past successes and failures, current strategies, connections
(and disconnections) from the larger
Pioneer Valley community. If Orientation merely smoothes over the
tensions at work in Amherst, then we
should demonstrate how the College’s well-mannered elitism shapes
1. http://www.chronicle.com/article/BehindUgly-Locker-Room-Talk/239238

Worse still: as former student Siraj

4

the social, political, and intellectual
possibilities available to students
during their time here.

ishing school for the sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie. In times like
Uprising, Amherst has made it more
possible for us to imagine not just a
“better school,” but a better way of
living together. The tensions caused
by Amherst’s weird airs of power are
often uncomfortable, frustrating, and
painful. Nonetheless, for many of us,
student-led efforts to resist the College’s remaining pockets of wealthy
white supremacy have provided an
introduction to “the possibility of
freedom through communal decision
making.”

This is a guide to Amherst College,
not a “Keep Out” sign. We will write
frankly because we care about this
place and because we think it can
transform. In “How, Where, and
Why to Join Struggles,” Rojas Oliva
beautifully describes participating in direct democracy for the first
time during Amherst Uprising—a
weekend in the fall of 2015 where a
Frost Library protest unexpectedly
turned into a three-day communitywide movement centered around
non-white students’ experiences of
violence, harassment, and exclusion:

In many ways, then, this guide serves
as a counter-theory of Amherst
community life—defiantly opposed
to the image of Amherst as cultivating a dignified, tolerant elite. Last
spring, during a sit-in that successfully pushed the College to do
far more in aiding students put at
risk by Trump’s travel ban, Biddy
Martin condemned the participants
for failing to “manage [their] emotions.”2 In Martin’s eyes, this wellorchestrated, ultimately successful
strategy merited the same response
as an outburst from a petulant child
at a fancy dinner. We see things differently: any community worth its
salt is strong enough to sustain the
tensions, thoughtful disagreements,
and frustrations of direct democratic
action.

“During Amherst Uprising I sat wide
eyed and brimming with emotion....
Students dared to believe they could
democratically decide how their
institutions should function. The
promise that Amherst Uprising held
out is the only viable response to
the atomization of the present: the
possibility of freedom through communal decision making. Suddenly,
a library was reimagined as a public
space for exchanging stories and
participating in debate with the goal
of formulating demands that could
create a better school for everyone. It
was suddenly possible to control the
structures that control our daily lives.
Before Amherst Uprising, this was a
version of democracy and freedom I
thought impossible.”

This should be true of Amherst’s
leftist community as well. We must
listen to and account for this issue’s

Rojas’ piece is a rejoinder to the cynical voice in our heads that all-tooreadily condemns Amherst as nothing more than a breeding ground for
alpha-male titans of industry—a fin-

2. https://acvoice.com/2017/02/01/what-thissit-in-is-about-an-open-letter-to-presidentmartin-the-amherst-college-republicans-andthe-similarly-confused/

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critiques of recent trends in Amherst
activism. We should take seriously,
for instance, Kristin Bumiller’s warning about targeting demands at specific individual administrators: “This
strategy has limitations. As a general
rule, when organizations are challenged, they are likely to protect their
reputations, minimize liability, and
address only immediate concerns.”
To extend this point a bit further:
new students will quickly learn that
Amherst’s bureaucracy processes
crises by blaming and punishing
individual employees. A racist and
sexist email chain, created by a group
of cross-country athletes, leads to the
forced resignation and condemnation
of a single coach and a brief suspension for the perpetrating team. All
this despite the College’s longstanding willingness “to turn a blind eye”
to its overwhelmingly white athletic
program.3 An informal “mandate”
that Resident Counselors submit
reporting forms for all violations of
the student code of conduct both
minimizes liability for the college and
leaves student employees open to
unfair accusations of negligence. We
must ask ourselves, when we target
key administrators in the hopes of
solving larger institutional failings,
whether we are playing ball on the
bureaucracy’s home court.

the heart of organizing resistance.”
Moreover, “organizing resistance”
might be the activity that makes a
vibrant sense of communal life possible in the first place. This guide is
a call to organize because organization is necessary for transforming
the dangerously lonely, competitive, and atomized conditions of life
at Amherst. Speaking personally,
many of the writers in this issue are
my closest friends and role models.
They’ve taught me how to do serious,
sustained work (academic, activist,
and otherwise), how to live well on
this campus without the benefit of
a sports team or otherwise institutionally-sanctioned friend group,
and how to recover from and thrive
in spite of depression. They are
astute and keenly critical, but more
importantly, they are brilliant in the
original sense of the word: bright and
radiant, givers of light. They remind
me of the Amherst I wish to live in,
the Amherst we can create if we are
diligent, strategic, and lucky. For me,
there is a lesson in everything they
do. I hope the same holds true for
you.

Despite and, in fact, because of these
reservations, we hope that the following articles guide you toward alternate habits of community-making
here at Amherst. As Crystal Ganatra
puts it in her piece, “fighting for each
other and for our loved ones is at
3. See Brian Zayatz’s essay, “A Tale of Two Colleges”

6

A TIMELINE
OF RESISTANCE

but not interested in organizing for
change--the AUL and Divest Amherst
were the only spaces for political
organization on campus.

Direct Action
Coordinating Committee

Last year we witnessed the collapse
of existing student activist groups
and the emergence of a new era of
activism on this campus. Student
activists departed from former characteristics of organizing—localized,
hierarchical, single-issue—and began
to deliberately organize in a way that
was more decentralized, intersectional and focused on direct action. We
believe this is a positive transformation, and it is worth understanding
the history that brought us here to
avoid the missteps of past activism as
we strive to chart a course forward.

Unfortunately, both groups went
defunct due to diminishing membership. We think this happened
for three main reasons: First, the
leadership in both groups was concentrated in one or two individuals.
Once those individuals graduated,
or became too busy, there was not
enough motivated cadre to keep the
organization alive. Second, both
groups were ineffective in attracting a diverse group of students. For
instance, despite rhetorically calling
for racial justice Divest Amherst was
almost entirely composed of white
students, and their efforts to reach
out to affinity groups were often ill
received. And finally, in relation to
our second reason, the majority of
these groups meetings were all talk,
with very little action. Although some
members of these groups were interested in engaging in direct action as
a means of attaining change on and
off campus, neither of these groups
prioritized this form of disruption as
a core method.

As of last year, two primary political
activist groups existed on this campus--Amherst United Left (AUL), and
Divest Amherst. We have the AUL to
thank for the previous two editions
of the disorientation guide, as well as
several actions they took last year including a silent vigil for the victims of
the war on terror, and their co-signed
letter of solidarity with Hampshire
students who protested white nationalism. For their part, Divest Amherst,
a group that urged the school to
divest its holdings from the fossil fuel
industry, organized online student
petitions, attended numerous meetings with the Board of Trustees,
organized a small rally outside Val,
and was in close contact with similar
organizations at the other five colleges. Besides the College Democrats
and Republicans--which were active,

In November, 2016, following the
election of Donald Trump, a nationwide walk-out notably changed
the course of political activism on
this campus. Hundreds of students
convened outside Converse Hall
demanding that the administration
declare Amherst College a Sanctuary

7

Campus, promise to continue supporting DACA students, and divest
from prisons and detention centers.
This was organized by a small number of students closely affiliated with
the Latinx affinity group, La Causa.
However, the students who organized
this rally ended up departing from La
Causa because of ideological differences. Although affinity groups play
a crucial role in creating a stronger
community among historically oppressed populations on campus, the
affinity group’s hierarchical, and bureaucratic “elected board” structure
significantly hindered students’ ability to quickly and effectively choose
more confrontational strategies. For
instance, the walk out in November
was part of a nation-wide call to action formulated by an organization
known as Cosecha. This movement
pivots around a strategy inspired by
the successful workers’ movements
of the 19th and 20th century involving general strikes and boycotts.
When presented with the opportunity to organize an action under
such strategies to fight for the Latinx
community on our campus and in
our country several e-board members
of La Causa were hesitant to strain
their undemocratically organized,
jam—packed agenda with yet another
“event”.

following the walkout it was increasingly clear that both groups were
becoming irrelevant. Meetings were
poorly attended, and eventually completely non-existent. These groups
had no plans for future organizing.
So the students who helped organize the walkout found themselves in
new territory, no longer looking to
work within the bounds of affinity
groups or the aforementioned activist
groups. These students founded “Not
Under My Watch”. What brought
these students together was their
commitment to resisting what they
perceived as an extremely dangerous new regime coming to power
in the United States: the Trump
administration. While “Not Under
My Watch” sprouted out of reaction
to new political conditions, organizers who formed the group had been
considering its creation for some
time, but had initially opted to work
with Divestment and AUL until they
found their shortcomings too inhibiting.
Building on the previous year’s
walkout, “Not Under My Watch”
helped organize another direct action
in February, this time in response
to Trump’s executive order limiting
travel from seven majority Muslim countries. Students sat outside
President Martin’s office until a list of
demands regarding the physical and
legal safety of students affected by
the “Muslim ban” was met. Although
criticized as misdirected and overly
aggressive, this sit-in was highly
effective in addressing students
concerns; demands were met much
faster than in previous cases of student activism.

It should also be noted that the AUL
and Divest Amherst did not play a
vital role in organizing the walk out.
Despite the strained political climate
propitious to questioning the status
quo, both the AUL and Divest Amherst failed to take advantage of the
momentum to advance any agendas.
A lack of sustainable leadership became a problem for both groups, and

8

Aside from organizing actions on
campus, the “Not Under My Watch”
collective participated in the Pioneer
Valley Worker Center’s1 effort to create a rapid response network called
Sanctuary in the Streets. Students
carpooled to Pioneer Valley Workers
Center meetings, trainings, and rallies, such as the May Day protest in
Northampton. Members also helped
organize multiple phone banks in
support of the water protectors at
Standing Rock. In short, they initiated the process of mobilizing on
campus and supporting off campus
efforts.

migrants are all examples of this.
In the coming semester, DACC
intends to organize around an
escalation campaign of direct action demanding divestment from
private prisons and fossil fuels. We
will continue to defend marginalized
community members. DACC will
also build and expand its off campus coalitions. We strive to practice
horizontalism and non-hierarchical
association. We still have a lot to
learn, but believe that we progressed
in a positive direction this past year.
If you are interested in attending our
first meeting you can stay updated
through our Facebook page Not Under My Watch (still undergoing name
change). We look forward to working
with many of you this year.

Over the summer, “Not Under My
Watch” changed its name to Direct
Action Coordinating Committee
(DACC) to “better [reflect] that we
are not simply a reaction to Donald
Trump’s regime or our current political climate, but that our values are
also out of sync with a superstructure that has existed for centuries.”2
Direct action refers to actions taken
by ordinary people to challenge or
pose alternatives to existing societal
structures. The walkout, sit in, and
May Day protest that took place last
year were all examples of one category of direct action often referred
to as civil (or uncivil) disobedience.
Strikes, boycotts, building occupations, and the like also fall into this
category. Mutual aid is another class
of direct action, defined by ordinary
people--often left without assistance
from the state or other institutions-helping each other through difficult
circumstances. Food Not Bombs, the
Free Breakfast For Children Program
by the Black Panther Party, and the
Pioneer Valley Workers Center cash
fund for vulnerable workers and im-

1. See How, Where & Why To Join Struggles for
more information on the PVWC.
2. Read the statement in full on the Facebook
page: Not Under My Watch. https://www.
facebook.com/directactioncoordinatingco
mmittee/?hc_ref=ARSuWF2x2tbh8eAJZC
iYjjeIf7lmh4QcfY361cRaofQAXb-eemaW_
KnbH5pk7qFbAh8&fref=nf

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A brief look at local resistance from the
recent past.

december
2014

november
2015

Ferguson National
Call to Action

Amherst Uprising

Following the shooting of Micheal
Brown, a crowd 500 strong observed a moment of silence and
marched around the main quadrangle with their hands up.

Three women of color organized
a sit-in at Frost Library which
became a forum for sharing experiences of racism and marginalization on campus. The sit in generated a series of demands to foster
inclusivity.

may
2017

february
2017

May Day
Strike

Muslim Travel Ban
Walkout & Sit-In

Hundreds in Northampton participated in the national strike and
marched to demand a living wage,
open borders, public education
and nationwide sanctuary city legislation.

The sit-in demanded the school
publicly condemn Trump’s executive order, provide legal support to
those affected by the ban, and address outreach failures of the
International Students Office.

august
2017

august
2017

No to Baker’s
Racist Law

WMass. Stands With
Charlottesville

Activists gathered in Boston,
Worcester and Springfield to demand Gov. Charlie Baker withdraw
a bill alowing police to detain undocumented immigrants without a
warrant.

A broad coallition of local organizations called for a rally in Northampton to stand in solidarity with the
counter-protestors in Charlotesville fighting white supremacy and
fascism.

10

november
2016

november
2016

National Anthem
Protest

Sanctuary Campus
Walkout

Students dressed in black took a
knee during the national anthem at
homecoming. Numerous Amherst
Football players had been taking a
knee during games to protest racial
and social injustice.

Students gathered outside Converse to demand Amherst become
a Sanctuary Campus, continue support for DACA students, and divest
from private prisons and detention
centers.

january
2017

december
2017

Springfield
Sanctuary City Rally

Guerilla Postering
Folowing the expose of the cross
country team’s misogynist email
chain, hundreds of posters reading “women your meat” appeared
across campus overnight and a banner was hung outside Val.

Hundreds gathered outside Springfield City Hall to demand Mayor
Domenic Sarno declare the city a
sanctuary city and not cooperate
with ICE agents.

“If there is no
struggle there is no
progress. Power
concedes nothing
without a demand.
It never did and it
never will.”

august
2017

Fight Supremacy
Resistance Rally
Counter-protesters 40,000 strong
marched onto Boston Commons to
stand in defiance against a series of
white supremacist speakers scheduled to talk at a free speech rally.

-Frederick Douglass
11

A TALE OF
TWO COLLEGES
Brian Z. Zayatz ‘18
First of all, congratulations on your
matriculation to Amherst College.
Which Amherst College do you go to?
I’m just kidding—the asking is just
a courtesy, really. As you may soon
recognize, the mostly discrete groups
of individuals that make up the two
Amherst Colleges are fairly distinguishable by appearances: dress,
muscle tone, skin color, and swagger.
You were likely chosen for one college or the other during the admissions process. If you were applying
to Amherst Athletes’ College (AAC),
then a certain picture of Amherst
College was probably painted for
you, one in which you get up early,
hit the weight room, eat a lot of hard
boiled eggs with breakfast, go to
class, practice, sit in the back room
at dinner, and live and hang out with
your teammates during most of your
free time. You probably won’t go
out much on Friday nights, because
Saturday is game day, but Saturday
night you’ll have a raucous time with,
you guessed it, your teammates.
If you were applying as a nonathlete, our admissions team probably showed you other parts of the
college, the Other Amherst College
(OAC), to woo you: our diverse student body, a mammoth skeleton, and
that giant clothespin in the Greenway
laundry room or something. You
don’t play a sport? Don’t worry, we’ll
find you a niche. We have acapella

12

groups, an outing club, jazz combos,
and a farm! On that first tour of the
college you were probably dazzled by
a cornucopia of activities, strategically arranged to appeal to those of
us who have never run a ball in our
lives. The point being that before you
were even sure you would apply to
Amherst College, we were sure which
Amherst College you’d belong to.
These two Amhersts differ in more
than just respective day-to-day
experiences. AAC plays an important
role for the institution as a whole, in
that, for many alumni, it represents
a link to a certain nostalgic image of
the College that is quite helpful in
securing donations. In turn, it is well
funded, and gets to bend rules that
are enforced somewhat more strictly
at the other college. One factor that
helps in this institutional rule-bending (and in the semi-professional
nostalgia cultivation, for that matter)
is AAC’s overwhelming whiteness.
AAC is 73% white domestic students,
compared with 47% of the student
body as a whole and 35% of the OAC
student body, according to a 2016
report.1 Well-documented cultures
of sexism and racism prevail in the
AAC, likely because of heightened
gender segregation, the fact that such
a solid majority of athletes belong to
this country’s dominant racial group,
and because the College is willing to
turn a blind eye to issues regarding
one of its strongest selling points to
donors.
1. http://amherststudent.amherst.edu/collegereleases-report-state-athletics-program

The purpose of pointing all this out
to you is not to unilaterally paint athletes in a negative light--some athletes, particularly athletes of color,
have been outspoken critics of these
cultures and other issues on campus
and beyond. But as you may have
already surmised from your short
time on campus, the status quo is
dangerous and unsustainable. We’ve
got one portion of the student body
that is kept largely separate from the
rest of the student body, and it is disproportionately white (not to mention wealthy and children of alumni),
and this combination of insularity
and privilege seems to have a negative impact on the whole campus,
directly or indirectly. A few possible
solutions might jump out to you: we
could reform athletics admissions
policies, end recruiting practices that
skew white and wealthy. We could
question the role of varsity athletics
in a liberal arts education in the first
place, since it’s such a distraction
from the College’s mission, which is,
after all, learning, right?

Socials, and this was the AAC heartland. There is still an annex in the
back room of Val, and someone once
told me there’s AAC territory south of
the First-Year Quad, too, but I have
never ventured into said territory to
confirm.
In 2016, the Socials were demolished, and in the ensuing year the
two Amherst Colleges, like oil and
vinegar in a salad dressing, have
been shaken up and left to sort out
our resegregation on our own. In this
year, the athletics question has come
to a head, from exposes in our own
campus publications4 to the pages
of The Chronicle of Higher Education.5 This inflammation of a sore
spot on campus has some reformers
on the inside of college committees worried that AAC will be on the
defensive, stoking the fears of the
ever-influential donor class into a
conservative frenzy. One year into
the fall of the Socials, we’re faced
with two paths--do we find a way to
resegregate ourselves and save the
fight against white affirmative action
for a day when overt Nazism isn’t on
the rise? Or will we seize this opportunity to push, and push hard, for an
end to a college-funded bastion of
privilege and toxicity, understanding it as one of many pillars of U.S.
society that makes possible enclaves
of unchallenged white supremacy
and misogyny? I’m not asking this
rhetorically. It will be up to you, the
first-year student and future campus
activist, to decide.

Students (and faculty)2 from both
the OAC and AAC3 have been pondering these issues for some time
now, but in all honesty, we never
did much about it because there are
many pressing issues that deserve
our attention as activists, and because until recently, the two Amherst
Colleges were spatially separated
quite effectively. Where that huge
construction project is now, there
used to be a smattering of grotesque,
poorly ventilated dorms called the

4. https://theindicator.wordpress.amherst.edu/
special-reports/mens-cross-country-maintainedmisogynistic-racist-email-chain
5. http://www.chronicle.com/article/BehindUgly-Locker-Room-Talk

2. http://amherststudent.amherst.edu/elephantroom
3. http://amherststudent.amherst.edu//sexualrespect-let%E2%80%99s-be-better-decent

13

FAILURE IS AN OPTION
feeling or even to acknowledge that I
had a problem at all. Instead, I failed
my math exam.

Rhonda Cobham-Sander,

Emily C. Jordan Folger Professor of English and Black
Studies

And the world did not end.

In my last year in High School, I
flunked A-level math – the Trinidad
equivalent of Calculus BC in the
American system. No one expected
I would fail – least of all, me. I was
considered one of the smart girls in
my class, equally good at sciences
and the humanities and on track to
win a prestigious national scholarship that could have taken me to
Oxford or Cambridge. It wasn’t that
I couldn’t do the work –I had great
teachers, exemplary study habits, a
stable and supportive family. Yet,
somewhere along the line, I lost my
place in the calculus curriculum.

I retook the exam and did well but
in the extra year I spent at school I
decided to switch my focus from the
sciences to literature. I also sat for
the local college entrance exams and
won a scholarship to the University
of the West Indies. Those two decisions – switching to literature and
staying in the Caribbean for my
undergraduate degree--profoundly
changed the course of my life. I
learned that being good at science
did not mean I was passionate about
it, in the way I was passionate about
literature. I got to grow up emotionally and intellectually among my
Caribbean peers, so that I no longer
assumed real life only happened at
prestigious colleges far away from
home. Most importantly, I got to
know many of the Caribbean writers
to whose works I have devoted the
better part of my academic career.

I had no words to describe what it
meant to fail. I was Head Girl (ask
anyone who went to school in the
British system what THAT means!)
Chess Club captain, editor of the
school newspaper, longtime member
of the choral society, active in my
church youth group, engaged in community building projects. I was also
burnt out, overcommitted, and, truth
be told, more interested in exploring
my sexuality than staying on top of
all my good deeds. Six months before
failing my math exam, I had a mini
health crisis that resulted in my being sent away for a long vacation with
my cousins in Barbados. The doctor
said I was suffering from “overwork
and tension” but if you had asked me
what was going on, I doubt I would
have been able to describe what I was

Failure feels lousy, and it can leave
small scars. I still occasionally have
nightmares about that math exam,
especially near the end of the summer, when I start to worry about the
upcoming school year. It’s always
a relief to wake up and realize, not
only that I eventually did come to
appreciate the poetry of the calculus,
but also that failing that first time
nudged me to open doors I might
otherwise have left closed. The experience has made me much less judg-

14

mental or pessimistic when I notice
students failing at academic projects
I know they can do well. Perhaps,
a life-changing event, more important than a class, demands your full
focus-- in which case it may make
more sense to take time off and deal
with it, than to force yourself to stay
on some self-imposed fast track. Perhaps you need more time to really fall
in love with a subject and failure, like
a bad bump in a relationship, gives
you an opportunity to reaffirm your
passion and make a fresh start. Or
perhaps failure is a signal that there
is something else out there at which
you will succeed quite splendidly, if
only you allow yourself to open a new
door.

Be sure to check out
last year’s pieces at
amherstdisorientation.
wordpress.com

15

SOCIAL CAPITAL AND
NEOLIBERAL BEHAVIOR
AT AMHERST COLLEGE

cessful they were to be admitted to
this prestigious institution, and are
thus encouraged to constantly live up
to increasingly (and often, arbitrarily) lofty standards. The result is an
emphasis on seeming rather than being and looking rather than feeling!
Here, we touch upon some relevant
features of this phenomenon.

Ryan Cenek & Abby S. ‘18
Welcome to Amherst College, the
LinkedIn of Liberal Arts Colleges!
At Amherst, you have the unique
opportunity of following your insatiable desire to be an artist while also
majoring in economics.
Indeed, to quote an inspirational,
radical film, in Zootopia, anyone
(with enough means and resources
to avoid working three jobs while
concomitantly buckling under the
pressure of a relentlessly increasing
academic and extra-curricular workload) can be anything!

Before we flesh out our argument,
it would be wise to examine some
qualifiers. Firstly, the fact that one
‘performs’ for various audiences
every day is a frivolous observation –
naturally, we navigate our lives and
worlds in strategic, context-dependent ways. But there is a difference in
degree substantial enough to warrant
a wholly different classification: after
all, Amherst College is designed to be
a small world populated with talented students who, loosely, subscribe
to some portions of the open-ended
Liberal Arts manifesto. Secondly, to
an extent, our criticisms suffer from
their applicability to almost every
other entity at this point in history –
why do we expect Amherst to occupy
a space outside of 21st century capitalism? Moreover, in some respects,
Amherst is much better at catering
to the needs of its students (primarily due to a supportive and engaged
faculty). But it is precisely the subversion of Amherst’s (and liberal arts
colleges) own rhetoric of openness
and inclusivity that leads people to
fall through the cleverly disguised
fissures etched into a scenic, rus-

In a small place like Amherst College,
a lot of students will grow fatigued
from constantly navigating a difficult physical and social space where
privacy is elusive and expectations,
in every domain, are dizzyingly high.
Here, we will attempt to identify
certain facets of an all-pervasive
mode of thinking which frames how
one ‘performs’ in ones constantly
examined life at Amherst College—a
performativity that hinges on seeming content, qualified, competent,
and happy. Underpinning this
performativity is the unstoppable
force propelling students to successful acquisition of social and cultural
capital (and eventually the ability to
access more typical and banal forms
of success). Students are constantly
reminded of how brilliant and suc-

16

tic landscape. It is the expectation
of a space which exists outside of
the realm of the mundane, troubleridden “real world” – a space whose
failed articulation is both the starting
and defining moments, for most folk,
of unease and anomie.

preponderance of those who can
avail the opportunities to experiment
and explore do not have financial or
other constraints – for them, these
four years can be a nice break before
they ultimately integrate into their
family’s respective stratum.

The paradoxes of colleges which tout
freethinking and non-conformism
but which eventually churn out the
same jaded, cynical, and, worse,
avaricious batch of graduates kowtowing to recruiters, sniffing the air
for positions in investment banking
are well-documented but still fairly
alarming. Most students enter with
fantasies of indulging in revolutionary and transformative projects. Nevertheless, somewhere towards the
end of Sophomore year, something
magical happens. The history courses
get replaced with econometrics and
activism yields to investment club.
How and why do freshmen brimming
with the most diverse hopes and
ambitions so often become conscientious LinkedIn curators, vapid social
climbers, and self-aggrandizing
social media grandstanders? It’s as
if the theory of a gradual, unstoppable move towards conservatism
as one exits one’s teenage years has
its best example in elite colleges.
Sure, the pressures of a turbulent
economy with increasing demand
for a certain skillset is hard for less
affluent students to evade. But the
ubiquity of this phenomenon raises
more profound questions about the
‘real’ nature of elite colleges in that,
despite how emphatically they purport to be revolutionary spaces, they
cannot and do not wish to escape
the structures that define ‘ordinary’
societal existence. Additionally, the

In interpersonal and social terms, the
college becomes a hypercompetitive,
thoroughly neoliberal space whose
denizens are being constantly appraised by each other, and by a set
of standards that the institutional
culture of Amherst rapidly inculcates. Social and other anxieties are
heightened because any and every
infraction constitutes a failure to
adhere to the lofty standards of a
seemingly pristine college. Often,
being seen eating alone in the dining
hall can induce unimaginable pain,
for it represents both social rejection
and wasted opportunities to socialize.
Worsening this is the impossibility
of finding privacy anywhere – We’ve
had people tell us they suffered
financial strain just to avoid eating at
Val every day. In this setup, your personality is commoditized and everything is weaponized to make you the
most marketable version of yourself.
Making and maintaining friendships
assume the same gritty labor of networking, disguised using fun terms
like “expanding your circles” or “becoming well-integrated members of
the community”. Finding pleasure in
activities becomes tertiary, replaced
by résumé-filling, venal behaviors
that run after some form of capital.
Seeming happy is more important
than being happy, for the former is
a loud affirmation of one’s successes
in a challenging setup. Concomitantly, you are encouraged to discuss

17

The Lesson:

difficult issues almost exclusively in
sanitized spaces that lie outside the
quotidian realm: visits to resource
and counselling centers are supposed
to alleviate your pain by casting it as
ephemeral and surmountable and
consequently emphasize reintegration. The drive is to make you ‘functional’ and equipped to deal with
academic and social rigors – which is
not inherently bad, but is very much
in the vein of “well-functioning,
well-integrated” narrative that favors
nominal, superficial, and ephemeral
success over an enduring contentment.

Ultimately, it boils down to a certain mindset: one which privileges
a unilineal, relentless move towards
something to attain in the way of tangible success. This is the mindset we
all must do away with. Bombarded as
you are with an unrelentingly programmed few weeks, it may take time
to process the profound transition
you are undergoing. Keep these few
points in mind:
1) Be honest, genuine, and empathetic. There Is no need to ‘fake it’. Being
disingenuous takes a toll on you and
those you interact with.
2) Make connections with people you
like, respect, and value.
3) Engage with communities in
and out of Amherst. Help people. A
prosocial demeanor propelled by a
genuine interest in others is ideal yet
sadly elusive.
4) Escaping the ‘real world’ is not a
noble goal. Nor is treating Amherst
as a space exempt from the rules of
the ‘real world’. Having a broader
understanding of your position here
(and everywhere) is essential.
5) Have Fun!

Moreover, ‘activism’ and ‘freethinking’ are great insofar as they do not
disrupt the broader meta-narratives
and structures that govern one’s
existence. For example, it’s acceptable for most to champion causes
if they do not impinge on tangible
rewards – protesting is important
as long as the overarching narrative
and broader structures that govern, define, and undergird the most
profound of inequalities which are
generative of the experiences most
relatively dispossessed students face
at Amherst and elsewhere (colleges
that are founded on liberal bases are
comfortable with awarding freedom
and emphasizing openness) are not
challenged. It is when a profound,
imminent threat rears its head (such
as when administrative buildings are
occupied during protests), that rhetoric yields to a ruthless ‘pragmatism’
that quashes and quells, suppresses
and subverts. Any protests (like the
Amherst Uprising) that seek more
than cosmetic changes will get beaten
back and watered down.

18

HOW TO GET WHAT YOU
WANT ON THIS CAMPUS (OR,
ON THE NECESSITY OF PROTEST, STUDENT POWER AND A
POLITICS OF CONFRONTATION)

Paula Pena ‘19
Something that you’ll learn quickly at
Amherst College is that it’s not very
hard to get what you ask for. Want to
send your sports team to a tournament in another state? Sure, just request funding on time, go to the right
meetings, and you’re all set! Want
to get new couches for your meeting space? Figure out how much it’ll
cost, make sure you can justify the
expense, and we’ve got you covered.
Want to bring in a speaker you admire to give a talk? Gather a couple
of interested students and a member
of the staff or faculty to back you up,
and you’re sure to get funded! Sometimes it seems like there are no limits
to Amherst’s generosity and willingness to fulfill its students’ every need
and desire.

generous. Yes, let’s have facilitated
workshops and dialogues on race,
invite speakers in droves, hire fulltime staff to manage multicultural
and international resource centers—
we’re all about supporting diversity!
What’s that, you want us to address
the increased fear and vulnerability
you feel, knowing that there are a
good number of people on this campus who helped vote a racist, xenophobic, neo-fascist into the White
House? No, instead we need to talk
about unity and overcoming political differences to come together as a
community instead.1 What, you want
us to divest from fossil fuel corporations? We already created an Office
of Environmental Sustainability—no,
of course profiting from the activities of fossil fuel corporations does
not mean we’re complicit in climate
change!2

But then… something you might
learn a little less quickly (but nonetheless will learn) is that there are
limits to what Amherst is willing to
do with its $2 billion endowment.
Sure, you can go out for a special
school-sponsored dinner with fellow
students and professors without
worrying too much about the price.
But tipping the waitress enough to
actually compensate for the work
they did and their cost of living? Suddenly Amherst doesn’t prove quite so

Clearly, there are limits to what
Amherst is willing to support. Now,
don’t get me wrong—the school has
certainly taken steps to make our
campus more inclusive and more
sustainable, and the resources it
1. http://amherststudent.amherst.
edu/?q=article/2016/11/16/president-speaksunity-respect-following-election
2. https://amherstdisorientation.wordpress.
com/2016/09/05/business-as-usual/

19

provides do make students’ lives materially better. There are many good
people on this campus, from students
to faculty to staff at every level, who
have pushed and continue to work to
make those changes happen, with a
large part of that effort being shouldered by people of color and queer
and trans individuals. But it’s telling
to see where the line is drawn. It’s
okay to provide resources and funds
to give students what they need, but
the moment a problem requires a
more systemic solution (which, let’s
face it, every problem does if we want
it to be solved) all we get back is radio silence. So what do we do?

roots, that really addresses an issue,
comes only after communities organize and are relentless in their push to
demand it.
College campuses are no exception—whether in Amherst or elsewhere, the most significant shifts
in a college’s attitudes and policies
have always been won through the
work of dedicated students who have
banded together and engaged in direct action. Black Studies at Amherst
only became its own fully-funded
department with dedicated professors after an occupation of important
academic buildings by black student
activists from the Five Colleges, and
their allies. Although the college had
previously agreed to create a Black
Studies major, up until that point
only one black professor taught at
Amherst, and black students were
still confronted by significant institutional barriers. In order to push
the school to do what was just and
necessary, and not merely what was
acceptable, over 200 black student
activists across the Five Colleges
organized and seized four important
buildings on February 18, 1970. They
held them for fourteen hours, until
the administration conceded to their
demands, and the Department of
Black Studies was created.3

The first thing to do is to understand
why this happens. To explain the
complex inner workings of Amherst
would require an entire article of its
own (one which I’m definitely not
equipped to write), but in short: Amherst College, at its heart, continues
to be a white supremacist, colonial
institution, and in the end all decisions are subordinate to its capitalist
bottom-line (i.e. $$$). Any initiative
that tries to go against those systems
will be met with staunch resistance
on the part of the final decisionmakers.
Amherst does a great deal to sustain
the illusion that its generosity is endless, but we must resist the tendency
to become passive consumers of its
generosity. We, the students, have
the agency and the power to stake
a claim to what is already ours—to
knowledge, to resources, to “respectability,” to legitimacy, and most of
all to change. No meaningful change
has ever come from above: the type
of change that can shake society to its

Only a few years later, the growing
anti-apartheid movement reached
U.S. college campuses. All across the
country, activists pushed their institutions to divest from South Africa
in protest of apartheid, and Amherst
3. http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/
pdf/10.1162/TNEQ_a_00531 & https://acvoice.
com/2015/03/30/ac-voice-appreciates-studentactivists/

20

College was no exception. In 1977,
students presented a petition to the
Board of Trustees demanding they
divest the college’s holdings from
South Africa, and picketed the alumni house during a Board meeting.
The Board of Trustees refused, but
divestment became a topic of conversation in subsequent Board meetings
for almost an entire decade, thanks
to students’ relentless organizing and
escalation campaigns—from letters,
to petitions, to attending and filling up Board meetings, to picketing
and finally to more confrontational
demonstrations. After eight years,
the Board of Trustees finally gave
in to student demands and divested
entirely from South Africa in 1985.4

ber 2016 and February 2017, two
student-led walkouts first demanded
that Amherst declare itself a Sanctuary Campus and protested the federal
travel ban. These movements forced
the college to move beyond its rhetoric of “unity and cooperation,” take
a concrete stand against Trump’s
attacks, and take steps to protect its
most vulnerable students. All of these
mobilizations had specific demands,
and used techniques of occupation
and direct action to make their demands heard by the college.
Looking at our Five College community, the UMass Fossil Fuel
Divestment Campaign won a victory
in Spring 2016, when the Board of
Directors of the UMass Foundation
agreed to divest the endowment of
the entire University of Massachusetts system from direct holdings in
fossil fuels. This followed nearly half
a decade of dedicated student organizing. The campaign began in December 2012, when students drafted
a letter to submit to the Board of
Directors demanding divestment
from fossil fuels. After their request
was rejected, Divest UMass began
building its escalation campaign,
reaching out to the university community to garner broad support for
its aims. It employed direct action
tactics over the next three years—
from banner drops, to street demonstrations and theatre, to speaking
and organizing actions outside Board
of Trustees meetings, escalating each
time their demands remained unmet.
They gained more and more support
within their campus community and
across different UMass campuses, as
it became clear the Board needed to
be pressured to accept.5

Fast-forward to the more recent
history of the college. In the last two
years, a number of student demonstrations and mobilizations have
forced the administration to address
issues that had been sidelined for
too long. In November of 2015, on
the strength of the vulnerability,
visibility and organizing of women
of color (especially black women),
Amherst Uprising occupied Frost
Library to protest the marginalization of students of color on campus,
and forced Amherst to address those
issues in its policies and conversations. The issues raised are still
ongoing, but the protests gave more
urgency and weight to issues such as
the need to diversify the faculty, and
the absence from the college curriculum of majors, like Latinx Studies or
Asian American Studies, that reflect
student experience. Later, in Novem4. https://consecratedeminence.wordpress.
com/2015/02/06/divesting-amherst-college/

21

The campaign culminated in the
spring of 2016, when more than 150
student activists occupied Whitmore
Administrative Building, where a
Board meeting was being held, to demand they commit to fully divesting
from the top 200 fossil fuel companies. Divest UMass volunteers were
outside the building training all those
who wanted to join the protest, and
providing additional training on legal
rights to those who wanted to risk arrest. The sit-in lasted four days, with
34 students arrested for trespassing.6
In the end, the Board of Directors
agreed to the movement’s demands
and pledged to divest from all direct
holdings in fossil fuels.

make sure those in charge have no
other option than to listen to us, and
to do that we must wield our collective power as students to make them
pay attention.

All of these wins came about after
students’ requests were rejected
multiple times. But students were
unfazed by those rejections, and
used them as jumping-off points
to organize, wield collective power,
and build a movement. But it wasn’t
enough to be organized; they couldn’t
just show the administration that
the aims of their movement enjoyed
popular support. To stop there would
let those in charge decide the terms
of negotiation in their favor. Students had to confront administration
head-on, occupy their spaces, make
themselves obnoxiously visible and
force not just the people in charge of
the school, but the whole community,
the whole country to listen up. That’s
what it takes—you have to make it
impossible for them to say no. The
famous Churchill quote, “Americans
will do the right thing, once they
have exhausted all other options,”
also applies to institutions of higher
education, and to most other institutions under capitalism. We must

5. https://divestumass.wordpress.com/aboutour-campaign-2/about-our-campaign/
6. http://www.gazettenet.com/News/Local/Nomore-arrests-in-Divest-UMass-protest-1540717

22

WHAT RIGHTS?
renew action with the long term goal
of embracing a broader and more
complex rights sensibility.

Kristen Bumiller,

George Daniel Olds
Professor in Economic and
Social Institutions

Will efforts to roll back rights even
work? One of the most effective elements of rights-based social change
is that once given, rights are difficult
to take away.

During this summer of discontent
we have heard nothing but bad news
about rights. A swift succession of
announcements includes the Justice
Department’s intention to challenge
affirmative action in college admissions, the Department of Education’s
changing guidance for protecting transgender students, and the
anticipated turning back of Title IX
enforcement.

For the moment, we can hold tight to
our rights. Contrary to the misleading rhetoric, “affirmative action” is
generally no longer in practice, and
unless the established use of diversity goals that were most recently
reaffirmed in the Fisher decision
are overturned, the consideration of
race as part of a holistic analysis of
admission candidates will continue
to muster constitutional scrutiny.
While action by the Department of
Education to pull back the Obama
Administration’s enforcement of
Title IX is imminent, the responsibilities of universities in handling
complaints is already in the process
of being more clearly delineated in
the federal courts. Measures to turn
back enforcement of transgender
rights in school settings (as well as
the announced ban on transgender
persons from the military) may only
open the door to litigation that will
more firmly uphold the “T” in LGBT
as a category of sex discrimination.

More emotionally shattering and
menacing to the spirit of a society
committed to civil rights, was to see
white supremacists and neo-Nazis
march through the college town of
Charlottesville, Virginia and incite
violence.
These symbolic actions are part of
calculated efforts to provoke anxiety on America’s college campuses.
The alt-right is targeting colleges in
an effort to create negative publicity about “political correctness” and
to fuel polarization. This makes it
all the more important for student
activists to respond from a position
of strength rather than vulnerability
and to not confuse self-protection for
political action.

Rights are difficult to enforce, even
during periods of strong federal
intervention. Vigorous federal oversight (such as in the implementation
of school desegregation policies and,
more recently, regarding Title IX)

Rather than seeing this as a moment
for despair or time to retreat into a
defensive posture, I would argue that
it is a time for student activists to analyze, reevaluate, and then ultimately

23

stimulates backlash on the ground.
When individuals employ antidiscrimination law, not many are redeemed in court and the few that are
successful contribute to a gradual,
haphazard process of change. Formal
legal rights most benefit individuals
with “relative privilege,” those who
can stake a claim based upon groupbased identity and who also have
the resources, resilience, and skill
to effectively make use of the legal
system. As a result, many of the gains
of rights-based activism have been
symbolic and have failed to unsettle
deeply entrenched economic inequities.

other students’ right to freedom
of speech and religion. This false
perception of a trade-off is a product
of an exceedingly polarized political environment that has distorted
the meaning of rights, spread false
stories, caricatured perpetrators and
victims and publicized all sorts of
phantom threats. A highly organized
and well-funded campaign is underway to “expose” the words of student
activists, often taken out of context,
as evidence of intolerance on college
campuses.
How might student activists best
navigate a path to promote civil
rights while keeping their focus on
longstanding struggles?

Too much of a focus on rights may
distort how progressive struggles
should address broader issues of
inequality. As student activists strive
to promote social justice it is vital for
them to recognize their position of
relative privilege. When many Americans do not have college degrees, and
with growing disparities in wealth
and economic mobility, students in
elite colleges stand to benefit disproportionately from their educational
attainment and social connections.
In fact, college students are more
protected and less endangered than
young adults who do not live on
residential campuses (in terms of the
incidence of sexual assault, domestic
violence, police brutality, and employment discrimination).

Learn from the successes and failures
of identity-based politics. Rightsbased activism has progressed from
a movement based upon a universal
and singular conception of identity
to broader struggles that recognize
interconnected forms of oppression. The most compelling claims
of group-based discrimination are
framed in terms cognizant of socioeconomic factors and relative disadvantage of other groups.
Think broadly about democratic
politics and systemic change. Rightsbased activism emerges from broader
democratic goals, which include
promoting political participation,
freedom of expression, and a quest
to treat all citizens with respect and
dignity. This larger agenda is about
protecting the democratic process
itself and combating measures such
as voter suppression, gerrymandering, unjust criminal sentencing, and
excessive surveillance.

In these times of high anxiety, the
challenge of focusing on long term
goals is made even more difficult
in the context of the distractions
created by a culture war. Lines are
drawn that pit the protection of
civil rights against the violation of

24

is a long-term project that requires
patience, hard work, and attitude
change.

Resist provocation and embrace
complexity. The alt-right is “staging
the show” when it sponsors events
that provoke student activists. The
current political context has created
a double bind—while it is important
to state a clear and unambiguous
message against bigotry and hate it is
also imperative to bring complexity
and nuance back into public discussions. Without quelling the message,
it is prudent to strategize with full
recognition of how simplistic characterizations of activists’ messages have
been used by those who are attacking
institutions of higher education.

Students have the space and time
to reflect about the real issues at
stake—global growth in inequality,
systemic racism, climate change,
worker disempowerment, and violent
conflict. College is a community
where it is possible to explore one’s
own and others’ values and evaluate
the complexity of these issues. These
opportunities to gain a deep understanding of entrenched social and
political problems are the foundation
of student activism.

Learn tactics of resistance and
political organizing. Those new to
political action can learn about it as
a strategy. Check out the “Resistance
School” at Harvard where the focus
is on gaining practical skills, learning
about tools for organizing, building
capacity for action, and communicating values in political advocacy
(https://www.resistanceschool.com)
The history of student activism suggests that it has been most effective
when it develops allies outside of the
university. However, recent activism on campuses across the United
States has often been insular, in that
students have defined the problem
as local and targeted administrators
with demands or requests for protections. This strategy has limitations.
As a general rule, when organizations
are challenged, they are likely to
protect their reputations, minimize
liability, and address only immediate concerns. Forcing colleges and
universities to live up to their promises to a more diverse student body

25

NO JUSTICE;
Having been on testosterone for a
NO PRIDE
few months, my body was visibly

Huey Hewitt ‘19

When I woke up, loopy from the
anesthesia and a little high on a painkiller they had given me, a part of
me could not believe that it was over.
Perhaps, again, few can understand
this. Let me clarify.

gender nonconforming in public.
As a result, I was faced with daily
harassment. People often asked the
question, “Is that a guy or a girl?”
audibly, in front of me, to one of their
friends as I passed by. While lifting
at a local gym, three men once made
a bet on my existence in the same
manner. “Is that a real man?” one
said to another. I wanted to say, “You
got me, I’m a fake man,” to let them
know that I wasn’t some beast from a
foreign planet but a living, breathing
human, with ears to hear words they
spoke directly in front of me, as if I
had none. But I was not going to put
my safety at risk in the name of proving a point. So I watched, silently,
as one man gave another a twentydollar bill. When I left the gym that
day, all three of these men followed
me halfway home, telling each
other that this was intentional, that
people like me should expect such
treatment—again, as if I could not
hear—until I made it clear that I was
aware of their presence, crossed the
street, and quickened my pace. These
incidents happened at least once a
week while I was living in New York;
they are not uncommon experiences
for trans and gender nonconforming
folks.

For the past two months before surgery, I had been living in New York
City for a summer internship at an
LGBTQ+ civil rights nonprofit. But
it was my time outside of work that
informed my queer and trans consciousness the most.

According to a report by the National
Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs,
not only was 2016 the deadliest year
on record for the LGBTQ+ community, but LGBTQ+ people of color
continue to bear the brunt of homophobic and transphobic violence

Eleven days prior to my writing this
piece, two friends drove me to a
hospital in Springfield; we parked
outside of Chestnut Surgical Center,
walked inside, filled out some forms,
and waited. Soon-after, a nurse
called out my legal first name. She
questioned me upon my approaching her. “Yes, that’s my legal name,”
I told her. Her confusion dissipated
after she asked me what procedure I
was getting. “A double mastectomy,”
I said. The words felt unnatural
as they escaped my lips, for I was
so used to referring to what would
happen on this day colloquially as
top surgery. She took me to a room
where I removed my clothes, put on a
hospital gown, and waited as nurses
and doctors filtered in and out, asking me questions about my smoking
history, drawing and measuring out
my chest, congratulating me in a way
that few would understand.

26

in the United States. Through my
own unfortunate experiences living
in Harlem over the summer, I also
found that this violence came primarily from my own black and brown
community.

meaned, scrutinized for our undocumented identities (“Why does
your ID not match? Why are you
trying to trick people?” are words
we often hear from police officers), and brutalized physically and/
or sexually. These experiences are
not coincidences and will not vanish with reform—many of us organize for the abolition of police and
prisons precisely because these
institutional apparatuses function
with the express purpose of inflicting violence upon us. Police funnel
our “disposable” bodies into cages,
away from more valuable—read: cis
and white—embodiments, and then
expect us to proudly march with
them in our Pride parade? As a fellow
trans black man said to me in New
York, “Doesn’t matter if a cop’s black,
trans, a woman, whatever. Good
black cops evict. Good trans cops
harass homeless people. Black cop’s
a pig; trans cop’s a pig, woman cop’s
a pig; cops are pigs.” I don’t march
with pigs.

Pride Month, which occurs annually in June, is meant to unite and
celebrate LGBTQ+ identities, but this
year, it was rife with conflict within
our community. While a clear ideological division emerged—between
assimilationist and radical tendencies—the battle lines were, not by
coincidence, also drawn along identities: one side composed predominantly of cis people and white people,
the other composed predominantly
of trans people and people of color.
Across the country, the latter group
staged nonviolent demonstrations
at Pride parades—with demands for
the active inclusion of trans people
of color and the exclusion of police.
Few trans people of color I know feel
comfortable at Pride parades, and
yet it was trans women of color—I’m
thinking specifically of Sylvia Rivera
and Marsha P. Johnson, but there
are countless others—who founded
Pride and whose activism has done
the most for us.

But going up against a highly militarized NYPD was not an easy choice
for myself and other activists in New
York this summer. On top of their
usual over-armed contingent, NYPD
invited Toronto Police—barred
from Toronto Pride after a successful Black Lives Matter protest last
year—to march in uniform at the
New York parade. Outnumbered and
tactically unprepared for the circumstances, our blockade just outside of
the Stonewall Inn lasted only a few
minutes before twelve people were
arrested. Pride then continued as
usual.

Demanding the exclusion of cops
at Pride is necessary for the safety
of those whom Pride is meant to
celebrate. This becomes especially
clear when one considers the historical and contemporary relationship
between cops and trans people, cops
and people of color (not to speak
of intersections between the two).
When stopped by cops, we—trans
people of color—are harassed, de-

The comrade with whom I went to

27

the protest and I escaped arrest very
intentionally. When the demonstration was clearly over, we ate a meal
nearby, listening to the dull conversations amongst us, watching as cis
white gay men got drunk and used
the parade as an opportunity to party
in the streets rather than to commemorate the true legacy of Stonewall—called Riots for a reason—and
fight for our rights. But their nonchalance was not foreign to me.
When I left Pride, I struggled to find
a train station unblocked by the parade. Covered in glitter and binding
tightly that day, I was left alone, presumed by most to be a cis gay man
who, at least for today, was undeserving of my usual harassment. But
during my commute uptown, a white
trans woman sitting next to me was
not so lucky. Visually, she passed as
cis. But during her conversation with
a friend sitting next to her, her voice
was weaponized against her. Strangers unapologetically stared at her. It
was not as if they were confused—it
was the day of the Pride parade after
all—but as if they knew the power
wielded by their very eyes. And I
was reminded of the words of Alok
Vaid-Menon, a nonbinary poet and
trans activist, who said of their own
harassment in the streets of Paris:

ish, a trope, an anomaly, a minority.
my name is alok and i am a person
with a lot of feelings & hurt & love &
fear. my name is alok & i do not believe in harassment, i believe in torture. the thing about torture is that
you don’t even need to touch a body
to hurt it. it is crying on the streets
because no one looks like you, only
looks at you, is that precarious position of being lonely -- deeply lonely
-- even though there are thousands
of people around you. my name is
alok and i believe in a world without
transmisogyny, trans people would
be the majority. after that woman
touched me i wanted to disappear. i
wanted to be invisible -- for one time
in my life to be invisible. the same
way i want to disappear when they
ask me to pose for a photograph
on the street before asking me my
name, asking how i am doing. my
name is alok and i am not doing
well: i hurt because people hurt people like me and no one cares. i hurt
because i have to teach you about
why you should care. I hurt because
we have to create the language, the
poetry, the headlines, the stories for
you to care -- all that while we are
being harassed (i mean tortured).
how do you heal from PTSD when
there is no post? how do you heal
from PTSD when there is no post?

last week in paris i broke down crying on the street not because anyone
touched me, but because everyone
was staring at me and i couldn’t tell
the difference. i am tired of being
stared at but never seen. touched,
but never held. admired, but never
aided. groped, but never vindicated.
tired of being reduced to a spectacle,
an aesthetic prop, a metaphor, a fet-

So now I sit here and wait out time,
wait for my chest to heal and wait to
get used to this feeling of no fear, of
existing in public and being read as a
cis man, as binary, and consequently
as deserving of the respect and dignity not afforded to my many trans
comrades. I sit here and I think of
the postured, over-stylized, technical
essays produced by many so-called

28

“Marxists” and leftists on this campus—whose organizing begins and
ends at book clubs—and I wonder
how their activism has become so divorced from experience, so divorced
from the materialism they claim to
champion. This is why I chose to
write primarily of experience and
praxis rather than theory in this
piece. Because I am tired of dredging theories out of my own goddamn
body. I am tired of turning trauma
into discourse. I don’t want liberation
in the name of principle or aesthetic;
I want it because I am tired, tired of
being unfree. This is why I protest;
this is why I resist; this is why I have
no pride in Pride. My question for
you is: are you tired enough to join
me?

29

FROM LA FRONTERA
TO AN IVORY TOWER

what I wanted out of this education.

Esperanza Chairez ‘19

I was pouring myself a cup of coffee
one morning when a Val employee
mopping the floor accidently bumped
into me. As I turned to look at her
face, I realized the employee was my
mother.
I still remember having this dream
on my first week at Amherst College.
I still remember the uneasy, lingering
feeling it left me with after waking
up. In the commotion of convocation,
I tried to dismiss the dream as mere
homesickness. Freudian self-analysis
would have to wait, because I was
still struggling to remember the
name of everyone on my floor and
searching for a work-study job.
Today I hardly remember the names
of the people who lived with me on
James fourth floor, but I do remember one central orientation message
that was relentlessly repeated to me
during my first weeks here: being
admitted to this college meant that
I was special. Wherever I went, this
well-meaning, but noxious, message
followed me. In response, I tried very
hard, in a frenzy almost, to prove that
I, la hija de mi madre, deserved to be
at this self-proclaimed, elite institution. I engulfed myself with academics, got straight A’s, and overloaded
myself with resume enhancing extracurricular activities. My tunnel vision
helped me individually “succeed,”
but limited me from truly growing as
a person. I was so caught up proving that I deserved to be here that
I didn’t take the time to figure out

30

Returning back home for winter
break to la frontera2 helped me to
think about my place in an institution like Amherst. Badass, queer,
Chicana cultural theorist, Gloria
Anzaldúa has described the U.SMexican border as “una herida
abierta”3 where the Third World
grates against the first and bleeds.”4
There have been times when Amherst College has felt like Anzaldúas
la frontera, because becoming aware
of the acute class differences here at
Amherst can feel painfully grating.
Like the time one of my floor-mates
recounted his family summer yacht
trips in the south of France expecting
me to relate. Or like that other time
when the son of a CEO expressed his
belief that Latino poverty was due
to cultural laziness. These confrontations with higher classes (In the
words of Migos, the boujee, or in
the words of Marx, the bourgeoisie)
should not make you feel self-pity or
shame, but rather serve as enlightening moments.
There have also been times when I
have found myself on the higher rung
of the class ladder. I have found that
while these interactions are the most
uncomfortable for me, they deserve
the most of my attention. Like the
time I spilled my drink in Val, and
a worker kindly refused to let me
1. The Border
2. An Open Wound
3. Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera.
Aunt Lute Books, 1999.

clean up the mess I had made. Like
when I learned that in the eyes of
my peers my library job is considered a coveted, white-collar campus
job in comparison to working in the
dining hall. Like the time my mom
expressed her fear that my education
would hurt our relationship. All of
these encounters with class forced
me to re-engage with the dream I
had at the beginning of my college
career. It forced me to critically
rethink what it meant to be accepted
to such an institution. It forced me
to remind myself of the labor that
brought me here. I am partly here
because I was a highly motivated
high school student who wrote a
good application essay, but I am
mostly here because of the hard work
of my ancestors, and generations of
activists, who fought for me to have
this opportunity.

makes this education possible in the
first place.
When hundreds of students and staff
marched on the steps of Converse
Hall last fall to declare this campus
a sanctuary (summarized briefly as
noncompliance with federal immigration enforcement) for students
and employees we demonstrated
two very important truths about the
future of our campus’ values: First,
we demonstrated that our campus
(at least the vast majority of it) does
not accept anti-immigrant rhetoric
or policy actions. Second, student
activists demonstrated that in order
to fully protect our community, it is
necessary to not only organize for
our peers, but also for the full-time
workers who make Amherst College such a beautiful environment to
learn in. We demonstrated a growing interest in destroying the invisible class borders that exist on our
campus.

This realization of privilege in turn
forced me to realize that Amherst
College crucially relies on immigrant, working-class labor to function. From the campesinos who pick
the strawberries that Val serves on
Sunday, to the staff that serves our
meals, to the groundskeepers that
make sure the grass on the first-year
quad is freshly cut, to the custodians
who clean our toilets. Professors are
certainly an irreplaceable part of
our education here, but the physical
labor that keeps this college running, that is directly responsible for
my acceptance here, should also be
respected. Instead it goes virtually
ignored. The college makes a concerted effort to convince students,
especially in their first weeks after
arriving, that they are “special” and
distinct from the working class that

As we continue to organize for a
campus that acknowledges worker
and immigrant rights, it is important
that we continuously discuss our inherently privileged role as students.
Supporting the creation of worker
unions is one way we can begin to
challenge the class divide between
workers and students that this institution teaches us is natural. Talking
openly, and unabashedly about our
class differences, while attempting to
understand the history behind these
differences is another important way
students can begin to break down the
borders that divide us.
But why stop with the invisible
borders that exist on our campus?

31

Why not go all the way to declare
that we want a world without physical borders? After all, these four
years should be a time to ask seemingly crazy questions. An Amherst
College education should not just be
available to the so called “special”,
it should be available to every human being. I dream that the U.S.Mexico border will one day become
a memory from a barbaric past. The
ever-increasing relationship between
the refugee crisis, and climate change
is forcing us to think about immigration and borders in a completely
new way. Not only does the border
maintain a permanently oppressed
working class, but it also worsens the
humanitarian crisis that developed
countries, like the U.S., are largely
responsible for. Unfortunately, the
current president’s desire to fortify
the already existing southern border
wall completely ignores the interconnected nature of climate change and
migration, treating what I call home
as an abstract campaign promise. As
you hear talk about inhumane solar
walls in the coming months I urge
you to ask yourself: Why is there a
border in the first place? Who benefits from the increased militarization
of the border? Why is that when we
talk about borders we talk about the
U.S.-Mexico border and not the U.S.Canada border? Putting solar panels
on an herida abierta will not allow it
to heal. Only a fight for a world without borders will.
Spending some time away from
home, and returning with a different
perspective has helped me realize
that I have been arbitrarily granted
a key to a door—a key to a door that
has always been shut in the face of

my mother and immigrant, workingclass women like her.
My natural reaction to this discovery
was to want to throw away that key,
but it’s too late for that now. Instead,
I’ve become committed to using my
education at Amherst College to unlock the door for as many other people as possible. I hope that you will
join me in this endeavor. So here’s
my message to you, and don’t let it
hurt your orientation swollen ego too
much: You are not that special, if you
were you’d be at an Ivy League (Jk
lol, neither are Harvard students).
You are the product of a history that
precedes your conception. Whether
your inheritance has gently graced
you with your place on this rung of
the ladder, or your ancestors worked
like hell to shove you up here doesn’t
matter. What matters is how we will
work together to create un mundo sin
fronteras so that the wounds inflicted
by this global class system can finally
begin to heal. This education, this
fight, is for my mom and for all the
working-class people who are waiting for more students like us to stand
with them in solidarity. Who will
your education benefit, who will you
fight for? Will you climb the ladder to
the top of this ivory tower, or will you
help me topple the tower and create
a horizontal bridge we can all cross
over into a better tomorrow?
Recommended Readings

ANZALDUA, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera:
The New Mestiza. Aunt Lute Books, 2007.
CHACON, Jusin Akers, and Mike Davis. No One
Is Illegal Fighting Racism and State Violence on
the U.S.-Mexico Border. Haymarket Books, 2017.
PEREA, Juan F. Immigrants Out!: The New
Nativism and the Anti-Immigrant Impulse in the
United States. New York University Press, 1997.

32

ON INTERSECTIONALITY

ties and to sharing our oppressions
with one another. Sharing without
fear or judgment, is how we resist
Trump. Often, however, conversations surrounding unique, subjective experiences of oppression are
criticized for atomizing struggle. In
order to combat such atomization
and to cultivate solidarity, I believe
two adjustments in how we relate to
each other’s experiences are essential: these constructive conversations
must happen through deliberate,
active listening and mutual validation. And these experiences should
not be received as potentially divisive
in the dangerous game of “my struggle is more important than yours,”
but received humbly and gratefully
with the acknowledgement that all
our oppressions are linked. Author
and activist Naomi Klein writes “...
instead of ranking issues, we [need to
start] from the premise that we live
in a time of multiple, intersecting crises, and since all of them are urgent,
we cannot afford to fix them sequentially. What we need are integrated
solutions.”

Crystal Ganatra ‘19
I remember crying. Straight bawling
my eyes out. My friend Esperanza
and I were sitting at a piano in one
of Arms music practice rooms on
campus. Introduction to Music 111
had just ended and we had gone into
a practice room with the intention
of practicing identifying major and
minor intervals. That never really
happened though, because it was
November 9th, 2016. The day after
the U.S. presidential election and the
reveal of our soon-to-be inaugurated
president, Donald Trump. Instead of
music, we shared our most intimate
fears of what would happen to us
(women of color and daughters of
immigrants to this country) and to
our loved ones, many of them not yet
citizens of this country.
In the face of Trump’s inhumane,
barbaric, and insatiable desire to
dominate, Esperanza and I looked to
one another. That morning’s emotional moment not only served as
mutual support, but also fueled our
drive to political action, to fight for
one another. Through time, we both
came to realize that fighting for each
other and for our loved ones is at the
heart of organizing resistance.

The first step in creating such a
productive conversation and solutions for positive change starts with
acknowledging the ideas of identity
politics and intersectionality. But
what do “intersectionality” and
“identity politics” mean?
Intersectionality, a term pioneered

This is where the force and strength
of resistance comes from- solidarity organized around oppression. In
solidarity, we can oppose white supremacist nazis1 inspired by Trump,
emerging like sewer rats from their
filthy holes. The way to do this is to
build a campus organization dedicated to defending our communi-

1. Timothy P. Carney is of the opinion that, with
no connections to any other groups or communities, white supremacists have made only two
traits- race and nationality- the only labels that
make up their identities. See his article Identity
Politics isn’t the Problem. It Could Be the Solution.

33

through the 1960s and 1970s, has its
roots in black feminism. The word
was coined by black feminist scholar
Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989 as a
way to illuminate the applicability
of black feminism to anti-discrimination law. In her 1989 essay, she
looks to Sojourner Truth’s speech
“Ain’t I A Woman” among other
astute scholars while also critiquing
three court cases which failed to
remedy injustice through its conclusive court decisions. She asserts that
these cases reflect “an uncritical and
disturbing acceptance of dominant
ways of thinking of discrimination”a dogma which inherently further
privileges both whiteness and maleness. Crenshaw bitingly states that
this white-male-norm “[masquerades] as non-racial, non-gendered
objectivity.” This dominant mindset
forces black women to either fight
against sexual discrimination or
racial discrimination, but does not
allow them to fight for both. Because
the dominant paradigm is so limiting
it refuses to acknowledge the unique
“compoundedness” of black women’s
struggle and thus power. If able to
break away from this toxic paradigm,
black women have more power, than
either black men or white women,
to fight against sexism and racism.2
Compounded problems are what
comprise intersectionality.

Identity politics expands on intersectionality. The phrase conveys
not only the theory surrounding the
simultaneity of oppression, but also
the political action (such as sit-ins or
rallies) people take for specific sections of these marginalized groups.
So when participating in conversations surrounding intersectionality
and identity politics, don’t be unreceptive to others’ experiences or
dominate the conversation. These
concepts emphasize that experiences
must be communicated to you. There
is no one single, all-encompassing
human experience. When hearing
one another’s stories we must always
start from a place of active listening,
in essence validating the words spoken. Yes, no one can ever fully and
truly understand what each person
goes through in their daily lives. Yes,
each struggle is specific and personal
that in many ways are inaccessible to
us. However, we should not surround
our shared experiences with titanium walls. We must acknowledge
our inability to grasp the singularity
of another’s experience, but not get
stuck there. We must move forward
through our shared, but not identical
oppressions. Klein connects intersectionality and identity politics to
today. She states, “...if we cannot
become just a little bit curious about
how all these elements- race, gender,
class, economics, history, culturehave intersected with one another to
produce the current crisis, we will, at
best, be stuck where we were before
Trump won. And that was not a safe

Imagine how life can grow further
complicated, and even more unsafe,
as additional identifiers of class,
sexuality, and immigration status are
incorporated.
2. Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and
Sex: A Black Feminist Critique by Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist
Politics by Kimberle Crenshaw.

place.”3 We can reflect on and
protect experiences while still com-

34

ing together as a unified community
of resistance regardless of which
personal trials brought us together
to the battlefield. That recognition
eliminates atomized gaps and builds
solidarity.

izing them, all women were attacked
in some shape or form- from black
and brown women to LGBTQ+ women of across differing social classes
and abilities. After the election, in
the safety of their cars, there were
reports of racists shouting slurs at
students. These racists were emboldened and found confidence not only
in Trump’s example, but also had less
of a need to hide because this country
has continually tolerated the racist
exploitation of marginalized people:
from black slaves to Hispanic laborers to indigenous peoples.

On a national level, already many
months deep into the Trump
presidency, the marginalized group
struggle has accelerated. The United
States has instituted a travel ban,
has tried to cut health care, funding
for the arts and libraries, and amped
up ICE raids and deportations. Each
person in this country, U.S. born
citizen or not, has in some way been
affected by Trump’s grossly selfabsorbed, self-branding, wild, and
despicable words and actions. Even
before Trump’s election and inauguration, each identity group experienced unique, specific struggles at
the hand of both direct and indirect
oppression. The quantity and quality
of life for humans has taken a turn
from already bad to a whole new
level of baldfaced, cruel, corporate
exploitation of people and our planet
in the shameful search for profit.

Such struggles are disheartening, but
I can also think of times where Amherst came together to actively listen
to and stand up for one another. In
response to the email-chain, students canvassed the entire campus
with “ “Meat slabs” fight back” flyers,
condemning email participators.
Trump’s racist words and actions
were confronted collectively in a solidarity march and rally to Converse
not long after his election. However,
there are two instances of direct action in mass mobilization that stand
out in my mind: Amherst Uprising in
the Fall of 2015 and the walkout for
undocumented and DACA students
on Converse steps this past spring. I
remember the energy, the chants and
songs sung, voices demanding to be
respected and heard, the unselfconscious vulnerability combined with
bravery, the almost tangible feeling
of solidarity. And I remember the
recognition of power students held.

On our own campus, it is also not
difficult to find examples of interconnected, marginalized group struggle.
This past year, a misogynistic, men’s
cross country team email chain was
leaked. An Indicator article noted:
“One of the jokes hinges on confusing
two women of color personally...”4
Messages found in the email chain
also addressed women as “meat
slabs.” By objectifying and dehuman-

The wave of oppression and damage, both locally and nationally, has
seemingly no end. Unless something
changes. Unless we are able to or-

3. No is Not Enough by Naomi Klein
4. Men’s Cross Country Maintained Misogynistic,
Racist Email Chain by Daniel Ahn, Helen Mayer,
and Sam Wohlforth

35

ganize a broad based community of
resistance made up of allied identity
groups ready to liberate themselves.
All people on campus, regardless of
their identities, should work together
to carry out more direct actions that
will strengthen all of our collective
power.
On that gloomy November morning,
Esperanza and I actively listened to
one another and recognized that our
pain and worries were connected. In
that music room, we didn’t rank our
intersectional struggles. We found
solidarity and used it to fuel our
activism. Fellow Amherst College
students, as we relate to one another’s experiences, we must actively
listen to one another and understand
that points of our oppressions are
linked. We must recognize that differing identity groups are coalitions
of opposition waiting to happen.5 It is
essential that, together, we direct this
awareness into a radically resistant
organization with the power to build
a brighter future.

Recommended Readings
KLEIN, Naomi. No Is Not Enough:
Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and
Winning the World We Need. Haymarket Books, 2017.
SMITH, Sharon. Women and Socialism: Class, Race, and Capital. Haymarket Books, 2015.
CRENSHAW, Kimberle. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex:
A Black Feminist Critique of Anti-Discrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory
and Anti-Racist Politics.”Chicago
Unbound, The University of Chicago,
1989.

5. A Marxist Case for Intersectionality by Sharon
Smith

36

TRAGEDY & FARCE

a platform of scaremongering about
a so-called missile gap between the
nuclear arsenals of the US and USSR.
It was he, not Trump, who brought
the world to the brink of nuclear war
during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Marc Daalder ‘18
Karl Marx once wrote, and I paraphrase here, that “history repeats
itself: first as tragedy, then as farce.”
Fear of this repetition has inspired
misguided attempts from people
across the political spectrum to resist
the erasing of conventional history –
while also ignoring the actual erasure
of marginalized histories and refusing to engage in genuine discussions
about America’s past.

This is not to say Kennedy did no
good (nor to defend Trump), but
rather that history is something that
must be viewed in context – and
this context is often missing from
liberal glorification of the American
past. More recent examples of such
historical illiteracy abound.

Liberals argue that the history of the
supposedly exceptional United States
will prove Donald Trump the exception, not the rule, and that those of
us who turn towards cynicism and
realism regarding our country’s history risk forgetting it. Conservatives,
meanwhile, assert that removing
statues glorifying Confederate heroes
is tantamount to erasing the Confederacy from the record forever.

Liberal journalists, commentators,
and even historians are increasingly relying on a long-distorted set
of facts to score rhetorical points
against the Trump administration.

Jelani Cobb, also of the New Yorker,
referenced the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in the introduction
to an article on Republican plans to
amend the Constitution. In celebratory fashion, he recounts that, “the
delegates set about creating a fourand-a-half-thousand-word lattice of
compromises and counterbalances
that has, with the notable exception of the years 1861 through 1865,
cemented the union of the United
States. The Constitutional Convention has become a sacrosanct chapter
in American history.” This ignores
the true history of the document.

For example, John Cassidy of the
New Yorker quoted JFK in saying
“I am a Berliner” in order to mock
Trump’s isolationism. He conveniently ignored, however, that Kennedy
had already tripled troop levels in Vietnam twice in the prelude to America’s disastrous intervention there.
Kennedy is an oft-glorified figure
who, we often prefer to forget, ran on

Of course, as historian William
Hogeland writes, “the Constitution
was openly intended by its leading
framers to obstruct democracy.”
Women, black people, and poor people could not vote. The Senate was
(and still is) an unrepresentative and
thus undemocratic body. Yet, this
is all ignored by liberals when they
call back to American history – the

Both are wrong.

37

crimes of the United States at home
and abroad are omitted in order to
present Trump as some monstrous
deviation from a history of benign
and even benevolent US Presidents.

Another common argument against
removing statues, advanced by liberals and conservatives alike, is notion
that to remove statues is to erase
uncomfortable histories.

This glorification of the American
past is not confined to liberals, however. It is perhaps even more apparent in the case of conservatives and
Confederate statues. The most recent
salvo over Confederate iconography
began in earnest in the aftermath of
Dylann Roof’s murder of nine black
churchgoers in Charleston, SC. Then,
it was the Confederate flag that was
questioned and attacked. More recently, this has expanded to criticism
of statues of Confederate “heroes”
like Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and calls for the statues
to be removed.

In fact, the truth is the opposite. By
celebrating the leaders and even
common soldiers of the Confederacy,
the South is refusing to grapple with
its own appalling legacies. If we remove these statues and replace them
with memorials to the millions of
black people who suffered and died
under slavery, then we can begin
to truly struggle with our historical
burdens.
One last argument, along a similar vein, raised by right-wingers, is
where we draw the line. President
Trump argued in a press conference
in August that, were we to follow the
logic of anti-Confederate protesters to its natural conclusion, statues
celebrating the slave-owning George
Washington and Thomas Jefferson,
among others, would also need to be
removed.

In August, right-wing protests
against the removal of a statue of
Lee in Charlottesville resulted in
the murder of Heather Heyer and
the injuring of a dozen other antifascist counter protesters by a white
supremacist. Other than outright
racism, the most common conservative argument against the removal of
these statues is that they represent
“Southern heritage.”

This is certainly a conversation worth
having. As I noted before, American
history is all too frequently whitewashed. Too few know the depths
of racism that our founding fathers
stooped to. Instead we have built
up a cult to them. We celebrate
old wives’ tales about how George
Washington never told a lie instead
of focusing on how many slaves he
owned and the fact that he crushed
the pro-democracy Whiskey Rebellion with overwhelming force–inaugurating the long American tradition
of state violence against protestors.

Of course, numerous Southerners
have debunked this notion. “What is
there to be proud of in the enslavement of other human beings?” they
ask. Furthermore, posing Confederate iconography as Southern heritage
erases the identity of Southern black
people, who have their own rich
traditions throughout the American
heartland.

38

Should we remove all statues of slave
owners? Should we take down Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and
co.? Undoubtedly, as views continue
to change, the answer to this will be
a resounding yes. For now, it may
be too early, but the conversation
is worth having, if only to try and
center other histories – histories that
have been truly erased.

nealogies) and mōteatea (songs and
chants). Increasingly, both historians
and courts are beginning to see these
as valid historical sources, abandoning Western conceptions that the
written word is the only sure form of
evidence.
Here in America, we too must turn
away from Western-centric conceptions of history and historiography.
Amherst College itself ignored and
erased its awful legacy for almost
two centuries, until student protests
finally forced it to face the truth of
Lord Jeffrey Amherst’s crimes. But
our work does not end there. Whether you intend to study and write
history full-time or merely engage in
politics and activism, understanding
the ways in which our present academic culture and historical tradition
erases the marginalized, whitewashes
the uncomfortable, and celebrates
slavers and murderers is critical to
ensuring true progress.

I am not arguing that history has
no place in modern politics. There
are certainly valid comparisons to
be drawn between what is occurring today in the United States and
the rise of fascism in Europe in the
early twentieth century. Indeed, the
history of American Nazism and the
KKK provides useful insights into
the neo-Nazi and white supremacist
movements of today, though few
liberals are keen to admit that we
have had and continue to have our
own Nazi problem on this side of the
Atlantic.
Whitewashing the past, however –
ignoring American crimes and the
less-than-admirable legacy of our
country – is not the way to go about
resisting. Conservatives and liberals
are both correct that history can and
has been erased. The history in question is not that of the Confederacy or
the American Presidency, but that of
the working class, of black people, of
indigenous Americans, and of marginalized peoples across the globe.
The very structure of the history
profession is engineered in a way that
silences many cultures.

Marx claimed that history repeats
itself, and we see that happening
today. The only way to ensure the
darkest moments of history are not
repeated is to face up to their existence and engage with them unreservedly, without exception.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, for example, indigenous Māori convey their
history through whakapapa (oral ge-

39

REFUSING TO ‘ADJUST TO
INJUSTICE’: THE INTELLECTUAL
POWER AND POLITICAL
IMPORTANCE OF THE NEW
STUDENT ACTIVISM
Hannah Holleman
Assistant Professor of Sociology1
Students have long played a critical
role in social change through social
movements and political protest.
Student activists have contributed to
changing everything from reshaping
entire courses of study on campuses
to bringing down oppressive governments and building new democratic
institutions. And student activism
is once again on the rise. A quick
internet search for student political
activism in the past year will bring up
global newspaper headlines—from
South Africa to Chile, from Japan to
Canada, and in the U.S. from Standing Rock to Ferguson and LA—describing the incredible role of student
activists in this moment in history.2
This means if you are just arriving on
campus, you are joining a community
1. I am a sociologist concerned with understanding and addressing the social drivers of oppression and injustice, inequality, ecological crises,
and other related menaces to life on the planet,
freedom, democracy, love, and happiness. I am
also concerned with the history and sociology of
social movements—the primary means by which
people attempt, and often succeed, in changing
the broader historical circumstances and ecology
of our lives.
2. See how elementary through high school and
college students are asserting all of our rights
to a healthy environment in this historical legal
case: https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/us/
federal-lawsuit/

of people (students around the world)
who believe they can change the
world and are actually doing so. This
has enormous implications for what
you can accomplish together socially,
intellectually, and academically.
You, as a generation, are refusing to
‘adjust to injustice,’ which is itself an
enormous development and a result
of the hard work of activists who kept
democratic hopes alive in the face
of the past four decades wherein a
calculated cynicism was promoted
in mainstream politics.3 It means
the future is hopeful because you are
choosing to engage in difficult struggles and do the hard work of educating yourselves and others, developing
intellectual and organizational tools,
building community, and taking care
of one another.
Historical and Sociological
Facts: Each of us alive today are
beneficiaries of radical progressive
movements, whether we realize it
or not (note: radical simply means
3. Listen to Dr. MLK, Jr. deliver a brilliant
social analysis of his time period in, Beyond
Vietnam—a Time to Break the Silence: http://
www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkatimetobreaksilence.htm

40

getting at the roots of things—see
the original Latin). To the extent we
enjoy clean air or water, instances of
reprieve from the systemic colonial,
racial, xenophobic, and gender violence of modern society, any justice
with respect to the law and politics,
basic social protections, and aspects
of education that help us liberate ourselves from, rather than reinforce, the
forces of oppression and injustice—
we are indebted to social movements.
To activists. To water and earth
protectors. To freedom fighters who
could imagine a world better than the
one into which they were born and
had the confidence and commitment
to attempt bringing it about.
However, we often take for granted
as reasonable and just aspects of our
lives that actually required an organized fight waged by ordinary people
against those bent on preserving the
social status quo against reason and
justice. In fact, our very notions of
what is reasonable and just, our notions of democracy and equality, are
shaped by the legacy of social movements.
We also often do not realize that
many hardships we face, indeed
much of the precarity of life around
us, and social instability, are the
outcome of organized efforts to attack
progressive gains, undermine democracy, and change society in ways that
negatively impact our everyday lives
and undermine the ecological basis of
our existence. As famous billionaire
investor Warren Buffett said, “There’s
class warfare, all right…but it’s my
class, the rich class, that’s making
war, and we’re winning.”4

As a sociologist, I must say that it is
not shocking that in the U.S. we now
have a CEO as President and one of
the most corporate cabinets in history.5 Or that this cabinet is rolling
back environmental and social gains
without any pretense of concern for
democracy or social justice. Or that,
as a result of recent developments, a
nobel-prize winning economist wrote
in August 2017, on the eve of our new
academic year, of “Fascism, American
Style,” in a major U.S. newspaper.6
However, as a sociologist, it is also no
surprise that the American Freshman
Survey reported last year that in the
face of these threats, U.S. campuses
are witnessing “the highest level of
civic engagement in the study’s 50year history.”7 More of you expect to
participate in political activism and
believe you can change the world
than ever before. And, history shows,
you can.
Whether you plan to pursue microbiology, astrophysics, sociology, medicine, film-making, or ballet, realize
that every field has its history of brilliant activists that realized the work
we do happens in a social context.
This is a crucial insight, for example,
of many scientists, including Albert
Einstein.8 What good is it to be an
4. www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/business/
yourmoney/26every.html
5. www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/19/
trumps-cabinet-will-be-one-of-most-businessheavy-in-u-s-history/
6. www.nytimes.com/2017/08/28/opinion/
fascism-arpaio-pardon-trump.html
7. www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/11/
survey-finds-nearly-1-10-freshmen-plan-participating-campus-protests
8. www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2007/04/albert-einstein-civil-rights-activist/;
https://monthlyreview.org/2009/05/01/whysocialism/

41

innovative, ethical chemist if the
only jobs available are in the chemical weapons industry? What good
is it to pursue a life in dance if cuts
to arts funding mean there are no
more studios or theaters? What good
is learning about politics if money
determines so much of the outcome
and the story never changes? What
good is medicine or education if no
one can afford them?
My advice: Don’t wait. You are
among others who share your concerns and will learn with you, do
homework with you, share a meal
with you, celebrate and commiserate with you, protest with you, join
an organization with you. Just ask
them to come along. Take them and
yourself seriously. Take this moment in history seriously. Make your
education, intellectual development,
and time count. No matter your field,
learn about the society in which you
live and the history-making in which
you are taking part. Don’t get distracted by detractors, people choosing other paths, or people who don’t
treat you with dignity. Study. A lot.
Be responsible, thoughtful, kind, and
courageous. Sleep. Eat well. Exercise.
Dance and sing to soothe your soul.
Help each other. Talk to your professors, older activists, people working
in the community. Get organized.
You won’t regret it. You have a world
to win.

42

HOW, WHERE, AND WHY
TO JOIN STRUGGLES

Rojas Oliva ‘19
“Illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins.
Their fathers, after all, are inessential.” Donna Harraway, The Cyborg
Manifesto.

droughts, famines, and the wholesale
destruction of our biosphere in the
endless search for profit. Luckily,
you’ve been accepted to Amherst College where you’ll be taught to know
better!

We are the children of dangerous
ideas. We were taught to be citizens
by a state where democracy means
choosing between two capitalist parties while facing voter suppression,
and a billion-dollar lobbying industry.1 Freedom was given a name by a
country where 2.3 million humans,2
disproportionately those of color, are
incarcerated. Our communities were
constructed while Obama deported
2.5 million undocumented migrants3
displaced by predatory free trade
agreements, climate change, and violence. We thought we learned what it
meant to love each other while 4,0184
nuclear weapons and annually almost $600 billion dollars5 in military
spending threatened the world in the
name of “peace through strength.”6
We were taught responsibility and
rationality in an economic system
singularly responsible for absurd
global inequality,7 horrifying labor
exploitation, stupendous waste, mass
extinctions, acidifying rising oceans,

Your pricey Amherst College education will provide you with the verbal
firepower to speak on these issues
with dizzying clarity. Yet while your
“wokeness” goes unquestioned,
the actual experience of constructing change in the communities
you belong to is not something the
institution of Amherst College has
any interest in providing you. It’s
just another place where values are
named, and left floating. The president, a board of trustees and countless administrative bodies will ensure
that your time at Amherst is a time to
learn, not practice democracy, which
is the only type of learning that might
save us.

1. https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/
2. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/
pie2017.html
3. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/obamas-deportation-policy-numbers/story?id=41715661
4. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/thepress-office/2017/01/12/remarks-vice-presidentnuclear-security-0
5. https://www.nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/military-spending-united-states/

We cannot hope to save our dying
planet, cannot make our inherited
powerlessness in the face of destruction “inessential,” until we can imagine an alternative. Yet, alternatives
cannot emerge if we continue to exist
within institutions that we simply
have no control over, a condition that
sadly characterizes much of modern
6. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/28/donald-trump-militaryspending-war
7. Thomas Piketty’s “Capital”, summarised in
four paragraphs: https://www.economist.com/
blogs/economist-explains/2014/05/economistexplains

43

life. As our most famous alumni put
it “the world of men and money and
power hums along quite nicely on the
fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship
of self. Our own present culture has
harnessed these forces in ways that
have yielded extraordinary wealth
and comfort and personal freedom.
The freedom to be lords of our own
tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at
the center of all creation.”8 What
David Foster Wallace describes is the
atomizing psychology created by the
reigning ideology and power structure that defines our daily survival:
capitalism. With its singular focus on
profits over environmental, humanitarian, ethical, and rational concerns,
it is the greatest threat to humanity.
Moreover, seemingly our only hope
for change lies in a political system
so corrupt, and undemocratic, that
barely half of all registered voters
were able to or bothered showing up
in 2016. Apathy, resignation, and
hopelessness seem inevitable. And
yet finding an inspiring and sustainable alternative to the world given
to us by capitalism seems to be a
precondition for human survival.
So how might we teach ourselves to
construct communities of mutual aid,
sustainability, and freedom if none of
us know what it is to live in an actual
democracy?

participating in debate with the goal
of formulating demands that could
create a better school for everyone.
Students dared to believe they could
democratically decide how their
institutions should function. The
promise that Amherst Uprising held
out is the only viable response to the
atomization of the present: the possibility of freedom through communal decision making. It was suddenly
possible to control the structures
that control our daily lives. Before
Amherst Uprising, this was a version
of democracy and freedom I thought
impossible.
Over time this feeling has matured
into the realization that the only
solution to the crisis of human
survival lies in lived politics of the
revolutionary left. From Rosa Luxemburg and Murray Bookchin to the
Zapatistas and the Rojava Cantons,
these are the politics of community:
radical democracy, decentralized
power, holistically ecological living
and profound egalitarianism. The
fundamental and practical conclusion of the revolutionary left is that
emancipation can only be granted by
mass struggle. Freedom is claimed,
not given, through the union of all
oppressed peoples into democratic
self-governance. To begin this project, we must begin creating cultures
and organizations where those affected by decisions are making them.
As Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams
argue, “unless people are engaged in
the struggle--unless they themselves
have gone through the process of creating change through collective and
individual acts of solidarity, reciprocity, and cooperation--they will not
internalize democratic, egalitarian,

During Amherst Uprising I sat wide
eyed and brimming with emotion as
a sit-in turned into a spontaneous
and radical movement. Suddenly, a
library was reimagined as a public
space for exchanging stories and
8. Wallace, David Foster. “This Is Water.” www.
metastatic.org/text/This%20is%20Water.pdf.

44

and ecological values or be convinced
of their necessity.”9

network to protect our communities
from ICE raids and to create sanctuary in the streets. Their general assemblies take place at 6 pm on 9/11,
10/2, 11/6 & 12/4 at 20 Hampton Ave
#200, Northampton.

So now some hope! You are incredibly lucky that there are organizations committed to these politics in
the Pioneer Valley. The International
Socialist Organization (ISO) has a
chapter in Western Mass that meets
in the UMass student center from
7-9pm every Wednesday. To be clear,
there’s an organization in your area
which, in it’s own words, consists
“of revolutionary socialists dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism
internationally and the construction
of a world socialist system.”10 Their
meetings consist of educational
discussions, reading groups, organizing for mass multiracial working
class strikes, protests and rallies, and
in general fulfilling Trotsky’s wish
that “future generations cleanse [the
earth] of all evil, oppression, and violence and enjoy it to the full.”11 This
is not the platform of the Amherst
College Democrats.

Lastly, in our campus there are
struggles both ongoing and in need
of revival for divestment, sanctuary
status, and greater control over our
education. It is here, in the movements we decide to create together,
that our true education will begin.
We are tasked with connecting
movements to offer an alternative
worldview strong enough to wield the
collective power of all oppressed peoples. In this hope we have worked to
organize a series of events to connect
students to the struggles in our communities with representatives from
these groups. On September 21st at
6:30 pm in the Friedman room the
ISO will have a kickoff event making
the case for a revolutionary socialist
party and on October 15th the PVWC
will be holding a training on campus
to involve bilingual students in their
rapid response hotline. If you’re
interested in participating email me
at roliva19@amherst.edu for more
information. My hope in writing this
is that you’ll get involved in these
projects and as you do discover that
“direct action makes people aware of
themselves as individuals who can
affect their own destiny.”13

In Northampton, there’s the Pioneer
Valley Worker Center (PVWC) which
organizes around building collective low wage and immigrant worker
power to combat exploitive labor
conditions. Their long term agenda
is to build “institutions that directly
represent the interests of working
people and create an economy that is
rooted in democracy and ecological
sustainability.”12 The PVWC is currently organizing a rapid response

The response of the revolutionary
left to the individualistic loneliness
described by Wallace is the chance to
build a future that allows humans to
cultivate the pleasures of community:

9. Magdoff, Fred, and Chris Williams. Creating
an Ecological Society: toward a Revolutionary
Transformation. Monthly Review Press, 2017.
10. http://www.internationalsocialist.org/pdfs/
WhereWeStandPamphlet.pdf
11. http://www.marxist.com/testament-of-leontrotsky.htm

12. https://pvworkerscenter.org/about/

45

a future of care and love for your
fellow humans, of living in harmony
and holistic understanding with your
environment, and of true empowerment and autonomy. We are on this
planet briefly and the horrors that we
inflict on each other and our ecosystem make every moment alive a blistering call to action. We must struggle for a revolutionary restructuring
of power, an opening up of possibilities beyond the limited worldview of
profit extraction. These groups are
just one possibility of a future--one,
however, that I’ve fallen in love with.
I ask you only to search for alternatives, question everything, and live in
deliberate and daily struggle for the
world you believe possible. We must
teach ourselves to be illegitimate
offspring. We must live unfaithful to
power. We must do more than define
our world, we must create it.

13. Bookchin, Murray. “Ecology & Revolutionary
Thought.” Post-Scarcity Anarchism, AK Press,
1971.

46

RECOMMENDED
READINGS
RACE, GENDER, CLASS, AND SEXUALITY:
DAVIS, Angela. Women, Race, & Class. New York: Random House, 1981.
CRENSHAW, Kimberlé. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity
Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review, July 1
1991.
BARRETT, Michèle. Women’s Oppression Today: The Marxist/Feminist
Encounter.
ROWBOTHAM, Sheila. Women, Resistance and Revolution.
FRASER, Nancy. Fortunes of Feminism.
KINSMAN, Gary. “Trans Politics and Anti-Capitalism: An Interview with
Dan Irving.” Upping the Anti, 2007, uppingtheanti.org/journal/article/04trans-politics-and-anti-capitalism/.
ALEXANDER, Michelle. The New Jim Crow. New York: New Press, 2010.
FRASER and Boot. Revolutionary Integration: A Marxist Analysis of African American Liberation, 2004
WEISS and Crisman. Permanent Revolution and Women’s Emancipation
TURNER and Deaderick. Gay Resistance: The Hidden History
EDUCATION:
DERESIEWICZ, William. “The NeoLiberal Arts.” Harper’s, September 2015.
DOUTHAT, Ross. “College, The Great Unequalizer.” New York Times Sunday
Review, May 3, 2014.
GLOBAL, NATIONAL, AND ANTI-COLONIAL STRUGGLE:

FANON, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 2004.
SMITH, John. A critique of David Harvey’s analysis of imperialism. https://
mronline.org/2017/08/26/a-critique-of-david-harveys-analysis-of-imperialism/
CHATURVEDI,Vinayak. Mapping Subaltern Studies and the Postcolonial.
PRASHAD, Vijay. The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global
South.
WEISS, Murry. Women’s Emancipation and the Future of the Fourth International.

47

LEFT-WING THEORY:
LUXEMBOURG, Rosa. Reform or Revolution. New York: Pathfinder Press,
1973.
GRAEBER, David. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Prickly Paradigm Press, 2006.
KEUCHEYAN, Razmig. The Left Hemisphere: Mapping Critical Theory
Today.
ZINN, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.
LENIN, Vladimir. The State and Revolution.
LENIN, Vladimir. Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.
GOLDMAN, Emma. Anarchism: What it Really Stands For.
ACTIVISM, ACTION, AND PLANNING:
ALINSKY, Saul. Rules for Radicals. New York: Vintage, 1989.
DARCY, Steve. “The Rise of the Post-New Left Political Vocabulary.” The
Public Autonomy Project, January 27, 2014.
DAVIS, Angela Y. Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine,
and the Foundations of a Movement. Ed. Frank Barat. Chicago: Haymarket
Books, 2016.
BUTLER, Judith. “Boycott Politics and Global Responsibility.” Lecture, Tufts
University, Sommerville, MA, March 2012.
KLEIN, Naomi. This Changes Everything. New York: Simon & Schuster,2014.
TAMARA Turner, et. Al. A Worker’s Guide to the 20th Century
RECLAIM UC. “Against Civility: Dartmouth and the Logic of Administrative
Discourse.” Reclaim UC Blog, April 28, 2013.
PIECES BY AMHERST STUDENTS, FACULTY, AND STAFF:

SRIDHAR, Meghna. “The Lack of Leftist Discourse.” The Amherst Student,
September 24, 2013.
DUMM, Thomas. “Resignation.” Critical Inquiry 25.1 (1998): 56-76.
For an extended list of recommended readings sorted by topic, please visit:
amherstdisorientation.wordpress.com

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49

“We are people of this generation,
bred in at least modest comfort,
housed now in universities, looking
uncomfortably to the world we inherit...If we appear to seek the unattainable, as it has been said, then
let it be known that we do so to
avoid the unimaginable.”
Students for a Democratic Society
Port Huron Statement
1962

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