Amherst College Disorientation Guide 2015-2016


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Amherst College Disorientation Guide 2015-2016




Amherst, MA

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Amherst College

Editor: Samuel Rosenblum ‘16
Co-Editors: Jane Berrill ‘16, Kyle Ferendo ‘17E, Laura Merchant ‘15
Layout Design: Gloria Koh ‘17E
Cover Design: Jane Berrill ‘16, Sylvia Hickman ‘16, Laura Merchant ‘15
Copy/Content Editors: Dana Bolger ‘14E, Ethan Corey ‘15, Marc Daalder ‘18,
Sharline Dominguez ‘17E, Dane Engelhart ‘16, Nica Siegel ‘14, Frank Tavares ‘18

Check out our website at, where you can find additional pieces, detailed footnotes, and more recommendations!
If you have questions or comments, or would like to submit a piece to our website, please



Introduction 5
What is the Aim of Disorientation?
Jeffrey Feldman
The Politics of the Liberal Arts
Adam Sitze
Writing & Anxiety
Kyle Ferendo
Spectacles of Invisibility: Race & Racism at Amherst College
Andrew Lindsay
A Woman’s Revolution
Sharline Dominguez
Sexual Assault and Title IX
Dana Bolger
The Business of Compliance
Kristin Bumiller
Toward Politicizing the AAS
Siraj Sindhu
Fossil Fuels: Amherst’s Dirty Endowment
Brian Zayatz
How to Cheer for Genocide
Lizzy Austad
Life After Amherst
Alex Diones
What Social Clubs Are Supposed to Fix
Edward Kim
Taking Yourself Seriously
Thomas Dumm
On Self-Critical Activism
Samuel Rosenblum
Professors/Staff We Love




dear reader,
Congratulations! Welcome to Amherst!
You are now getting oriented; figuring out
what classes you want to take, who your
RCs are, how to get involved in clubs, and
discovering all the wonderful opportunities Amherst provides. Although this guide
aims to help you navigate these processes
as well as Amherst as an institution, it
is not, in most cases, a straightforward
“How-To” manual. Instead, the help we
offer consists of suggesting how very disoriented a healthy person naturally feels at
Amherst. By indicating our own attempts
to navigate life at Amherst, we seek to simultaneously convey and begin to address
this sense of disorientation. Ultimately,
we hope to impel you to question and, as
necessary, resist the institution in which
you now find yourself.

We, the authors and activists involved
in creating this guide, are committed
to critique and dissent, to creating and
reimagining. Although we do not speak
unanimously, we all stand by the Disorientation Guide as a document which presents
both an alternative analysis and a shared
vocabulary, a point of departure for future
work. Furthermore, it reminds us of how
we must continue to find small and big
ways to value humanity at Amherst, sometimes neglected and forgotten here. We
also want to thank activists and comrades
from Amherst (some of whom have graduated, taken time off, or withdrawn from the
College) as well as those at other colleges
and universities whose Disorientation
Guides have inspired us.
One final note: Do not consume this guide
for your idle intellectual amusement or
stimulation. The Disorientation Guide is
a call to consciousness, to act to overcome
and reject the forms of injustice and oppression on this campus. Take what you
feel and think – your desires, your vulnerabilities, your anxieties, and your dreams
– and transform what this College is, and
who you are. Work with, never against,
the allies among your peers, the faculty,
and the staff. To those who use this as a
support, to understand how institutional
structures at Amherst have positioned you,
we hope you find solidarity among your
friends and fellow students.

Beginning with your own experiences of
oppression and resistance, discrimination
and activism, we encourage you to connect the constellation of resistances already
present on campus. From the cultural
sharing on the CEOT Trip to the Women
of Amherst Show; from the radical books
in the library of the MRC to courses on
racism, sexism, and capitalism, one can
discern a starry multitude of sites, spaces
and meanings. As you read this guide, we
ask you to rethink what is (im)possible
for Amherst, to reimagine the meanings
this place can(not) hold for us. We ask you
to contribute your story to Amherst and
to prevent the College from dictating the
terms of its telling. We earnestly hope that
you have fun during your time here—in
the sense of approaching fulfillment and
self-actualization, which is what the word
ought to mean—and that this guide, even
if only in a small way, serves as an aid in
that process.

take care, and arise!

what is the aim of

hurt one another or themselves for the
four years they will live, learn, and work
together. Those who don’t skip the mandatory sessions learn about differences in
race, class, and gender, the idea being that
undirected ‘dialogue’ about these concepts will begin to illuminate the systems
of power and privilege in which such
categories of identity are caught up. This
is the most insidious form of political correctness: when the discourse that names
privilege accommodates its exercise. Once
illuminated—then what? We shake hands,
sit together at the same tables in Val, and
talk about the DeMott lecture—the atrocity
of climate change or of mass incarceration,
the eloquence of the speaker, whether or
not we read the required book.

Jeffrey Feldman ‘15
What is the aim of orientation? Coming to
college is a confusing and overwhelming
time: people from disparate backgrounds
come together to embark upon—it’s not
quite clear what: a transformative experience characterized by radically inquisitive
exploration? a classical training in the
humanities in preparation for a future of
sophisticated, high-society soirees? a stint
in a four-year holding pen necessary to
land a six-figure-salaried job? The often
unarticulated desires behind these different conceptions of one’s time at college are
a latent source of tension among students
from even before they arrive. (This is clear
from the sometimes-farcical nature of
Class of 20xx Facebook group posts, variously about partying, one’s favorite Shakespeare sonnet, or where to find weed.)
What for one person might present an
opportunity to begin a self-determined life
vastly different from the lives of her family
members may be, for someone else, an obligation necessary to lead the same kind of
life she’s always been used to; transformative and conservative conceptions live,
uneasily, side by side. And so what tends
to be understood as people’s lives “outside
of ” school can’t but have a critical impact
on the way that they hope to live at school.

And yet, as classes begin, so do questions
from which such an orientation has oriented us away. The student whose financial
aid package stipulates that she pay back the
College must study through Saturday night
so she can work in Val on Sunday mornings; some of her wealthy peers spend
their weekends destroying a bathroom in,
say, MoPratt like they own the institution
rather than owe it. How does she reckon
with this disparity? The crucial benefits
that come with labor organizing and which
one learns about in one’s sociology or history classes are unavailable to employees of
the College. What sort of dialogue will assuage one’s disappointment by this apparent hypocrisy? In facing these questions,
we recognize that orientation consists in
an assimilative process, one that attempts
to foreclose questions by limiting the time
during which it’s acceptable to raise them
and the way such questions are dealt with.
“As long as we know that race, class, and
gender exist as concepts, then we’ve done
enough,” it seems to tell us. Whether being
compelled to encounter these concepts
affects the real, concrete ways power and

Orientation doesn’t make these kinds of
deep rifts its object, however, and in fact, it
attempts to erect a boundary between one’s
experiences outside school and those at
Amherst. It is a manner of processing the
four-hundred new students who will make
Amherst their new home, an attempt at
ensuring people will get along and not


and privilege are exercised in light of them
is, it seems, at best secondary to the aim of
“due diligence” in preparing people to live,
learn, and work alongside one another.
Instead of tools that allow us to recognize
and to begin to think about our experience, these concepts become class markers
in themselves, tokens of knowledge that we
can joke about together, since we’re all now
members of an elite club. Orientation tells
us that “knowing about” the political is
enough—that it is enough for orientation
to recapitulate the issues it is ostensibly
aimed at addressing.

already have it. No, this guide should serve
as a reminder of the power and importance
of collective action and
solidarity. Disorientation means to dismantle an authoritarian politics—rendered
in a real sense anti-political because what
counts as “political” is that which carries
the authority of wealth or power—and to
build in its place a politics truly political
because it is accessible to everyone.
How do we wrest the authority wielded
by the few and transform it into collective
power? Student workers could begin to
organize to make demands of the institution from a position of collective power
and begin to pave the way for non-student
labor organizing. Students can continue
to speak out about the difficulties of being
at Amherst with a disability, especially for
women and students of color. Students can
continue to foster solidarity with national
movements like Black Lives Matter and
fight the battles that affect them at home
and at school.

Disorientation rejects this
of politics:
it aims
mode of politics: it aims to
from setting
from “knowing”
“thinking,” from
and reimagining
to discovering
and reimagining them.

What is the aim of disorientation? There
is none. The disorientation guide was created with the firm belief that students can
orient themselves—and that giving them
some tools, as well as the knowledge that
a community of supporters is present and
active, can only help to empower them to
do so. The concept of orientation, while it
attempts to address the politics of coming
to college, does so only to contain conflict
rather than radically disrupt the conditions
of that conflict. In some ways, disorientation takes seriously the premise of orientation—that such politics exist and are worth
addressing—but it takes this premise
seriously enough to recognize when orientation gets in the way of itself, when it
prevents students from recognizing the political nature of their own experience and
acting to think through that experience.

Race, class, and gender are not static political concepts that we must be “oriented to,”
but rather are political concepts because
they are ways of capturing that which is
within us, ways of recognizing the facts of
our experience and our daily life. Disorientation constitutes wresting the power
of orientation from the institution, from
those who already have authority to speak
and to command, and beginning to orient
This isn’t a naïve conservative call to dismantle institutions that support collectivity
in the name of so-called “individual liberties,” which protect the ignorant and their
unassailable “opinions”— as understood in
contemporary American discourse, these
“liberties” reaffirm the power of those who



of the

There are really three problems you need
to think about here.
Problem #1:
Polite society apparently thinks it’s really
funny to laugh at the liberal arts. You’ll
always get a ritual chuckle if you scoff
self-deprecatingly at the uselessness of
your liberal arts degree. Especially if the
object of your derision is your training in
a humanistic discipline such as English or
Art History. On the secret list of extremely
reliable, hilarious jokes that every cultured
person evidently should know, sneering
at the liberal arts somehow seems to have
risen to the very top; if you’re ever anxious
about whether or not you’re funny, in other
words, laughing at eggheads is a sure bet.1

Adam Sitze, Associate Professor of
Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought
Let’s play good news, bad news.
Good news first: you’ve been admitted to
the most prestigious liberal arts college in
the nation. Congratulations!
But you’ve heard that one before, and by
now this little bit of over-chewed praise
is likely beginning to taste to you like
spit-flavored gum. A platitude wrapped
in a banality. Worse, a pretty little poison
pill: for some, this praise will become a
silent and hidden burden, the raw material for a painful and destructive imposter
syndrome, where you come to feel like
everyone at this place belongs here except
despicable me. Praise in this case decomposes into blame, or more exactly into
self-blame and shame, with a logic that’s
completely wrong but nonetheless surprisingly widespread, collectively generated
and experienced, and also, for the most
part, collectively denied. Delicious but
toxic, the high fructose corn syrup of orientation week, this good news is thus itself
a possible beginning of bad news. Take in
limited doses, therefore.

Problem #2:
Defensive about and baffled by the widespread regularity of these unfunny, constant and weirdly aggressive jokes, some
defend the liberal arts in a most unhelpful
way—with facts and evidence, studies and
statistics. Or, in a word: with true unfunniness. The liberal arts degree does in fact
have value, we insist. The point of a liberal
arts college, we say, is to graduate wellrounded individuals, utility infielders of
life and mind, omnicompetent individuals
of superior virtue and robust health, people who are good at everything—or at least
who are flexible and self-directing enough
to be good at anything, who have learned
through their manifold and variegated
studies to acquire and discard skill-sets
like snakes shed skin, and who therefore
are well prepared for a life of job hopping.
Above all, we liberal artists plead, whatever
else you might say about us, please don’t
say we’re “merely academic.” Sure, we teach
students how to properly wield words like
“problematic.” But we hate elitists just as

Chew on this dilemma instead: even
though we’re all here at a liberal arts college, few actually know what the liberal
arts is, was, was supposed to be, could have
been, should be, will have been, etc. With
the one small exception of our central
institutional mission, in other words, we all
know exactly what we’re all doing here.


Theory #2:

much as the next guy. You accuse us of
frippery? Au contraire, mon frere: we’re
practical and relevant! As Thomas the Tank
Engine once said, begging Sir Topham Hat
not to send him to the scrapyard, we’re a
very useful engine!

The liberal arts is connected to liberty
because it is available solely to that class
of people who already find themselves
unencumbered by the necessities of labor
and debt, who are unconstrained by the
compulsions of extra-academic forces (e.g.
anxious thoughts of what job may or may
not await them after graduation), and who
therefore alone can afford to truly enjoy
the free time and leisure that is the oxygen
of disinterested study and self-reflection.
Freedom is not then produced by the liberal arts education; it’s the precondition for
the liberal arts education. Reason is truly
available only to those who, by birthright
or good fortune, are independent in the
first place; and who, after graduation, are
expected to be responsible for the generous, charitable uplift of those who are less

Problem #3:
And with this we reach the biggest problem, also the one that most often flies
beneath the radar: the most persuasive
defense of the liberal arts—the claim that,
despite its apparent frippery, the liberal
arts college in fact cunningly offers superb
job training—also gives up the ghost of the
very education it proposes to protect.
Here’s why. The oldest root of the liberal
arts, its most distant but also most interesting and vulnerable heritage, is its direct
connection to politics—or, more exactly, to
liber, “freedom.” As a rule: no liberal arts
without some theory of liberty. But there
are at least three such theories that tend to

Theory #3:
The liberal arts is connected to liberty because it provides access to forms of cultural
capital that, in turn, correlate with a vastly
expanded menu of life choices. By virtue
of its low acceptance rates, its high admissions standards, its small size, and its big
tuition, the liberal arts college will never
not be elite and exclusive. But within these
constraints it will strive to craft an elite
(but now under a new name, “leaders”)
who keep faith with a certain iteration
of democratic politics—the politics that
emerged in the second half of the twentieth century, and that sought to include
the excluded, to center on the marginalized, and to refuse to let accidents of birth
predetermine life chances. Freedom in this
case is located neither in the process of the
liberal arts education nor in its precondition; here the liberal arts degree itself is
construed as a path or pipeline or passport

Theory #1:
The liberal arts is connected to liberty because it liberates students from prejudice,
superstition, unexamined assumptions,
unquestioning obedience, parochialism—
in short, from self-incurred immaturity.
The liberal arts college is a place where,
through the labor of disinterested study
and self-reflection, the adolescent gives
birth to the adult she already incipiently
was when she was admitted. The aim of
the liberal arts education is therefore to
be found in the very process of education
itself, culminating in the graduation of free
citizens—open-minded, tolerant, cosmopolitan free thinkers who achieve independence to the exact degree that they first
embody reason.


for a certain sort of emancipation. It proposes to offer an increase in social mobility
for a privileged few, who upon graduation
are then in turn expected to embody the
contradiction of the institution that shaped
them, i.e., to function as an anti-elitist elite,
a privileged few dedicated to opposing
privilege as such.

To resist this state of affairs, it’s not enough
to pick a theory of the liberal arts and
defend it at all costs. Nor is it enough to
retreat to the safety of a hip smirk and a
too-cool cynicism, concluding that because
all theories of the liberal arts run the risk
of justifying illiberal practices, the liberal
arts in general are tainted and a sham.
What’s necessary is to recognize that, whatever else it may be, the liberal arts education today is the site of an open question
and an inescapably political dispute—not
only over what concept of freedom should
inform the liberal arts but also over how
the liberal arts itself should relate to an
unfree society.

None of these theories is without contradiction; what’s more, each overlaps and
cross-pollinates with the others in sometimes unpredictable ways. But what all of
them share is a love-hate relation with a
fourth theory, which more and more is
threatening to become dominant—namely,
the idea that the purpose of higher education in general is to acquire “human capital”2 and, in so doing, to win at the game of
the competitive job market.
Now, this fourth theory of education—call
it neoliberal3 if you like—may seem to
some to be so obvious that it should go
without saying. But despite this obviousness, or perhaps precisely because of it, it
deserves your most tenacious critical scrutiny. It is, in fact, structured by a fatal flaw:
it no longer asks how the liberal arts might
relate to freedom. It instead asks only how
the liberal arts can conform to the false
necessities4 of a market society—which, in
so many different ways, is increasingly unfree.5 But of course, a liberal arts education
that fails to set its edge against unfreedom
is no liberal arts education at all. Quite the
opposite: when the best the liberal arts can
do is serve a neoliberal master, the liberal
arts become illiberal arts—arts of explaining in various ways why unfreedom is,
despite everything, necessary after all.

Remove the sugarcoating, in other words,
and you find some real food for thought.
Congratulations again.

1 See Richard Hofstadter, Anti-intellectualism in American Life (New York: Knopf, 1963).
2 Michel Feher, “Self-Appreciation; or, The Aspirations
of Human Capital,” Public Culture 21.1 (2009): 21-41.
3 Pierre Bourdieu, “The essence of neoliberalism,” trans.
Jeremy J. Shapiro, Le Monde diplomatique (December
4 Roberto Mangabeira Unger, False Necessity: Antinecessitarian social theory in the service of radical
democracy (New York: Verso, 2001).
5 See Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (New York: Zone Books, 2015).


writing and anxiety

a day is a habit, and that it can be eroded
by overscheduling. The more often you tell
yourself that you will address a task, only
to put it off (perhaps because there simply
is not time for it), the easier it becomes to
repeat this behavior in the future, and the
more overburdened you will be the following day.

Kyle Ferendo ‘17E
My purpose in writing this article is to
inform you that anxiety and depression
are alarmingly prevalent among college
students,1 to identify what this means, to
suggest why this is the case, and to offer
some preliminary advice about how to
stay healthy. Specifically, I focus on how
the pressures of academic writing can
instill anxiety that may, if left unaddressed,
become disabling. An expanded version of
this article, including strategies for dealing
with anxiety when it presents itself, can be
found on the website associated with the
Disorientation Guide.

Second, be sure to speak with your professor about any assignments that are giving
you difficulty. It is easy to imagine that
one’s professor is disappointed or annoyed
by one’s shortcomings and to feel ashamed,
but professors are almost always compassionate and helpful. Contacting a professor
serves the dual purpose of dispelling the
shame that follows from having projected
one’s own disappointment and frustration onto one’s professor. Of course, it also
offers a source of valuable feedback which
usually facilitates the writing process.

College is a stressful environment. Students are assigned a large workload on
which we are constantly being evaluated, and the stakes feel (and usually are)
quite high, not only because of the role
our grades will play in determining our
future opportunities, but because so many
of us feel passionately about our work
and tie our self-worth to our academic
performance. Unfortunately, it is easy for
excess anxiety, which can come from many
sources, to inhibit our work, build upon
itself, and eventually become unmanageable and dangerous.

Third, allow yourself to emotionally divest
from your academic work. It is wonderful
to be able to write about one’s passions, but
at times, the extra burden that comes from
caring deeply about one’s work can become
unsustainable. Never lose sight of the fact
that your papers are only exercises that
you complete for a grade, and not enduring monuments to your worth as a human
being. During a busy week of assignments,
spending the time to turn a good essay into
a great one may be a mistake (and note
that I’m not talking just about editing, but
about the entire writing process: outlining
a great essay also takes much longer than
outlining a merely good essay). Question
the imperative you feel to accomplish all
that you possibly can: when it arises internally, recognize when it is misplaced and
inhibits your quality of life. But also recognize when this imperative arises externally
and represents not a drive towards selfactualization, but a constructed injunction

For this discussion, I limit myself to
mentioning a few strategies for preventing anxiety. The first is to cultivate discipline. Please do not mistake me for
saying, “Work harder on your papers and
don’t submit them late!” I know as well as
anyone how callous that would be; what I
mean is that the behavior of accomplishing that which one sets out accomplish in
1 For a cursory discussion, see


to maximize your human capital for the
benefit of those who would exploit it without regard for your wellbeing. The modest
choice to allow oneself contentment is
itself a valuable means of self-preservation.

conscious decision to delay work because
one is indifferent or lazy or more committed to indulgent pastimes, but a (usually
unconscious) flight from anxiety. If you
find yourself compulsively checking facebook when you need to work on a paper, it
is not because you are a poor student, but
almost certainly because you are nervous or frustrated by your paper, and your
unconscious mind is urging you to escape
from the frightening/distressing/dispiriting stimulus. For more on this topic, I urge
you to consult the aforementioned article
on the disorientation website.

Fourth, take advantage of breaks. Stress
can build up over a long period of time,
and one’s day-to-day baseline anxiety does
not drop back to zero the moment one
submits one’s paper, but takes time to dissipate. Try to make sure that, following a
period of high stress, you will have some
time to fully recuperate before taking on
more work (so if you’re having a rough semester or anticipate a rough finals period,
don’t plan a large project over winter break;
instead, take a real vacation so that you can
begin the next semester fresh).

In conclusion, I point out that severe anxiety inhibits its own treatment. When one
is overloaded with stress, each new task,
no matter how mundane, weighs down so
heavily, and makes everything else seem all
the more insurmountable. And this applies
to some of the very tasks which anyone
suffering from anxiety ought to undertake:
contacting professors and deans, visiting
the counseling center, and so on. If you
are worried about a friend of yours (the
principal signs of extreme anxiety are
absences from class and missed deadlines),
speak with them and consider together the
different kinds of support you might offer.
As always, make sure to practice self-care
and remember that although you can offer
support to a friend, you are not ultimately
responsible for his or her full recovery. For
some ideas on how to help a friend who is
suffering from anxiety, feel free to consult
the expanded article on the website.

Lastly, consider therapy if it seems that it
would be useful. The purpose of therapy
is not to save you from an emergency – it
rarely succeeds in this – but to help you
cope during a difficult time. I haven’t made
use of Amherst’s mental health facilities for
some time, and feel unqualified to comment on their quality,2 but I will emphasize
that I found therapy with a professional
psychologist useful. My therapy provided
me with time to reflect on my experiences
with someone trained to be an excellent
listener and who quietly encouraged me
toward a better self-understanding and
suggested strategies to both preempt and
address anxiety. I realize that some people
may avoid seeking therapy out of some
sense of shame; unfortunately, I feel unable to dispel this shame because I do not
understand it. It is not shameful but wise
to seek help in a time of need.

2 A discussion of the resources (un)available at Amherst
would be a worthwhile article in itself. I will just remind
you that any deficiencies in the psychological care you
receive are exactly that: deficiencies in your care. They
do not indicate that you are untreatable, and under no
circumstances should you give up on yourself.

Be reflective, and recognize anxiety when
it develops. One of the first signs of anxiety is procrastination. It is important to
remember that procrastination is not a


Spectacles of Invisibility:

alone in a bare room in the Socials, I sat
neither angry nor scared. But I was caught
off guard. I was overwhelmed, sad, and,
most importantly, disappointed. I had
always thought that if I were to ever experience bigotry at Amherst, I would have
the spine to call it out and defend myself.
But I couldn’t. I was trapped in my own
body. I was speechless. In the immediate
aftermath of the incident I somehow felt as
if it were my fault and, like many instances
of personal trauma, I willingly forgot the
experience. But as I, now, reflect on the
nature of race and racism at Amherst College, this memory somehow manages to
find its way back, and for good reason. Due
to my reflections on this experience I’ve
learned a lot about the nature of racism on

Race and Racism
at Amherst College

Andrew Lindsay ‘16
During the second semester of my sophomore year at Amherst College, I was finally
confronted with explicit racism. Before,I
had heard the N-word once directed
towards a group of black students late
one night outside Drew House, but that
confrontation had not been targeted at me.
This time, it wasn’t a random kid, with no
relation to me, shouting from a car or a
drunken UMASS kid outside the socials;
it was someone that I knew. One night in
the socials, after a party, an acquaintance
expressed the desire to speak to me alone,
in an empty room in a suite. It was less of a
conversation and more of a hate filled rant.
Although, the N-word was not used, the
comments were made in a drunken rage.
The bigotry was palpable.

For starters, it is important to understand
that racism at the school seldom manifests
itself in the absence of other types of bigotry. In other words, racism doesn’t exist
in a vacuum. Whether it is socioeconomic
status, nationality, sexual orientation, or
gender identity, racism is an intersectional
experience for many people of color on
this campus. In the story above, for example, class and nationality were some of
the signs used to propel a racist narrative

According to this individual, someone like
me was not supposed to be at an institution like Amherst College. My ripped jeans
and my accent were representative of my
poverty; my confidence, a sign of my mediocrity. According to him, affirmative action
was the defining feature of my acceptance
to this school, a sentiment expressed to me
by others before, but generally hidden by
the jargon and “critical thought” endowed
by Amherst professors. The refrain of this
individual’s racist, xenophobic and classist
remarks could be reduced to the following
sentence, “How dare you think that you’re
better than me.” This person wanted to
take me down a couple notches.

But the biggest lesson I learned is this:
racism, or more specifically, white supremacy on this campus, manifests itself
through a shadow-logic of dual invisibility
and spectacle. I will use personal experiences to invite you into this world. Because
for many of us, race relations start out
through this type of shadow logic and then
branch off into more relatable forms such
as explicit racial bias, institutional racism,
and ironic racism. I use my experience as a
Jamaican black man as the driving force for
my observations.

While I was being shat on for 30+ minutes,




In my response to the All Lives Matter
campaign last semester I channelled Achille Mbembe, an amazing political theorist,
to demonstrate that black life exists as the
“perfect figure of a shadow, created from
a loss of home, rights over the body and
political status.” I suggest that Mbembe’s
shadow analogy describes the power to
control and dissolve black life to the point
that other forces can possess it. As a living
shadow my presence is always there, subconsciously acknowledged, but often times
the gaze of the world passes through me.
For someone like me, it is not particularly
difficult to be invisible in plain sight. This
claim rings true for many identity groups
on campus, especially for persons of color.

One night freshman year at a party in Garman, perhaps because of the darkness or
my own invisibility, I overheard a group of
white women make a snide remark about
some of the black women enjoying themselves at the event. The comment was along
the lines of “Why are they even here?”
Most of the mainly white crowd, having
their own conversations, had moved to
the periphery of the room but still watched
the women dance in the middle of the
room. But strangely enough, on the dance
floor the crowd largely ignored these black
women. Their very presence simultaneously demanded attention while precluding it.
Perhaps this story, more than my personal
example, best exemplifies the twin foundations of racism, spectacle and invisibility,
on this campus.

I believe that the white rage that I faced
wasn’t directed towards me per se, but towards me as a placeholder, a collection of
stereotypes. The offending party wasn’t really seeing me but merely an outline traced
by his/her bigotry. In the prologue of Ralph
Ellison’s Invisible Man, the narrator notes:

The nature of spectacle on campus is often
ignored and viewed one dimensionally. In
the story above, the portrayal of spectacle
was overtly negative, but, of course, this
does not have to be the case. The successful athlete, the charismatic campus leader,
the exemplary scholar, and many of such
campus identities can also blend with unhelpful, racial stereotypes fueling minority,
superhero myths.

“You wonder whether you aren’t
simply a phantom in other people’s
minds. Say, a figure in a nightmare
which the sleeper tries with all his
strength to destroy. It’s when you
feel like this that, out of resentment,
you begin to bump people back.
And, let me confess, you feel that
way most of the time. You ache
with the need to convince yourself
that you do exist in the real world,
that you’re a part of all the sound
and anguish, and you strike out with
your fists, you curse and you swear
to make them recognize you. And,
alas, it’s seldom successful.”

Spectacle, whether good or bad, fuels dehumanization. Farah Stockman notes:
“In the past, stereotypes of black poverty
were the problem. Today, it’s stereotypes of
black success. The black faces on television
today drive luxury cars. They live in the
White House. Nearly 60 percent of whites
believe that blacks earn the same salaries as
whites. Three percent think blacks actually
earn more.”



In reality, black income is almost half that
of whites. But with a black family in the
White House, two black attorneys general,
two black secretaries of state, in recent
times, and stories of superstar black athletes and musicians, the newfound emergence of black spectacle en masse has led
to the illusion of equality in the minds of
many. Unfortunately, due to these minority
exemplars the majority of racial disparities
get ignored often in favor of their success.
In other words, spectacle becomes fuel
for minority invisibility. The illusion of
equality works together with ever widening
racial disparities to mark a new unnamed
era of racial suppression in the US. This
phenomenon filters down on a smaller
scale at Amherst College.

In conclusion, the twin pillars of race and
racism, invisibility and spectacle, act in
harmony to dehumanize minority communities on campus. Many persons of color
remain invisible in plain sight, whether
they are individually successful or not. In
spite of the darkness that hides many of
our shadow lives, there is still hope — the
light. In the Prologue of Ellison’s Invisible
Man, the Narrator, perhaps alluding to the
shadow-logic states:
“And I love light. Perhaps you’ll
think it strange that an invisible
man should need light, desire
light, love light. But maybe it is
exactly because I am invisible.
Light confirms my reality, gives
birth to my form… Without light
I am not only invisible, but formless as well; and to be unaware
of one’s form is to live a death. I
myself, after existing some twenty
years, did not become alive until I
discovered my invisibility.”

We elected a black student body president.
Yet, we have a campus where many of our
minority students feel like their voices
don’t matter. Overt anti-black racism (see
my Amherst Student article, Black Lives,
Shadow Lives) and anti-latin@ racism (see
La Causa’s Our Culture is Not a Costume
letter in Amherst Soul) remain hotly debated issues last academic year.
We had a black commencement speaker
for the last year’s graduating class. Yet,
our campus culture proves itself hostile to
minority empowerment. Broad support for
our racist mascot remains, despite the appeals of many students of color and white
allies that Lord Jeffrey Amherst adds to a
campus climate of bigotry and intolerance
(see Michael Johnson’s, We Are The Lord
Jeffs and David Temin’s Letter to the Editor:
Replace Lord Jeff in the Amherst Student).

The light referred to here is truth (knowledge), the same light that is noted on our
college seal (“Terras Irradient”). Race and
racism are tricky topics, especially in this
new unnamed era of racial oppression,
but we can escape its perils if we have the
right vision. This article hopes to place us
on the right track by providing a little light
by which to see, so that one-day we can,
eventually, blare out the darkness that surrounds our campus’ shadows.


For as long as I can remember, Mami has
always advised me and my sister to be
clean, decent and pleasant women. House
women, or rather mujeres de la casa,
¿sabes? She has always advised us to make
sure we adequately scrub the flower between our legs as much as possible, and to
not have promiscuous sex with dead-beat,
lowly men. My sister and I have always
been bombarded by what it means to be a
respectable, even desirable, woman, among
other pieces of advice.

a woman’s

Sharline Dominguez ‘17E
A woman is so much more than her
breasts, her arms, her hair, her face, her
vagina, her ass, her legs and her toes. Being
a woman is to declare political warfare on
the other bodies that have always wanted
to exclude you. It is unbelievable how
many “isms” have come out of the social,
political and economic conflict between
men and women in American society. Now
we can talk about feminism, womanism,
machismo/misogyny, sexism and several
other “isms” that form our understanding
of this historically complicated relationship.

But now that I am a 21 year old college
student and starting to better comprehend
the intricacies of womanhood across the
world, I ask myself: To what end? To what
end do I have to meet certain criteria so
that other bodies are comfortable with
the space(s) I inhabit? To counteract,
and respectfully challenge my mother’s
consejos, I believe what occurs in the mind
of a woman before she speaks her thoughts
out loud is of more significance. How nice
to see an intelligent woman walking the
streets, fearlessly, even if she is so cruelly
labeled a “hard-to-get-uppity-bitch” or a
“feminist” with her head so far up her ass
she will never marry a decent man. These
are the kinds of attacks directed at many
women daily, as they try to mark their
place in a world that still has not given
their bodies total, human respect.

The purpose of this article is not to deconstruct any of the aforementioned “isms” or
the biological body of a woman, for such
an attempt can only lead to more questions than answers. Rather, the purpose of
this piece is to speak truthfully about an
experience that too often is unheard of or
disregarded. I’m referring to the point at
which a woman’s mind becomes revolutionary, or when she is able to surpass the
physical and socially- defined spaces she is
immediately confined to. I invite my readers to bear with me, as I try to shed light
on the radicalization of a woman’s mind,
regardless of her socio-economic, political,
or marital status and wherever she stands
her ground in the world. In semi- Gloria
Anzaldua style too. Look her up when you
get the chance—she’s a beast.

But what or who is a living body? Upon
becoming integrated into the fabric of the
nation-state, a body is continuously tagged.
A body is fluid matter, but there is a certain
kind of danger that comes with such fluidity. If it does form to its assigned container,
the fluid body is ostracized by power. I’ve
always believed that power often does the
naming, and never names itself, and this
is precisely the danger I referenced earlier. For example, a poor woman in Latin
America or Asia, subjugated to the forces


of machismo, femicidio (femicide), and
sexism, is inherently a prisoner to her
environment. How can she then possibly
work to reclaim her humanity when for
centuries, men have ruled her with iron
fists? Women have always been regarded as
property, or rather slaves, to overwhelming
manhood. Where do women who assume
positions of power, whether it is through
political or economic means, successfully
fit in this oppressive structure?

At the same time, Anzaldua spent a lot of
time delving into the differences between
the beastly or savage and the intellectual
and civil, making her prose even that more
difficult to follow. However, she does so
with absolute purpose. Throughout my
reading, I was forced to consider how,
when and why a mind becomes “radical,”
“anarchist,” and potentially dangerous. I
thought about Malcolm X and his ideology on race relations in the US, and his
understanding of how the white man is
“the devil” who could never be trusted no
matter his apparent benevolence. And how
as a Muslim man in prison, he learned how
to rid himself of the poisons of the white
man, also known as alcohol, sex, meat and
drugs. I was beginning to understand how
it is that people who look like me become
radical- minded.

Gloria Anzaldua, a prominent Chicana
feminist who died a couple years ago, once
wrote about the “psychological borderlands,” a place of confusion for women
(and men) who are constantly in transit
between different realities. I always turn
to Anzaldua for guidance when I want to
understand identity politics, and it is with
reason. She is someone whose words I have
always identified with, so much so that I
remember reading her books and feeling
I belonged at Amherst my freshman year
regardless of my low-income and public
school background.

This then brings me to the process of
radicalization of women today. When you
have women like Rigoberta Menchu, the
Dominican Garcia sisters, Frida Kahlo,
Betty Shabazz, Sylvia Plath and First Lady
Michelle Obama, who have fought and
are still fighting to secure women’s rights,
a revolution is evidently still in progress.
And I’m not talking about the kind of
revolution where there are two opposing
groups, blood is shed and the proletariat is
armed and ready. I’m referring more to the
kind of revolution that women declare on
themselves when they make the conscious
decision to open their eyes wide for the
first time in their lives. Or when they make
the decision to crawl out of the shadows,
becoming visible bodies and learned
women. Not only is this an act of courage,
but also an act of protest. Women must
continue reading about feminism and advocate for social causes of interest to them.
They must be willing to die for that cause
should the occasion arise, because women
are so much more than their bodies.

Anzaldua fearlessly explores the beauty
and the ugliness in the difficult, private hell
that is “the borderlands.” She uses elaborate
metaphors and references obscure Aztec
deities, guiding her readers through the
intricacies of the brown and black body
and its psyche. Switching between the
English and Spanish languages throughout,
she both invites and rejects the company
of non-Latino readers. The Borderlands: La
Frontera, The New Mestiza was suddenly
a testament to how women of color could
speak extensively and poetically about
widespread injustices in America. It was
a moment that couldn’t be ignored, no
matter how much conservatives refused to
hear or comprehend it all.


Sexual Assault
and Title IX:
A Brief Primer

What are “rape myths”?
There are tons; here are a few. (See Rape
Culture 101 above for more.)

Most rapes are perpetrated by
strangers? False! This deeply racialized myth typically imagines rapists
as black men with knives preying on
straight, able-bodied, virginal white
women in alleyways at night. In reality, the vast majority of rapists are
someone their victims know and trust
-- 90% of campus victims are raped by
a friend, partner or former partner, or
acquaintance -- and the vast majority
of victims are assaulted by someone of
their own race, most often without a
weapon. While women are the majority of victims, men and genderqueer
people are victims as well; in fact,
trans people of color suffer violence at
disproportionately high rates and are
most likely to go unrecognized and
unsupported, or to be criminalized
themselves for surviving violence.

Rape is an accident or the result of
alcohol-ridden miscommunication?
False! Research suggests that the vast
majority of campus perpetrators are
repeat offenders, who deliberately use
alcohol to target their victims and
avoid culpability. A focus on alcohol
is almost always a strategy to shoulder
potential victims with “rape prevention” (“drink responsibly, otherwise
you’ll get raped”), discredit and blame
victims (“she was asking for it”), and
excuse perpetrators (“boys will be
boys”). And it’s one the Amherst administration has appealed to implicitly
in many of its anti-rape posters and reports. One poster from 2013 reminded
victims to “Drink responsibly. Alcohol
and sex don’t mix. This mixture can
lead to… sexual violence.”

Dana Bolger ‘14E
What is sexual misconduct?
“Sexual misconduct” is a sanitized phrase
that Amherst College uses to describe
experiences of unwanted gender-based
violence or harassment, such as rape,
sexual assault, (cyber)stalking, dating and
domestic violence, and sexual harassment.
What is consent?
Definitions of consent vary from state to
state and from college to college. Amherst’s
policy states that consent to sexual activity
must be knowing and voluntary, and exist
from the beginning to end of each instance
of sexual activity and for each form of contact (consent to one form of sexual contact
does not constitute consent to all forms of
sexual contact). Consent can be withdrawn
at any time, and the existence of a current
or previous sexual/dating relationship is, by
itself, not sufficient to constitute consent.
What is rape culture?
Violence against oppressed and marginalized people doesn’t occur in a vacuum. The
term “rape culture” is one way of understanding and articulating the social and
institutional forces that foster, excuse, and
normalize violence against women, queer
and trans people, immigrants, people of
color, people with disabilities -- and particularly people living at the intersection of
multiple marginalized identities. Check out
Shakesville’s Rape Culture 101 for more:


There’s only one right way to respond
after violence? Or, alternately, it
isn’t rape if the victim didn’t report
it? False! Everyone responds differently after suffering violence. Some
victims name their experiences right
away; others take months or years
to identify what happened to them.
Some go out and have sex that night
and the next night and the next, while
others can’t enjoy intimacy for years
afterward. Some pour themselves into
schoolwork, and others break down,
watch their grades drop, struggle
with depression, anxiety, or PTSD, or
withdraw from school. Some victims
report to the police, some report to
Amherst, some do both, some do neither, some tell an RC or a friend, some
tell no one. Just because someone
chooses not to report doesn’t mean it
didn’t happen.

members to imagine and build new
forms of justice, accountability, and
survivor support that don’t rely on
a violent prison system. (An important caveat: As a community, let’s
support survivors’ individual choices
as to which solutions, in an imperfect world, will make them feel safe.
If a survivor wants to report to law
enforcement, support them in that
decision. And, if they don’t, ask them
how you can work together to develop
a safety plan that will make them feel
safe on campus and off.)

What is Title IX? How does it protect
you? Title IX is a federal civil rights law
that prohibits discrimination on the basis
of sex in education. Since sexual assault
and other forms of gender-based violence
can create a hostile, discriminatory learning environment for student survivors, colleges and universities are required to take
steps to prevent and respond to violence
after it happens. You have many rights under Title IX (and Amherst has many legal
obligations), which you can learn about at Here are a few:

The criminal justice system is a
meaningful solution to violence?
False! For people who understand
high incarceration rates to signify a
healthy, functional criminal justice
system (CJS), the CJS is clearly failing:
only 3 in every 100 rapists ever spend
a day in jail. And for those of us who
understand incarceration to be a poor
response to violence, we know that the
U.S. prison system is actively creating
and perpetuating violence, not reducing it. Rape within prison is rampant.
Post-release recidivism rates are high.
Often victims -- especially if they are
queer, trans, undocumented, and/or of
color -- are themselves criminalized,
merely for surviving violence. And the
CJS does very little to actually support
survivors with their various needs
(psychological, financial, physical) in
the wake of violence. It’s up to us as
thinkers, organizers, and community


Under Title IX, Amherst is required to
have a clear and equitable on-campus
process through which survivors of
any form of gender-based violence can
file a complaint against their abusers,
regardless of their own gender or sexuality, or the gender or sexuality of their
perpetrators. If you experienced (or
are experiencing) violence, Amherst
must make this process available to
you (and complete it within about 60
days) regardless of your decision to
pursue, or not pursue, criminal action.
You can read Amherst’s policy here:

Independent of whether you choose
to take action (on campus or in court)
against your perpetrator, you have
the right to reasonable services and
accommodations to help you stay in
school. These may include medical and
mental health services (including counseling), academic support services (like
tutoring), class accommodations (such
as getting extensions on academic
work, requesting trigger/content warnings from professors, or withdrawing from a course without penalty),
housing accommodations (like moving
out of a dorm shared with your perpetrator, or having your perpetrator
removed), and employment accommodations (like having your campus
job schedule shifted, so you don’t have
to interact with a harassing boss or
cross paths on your way home with
your rapist). Additionally, you should
not have to pay the costs of these
services and accommodations (learn
more here:
violence-costs). Amherst is required to
provide you with the accommodations
you need to stay in school, regardless
of whether your abuser/harasser is a
fellow student at Amherst, a professor,
staff member, student at another college, or non-student.

interact with the police. If your perpetrator chooses to violate the order,
though, s/he/they could be subject to
arrest. You can request an Amherst
College no-contact order by contacting the Title IX coordinator Laurie
Frankl ( You
can request a court-issued restraining order by completing the two-page
“Complaint for Protection from
Abuse” here and appearing before the

Title IX prohibits retaliation; if your
perpetrator(s) is retaliating against
you for speaking up about violence
(e.g., threatening you, or asking third
parties to threaten you), contact the
Title IX coordinator, Laurie Frankl.
If the College is retaliating against
you (e.g., disciplining you for naming
your assailant, or removing you from
extracurricular activities), contact a
pro bono attorney (contact information for the Victim Rights Law Center
is listed below).

Some survivors have suffered mistreatment
at the hands of administrators and choose
to draw on off-campus resources for support. A few great ones include:

You can also request a no-contact order
from the school, which can bar your
perpetrator from interacting with you.
Unfortunately, Amherst has traditionally failed to properly issue and
enforce these orders and, as a result,
some students have found better luck
seeking a court-issued restraining order
from the Northampton District Court.
A restraining order is part of the civil
(rather than criminal) justice process
and does not constitute a criminal
complaint; it will not force you to


For off campus support and resources,
visit the UMass Center for Women
and Community. The Center maintains a 24-hour English-speaking crisis
hotline (413-545-0800), and has Spanish-speaking crisis counselors on staff
Monday through Friday, 11am-5pm
(1-800-223-5001). Walk-in services
are available during regular business
hours, and the Center can provide
short-term (10-12 week) counseling,
as well as medical and legal advocacy,
including helping survivors obtain
restraining orders at the Northampton

District Court.

For legal help in the on-campus disciplinary process, contact the Victim
Rights Law Center (617-399-6720 x19)
in Boston -- a group of fabulous pro
bono victims rights attorneys who have
helped many Amherst survivors get
the support, safety, and services they
need to stay in school.

Using euphemistic language like
“sexual (dis)respect” and “sexual misconduct” to minimize students’ lived
experiences of violence, harassment,
and discrimination. The administration has largely succeeded in getting
the faculty and student body itself to
echo this sanitized language.

Institutionally backing/supporting
particular student “activist” figureheads in order to appear responsive
to student concerns (as though the
student body is monolithic, united in
lived experience and desires!).These
“activists” are almost always white,
cis people, occupying institutional
positions or working within institutional channels like the AAS, Amherst
Student, or administrative committees. They are almost always those
who make the fewest critiques of or
demands on the school, who already
enjoy significant power and privilege
on campus, and who are the least
invested in meaningfully transforming
the status quo.

Creating committees. It’s a familiar
pattern: student activists protest; the
college creates a committee and adds
a couple activists to it (e.g., the Title
IX committee, the Sexual Misconduct
Oversight Committee); the committee
releases a report that student activists
cannot effectively criticize because
they themselves, or their co-organizers, invested time, energy, and emotion in its creation; students graduate
and the committee dies, or its student
membership goes quietly unrenewed
(e.g., the Title IX committee). Student
inclusion on such committees isn’t
about increasing student power but
quite the opposite: it pacifies organizers and the broader community

Anti-Sexual Violence
Activism at Amherst
Students have been organizing to highlight
sexism and sexual violence on campus
-- as well as the Amherst administration’s
complicity in perpetuating it -- for decades. In the most recent wave of activism
(2012-2013), student organizers pressured
the administration into making significant policy changes. By reading broadly in
campus publications such as AC Voice, The
Student, It Happens Here, and The Indicator, new students can come to understand
parts of this history. Two points should be
kept in mind, however: first, the written
record is a necessarily selective history
written by those empowered to speak and
certain demographics, communities, and
perspectives are underrepresented as a
result; and second, the survivor and activist community is heterogeneous in opinion
and experience and the written record
reflects disagreement and complexity -read critically.
Of course, despite this historical effort,,
work remains, and the administration has
been largely successful at co-opting student
resistance and in pacifying the campus
community. Below are a few common
tactics the institution has used to weaken
anti-sexual violence activist work.


by giving a nod to student concerns,
concentrates work on student committee members’ plates (with no compensation or academic accommodations),
and ultimately benefits the institution
through student sign-off on the committee product.

“At every turn it seems like
you’re fighting people. You’re
fighting the administration,
you’re fighting the campus. I
think Amherst doesn’t want
change. Amherst is very happy
to be the way it is. When, as
a minority student, you start
screaming about your causes,
‘Look what you’re doing to my
people,’ you look like the angry
‘whatever.’ And it’s not that
Amherst has issues, or that
Amherst is self-destructive, or
that Amherst is creating an
atmosphere where some of the
students are feeling very isolated, it’s that ‘You people are
angry,’ and that doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s all too easy
to pass it off as that, and other
people are willing to believe
that you’re an angry individual.”

Rewriting campus history in order
to claim credit for student activists’
work. The institution accomplishes
this by alternately 1) erasing student
work altogether (“We [the administration] take sexual respect seriously and
so, proactively, out of the goodness
of our hearts, we have accomplished
A, B, and C” -- all in fact triggered by
or directly performed by students); or
2) mentioning student activists’ names
in an attempt to garner credibility or
legitimacy to boost particular administrative actions (“We’re so proud to
have student activist X at Amherst”
or “Student Y sat on Z committee that
approved this new policy and planned
this event”). Be skeptical when the
institution claims credit for particular
policies, practices, events, and ideas
-- these were often first envisioned by
activists and rejected by administrators until activists garnered significant
negative media attention to the College’s reluctance to act.


—Nichole Taylor,
Amherst College Class of 1998

See more at!


the business
of compliance

grant men. Notably, American rape law has
long been used as an instrument of racial
oppression. In considering sexual violence,
this history always needs to be accounted
for in order to recognize possible threats to
defendants’ rights as well as the disparate
treatment of women of color.

Kristin Bumiller, George Daniel Olds Professor of Economic and Social Institutions

And third1, one of the most vitally important aspects of addressing sexual violence
is to assure the ability of those who experience violence to exercise agency, especially
in the context of policies and institutions
purportedly designed to respond to their

Scholars who have studied the movement
to combat sexual violence have reached
several strong conclusions about reforms
designed to increase surveillance and
punishment. First, most efforts to reform
sexual assault policies have produced
counterproductive results. For example,
shield laws (which prevent certain questions from being posed by defense attorneys cross-examining complainants)
have done little to stop embarrassing and
stigmatizing treatment in the courtroom.
There are numerous examples of how reforming procedures (including mandatory
reporting and prosecutions, police trainings, redefining legal definitions of rape
and domestic violence) all fail to change
the more deeply entrenched practices of

The recent efforts of the Department of
Education and many colleges and universities have disregarded (or not fully considered the implications of) these profound
and challenging considerations. This is
unfortunate because many of the lessons learned from the failures of criminal
enforcement measures are relevant to Title
IX implementation in universities and
colleges. Much of the recent focus by college administrators on sexual assault and
harassment, while manifestly instigated by
campus activists, narrows our ambitions
in promoting gender fairness and social
justice. Activists have done important work
by exposing how colleges have discouraged
reporting, disrespected complainants, and
deliberately ignored the seriousness of the
problem (See, Know Your IX, co-founded
by Dana Bolger ‘14E). However, the
“business of Title IX compliance” moves

Second, the idea of “women” as the essential victims fails to capture the complexity
of violence in American society and the
discriminatory impact of criminal enforcement. We know that intimate violence
impacts women, but it also impacts men
and transgendered persons, and occurs
in heterosexual, gay, and asexual relationships. While efforts have been made to
recognize the complexity of experience,
we are still a long way from respecting and
acknowledging all these differences when
enforcing laws against sexual violence. It
is also important to recognize that laws
ostensibly designed to protect women
contribute to the discriminatory criminal
enforcement against minority and immi-


1 See, Kristin Bumiller, In an Abusive State, Duke
University Press, 2008; Kristin Bumiller “Explaining
the Volte-Face: Turning Away from Criminal Law and
Returning to the Quest for Gender Equality,” The Oxford
Handbook on Gender, Sex, and Crime, Rosemary
Gartner and Bill McCarthy, editors, Oxford University
Press, 2014 and K. Bumiller “The Nexus of Domestic
Violence Reform and Social Science: From Instrument
of Social Change to Institutionalized Surveillance,”
Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Volume 6,
December 2010.

away from the spirit of this activism. The
“compliance business” moves away from
the spirit of this activism. The “compliance
business” s the deeply entrenched factors
which compromise students’ safety and

Each of these concerns is deserving of
fuller deliberation and needs to be weighed
against the possible benefits of mandatory
This situation might be the result of many
colleges and universities “hedging their
bets” by creating over-inclusive categories
of reporters. Another possible factor is that
legal entrepreneurs, who capitalize on administrators’ panic and overblown desires
to protect their reputations, are recommending this sweeping use of mandatory
reporting. (The federal guidelines define
a “responsible employee” as having “the
authority to take action to redress sexual
violence; who has been given the duty of
reporting incidents of sexual violence or
any other misconduct by students to the
Title IX coordinator or other appropriate
school designee; or whom a student could
reasonably believe has this authority or

My most vehement objection, from my
standpoint as a faculty member, is mandatory reporting. Amherst College has adopted the position that all faculty members
are mandatory reporters and has trained
faculty in department meetings about this
obligation. But this policy has proceeded
without an opportunity to explore many
potentially undesirable consequences of
mandatory reporting, including:

Discouraging persons who experience
harm from seeking help
Focusing energies on less serious or
non-violations (for which complainants themselves do not wish to seek
institutional responses)
Allowing investigations to continue
without willing complainants
Chilling personal and sexual expression
Jeopardizing students’ privacy
Concentrating enforcement on efforts
which detract from the preferred reforms of activists/complainants
Excessively monitoring of students’
social behaviors
Placing overbroad investigatory powers in Title IX enforcement offices
Troubling the relationship between
students and faculty
Under-recognizing the salience of
factors other than gender to cases of
student misconduct such as race, ethnicity, class, or culture
Infantilizing students who in all other
contexts are considered adults
Potentially interfering with academic

Are the negative effects of mandatory reporting well known? Yes. When provisions
for mandating reporting were first adopted
by states to “protect” adult victims of domestic violence in hospital settings, many
medical professionals immediately stood
up against these procedures as applied to
adults (in distinction with child abuse).
Doctors voiced concerns about how their
new role as reporters could potentially
interfere with their ability to provide essential and urgent care3. As my own scholarship has shown, movement activists have
spoken out against mandatory reporting
because it works against the promotion
of women’s agency and autonomy. When
professionals take away the power of “victims” to decide whether or not to inform
officials, they do further harm to those
who have been already disempowered by
the experience of violence.


Is mandatory reporting displacing other efforts to address sexual violence? I think so.
The Department of Education is clear, that
faculty should be trained, and that mandatory reporting should only be one aspect
of that training (“Training for employees
should include practical information about
how to prevent and identify sexual violence, including same-sex sexual violence;
the behaviors that may lead to and result in
sexual violence; the attitudes of bystanders
that may allow conduct to continue; the
potential for revictimization by responders and its effect on students; appropriate
methods for responding to a student who
may have experienced sexual violence,
including the use of nonjudgmental language; the impact of trauma on victims;
and, as applicable, the person(s) to whom
such misconduct must be reported.”4). In
my department’s training, mandatory reporting was the only subject on the agenda.
Did faculty leave the meeting with a better
sense of how to address not only issues of
gendered violence, but how to promote
gender equality on campus? Not at all.

As a scholar who studies sexual violence in
the American context, I join other faculty
around the country who are beginning to
articulate these and other objections to
the adoption of new Title IX compliance
mechanisms. I welcome students to come
speak to me about these issues and how
we might productively create a safer, more
respectful, and equalitarian campus. In
the meantime, I will follow my conscience
(rather than blindly obey an “unjust” law)
in regards to how I deal with mandatory
In my opinion, we can best move forward
by situating the problem of sexual violence
in the context of gender equality more
broadly. We should strive to encourage
positive gender norms, in conjunction with
dismantling race and class based disadvantage, in all settings across campus, from
the classroom to the Saturday night party.
For example, I still hear women students
(decades after coeducation) describe
themselves as less recognized than men in
classroom discussions. This is one example of a subtle but significant experience
of inequality that impacts women (and
also students from less privileged backgrounds). Addressing everyday occurrences of gender and class inequality is vitally
important: all students should feel free to
be bold, confident, and sometimes defiant
instead of submissive, amenable, or passive
in every campus forum. As an academic
community our first order of business is
not becoming “compliant” (in any sense
of the word), but making our intellectual
voices a force to be reckoned with.

Mandatory reporting is one manifestation
of the misguided use of “procedural reform” to address a deeply entrenched problem of gender inequality. But even more
disconcerting is how Title IX enforcement
(starting with the provisions outlined by
the Department of Education) has not
paid adequate attention to the rights to the
accused5. As a faculty member, I am responsible for the fair treatment of all of my
students, including those who may have
wronged or harmed another person. This
responsibility requires us to fully consider
the potentially racially discriminatory
effects of enforcement, the possibility of
targeting or profiling of groups on campus,
and the situation of students who face cultural and financial difficulties in navigating
a disciplinary process.

2 Questions & Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence,
Office of Management and Budget’s Final Bulletin for
Agency Good Guidance Practices, 72 Fed. Reg. 3432
(Jan. 25, 2007),.
footnotes continued on page 28



Siraj Sindhu ‘17

During the last two years, the AAS has
been delegitimized in the eyes of the student population and has shown itself to be
incapable of political activism and organizing. If the College is to have an effective
student government--a student government that advances the interests of people
of color, women, workers, queer people,
the Earth, and the marginalized and displaced everywhere--then the AAS must be
re-politicized from within. The AAS must
take on the active duty of energizing and
mobilizing its constituents, whether cooperatively with or in opposition to College
The AAS sees itself as a functional body,
the goals of which are to fund student
activities and represent student opinions
to the College administration. But the AAS
doesn’t, in fact, do very much at all: though
the AAS has a one-million-dollar yearly
budget, the majority of that money is tied
up in the Master General Fund and semesterly Club Budgets. Only about $150,000
remains for the AAS to distribute at its
weekly meetings through the Discretionary Fund for concerts, food, and other club
expenses. What’s more, the experiences of
students who go to the AAS to seek funding have been characterized by frustration
and disgust—to many, the AAS feels more
like a bureaucratic hoop to jump through
than an institution of student empowerment.


Moreover, the AAS is saddled, not privileged, with the responsibility of funding
student clubs. In the 1980s, it becamecommon for colleges and universities to
grant student governments ownership
over funding for student activities under
the guise of increasing student freedom
and independence. This gift was a Trojan
Horse: tasked with distributing funds,
SGAs were transformed from centers of
organizing and advocacy into bureaucratic
bodies of parliamentary procedure. Little
has changed; the AAS today is still bogged
down in financial responsibilities that contribute to students’ apathy and apolitical
mentality. In fact, much of the time of individual Senators, as well as the AAS Senate as a whole, is occupied by the task of
distributing funds. This comes at the cost
of time and energy that could otherwise be
devoted to advocacy, such as proactively
fostering student activism and organizing
student workers.
In addition to its growing reputation as
a bureaucratic, monetary institution, the
AAS has also declined in the estimation
of many students due to a series of recent
scandals. Most saliently, the presidential
election in the spring of 2014 collapsed in
a campaign spending fiasco1. This led to a
plunge in already-lifeless voter turnout, as
our current President, Tomi Williams ’16,
won the spring 2015 election with only 379
votes. (Only 447 votes were cast in total out
of ~1300 eligible voters, a sharp decrease
from the 742 votes cast in the previous
presidential election.2) The AAS,

which lacks any substantive political goals,
has been unresponsive to its own collapse.

is worth saving. As an institution recognized by College administrators and the
world outside Amherst as representative the College’s student population, the
AAS has a strategic position of influence.
Because of its authority to pass resolutions,
exhort administrators to make policy decisions, and disburse funds to other activist
groups, it seems the AAS is a potentially
valuable site for student organizing. It
would be a boon for anti-capitalist and
anti-racist students, then, to transform the
AAS Senate into a vehicle for the advancement of their progressive causes.

For the AAS has also been plagued by
internal apathy: notably, multiple Senators
have been dismissed from the Senate after
failing to attend weekly meetings. Senators also frequently leave meetings halfway
through or do not attend at all; this has led
to losses of quorum and procedural paralysis because not enough Senators are even
present to pass motions. During a fall 2015
meeting, a request by the College Republicans to fund a speaker had been narrowly
rejected but was overturned by a lastminute motion to reconsider after several
Senators had departed3. The AAS has been
depoliticized to such an extent that even
those students elected to Senate often do
not treat their responsibility and power
with requisite responsibility. The Senate
itself is plagued with a measure of the same
apathy that pervades campus more generally. Conservative victories have resulted in
the rare politicized moments in the AAS.

We might argue, though, that activism is
inherently anti-institutional and ought not
to be entrenched within any particular formal structure. However, I want to resist the
urge to romanticize this possibility--working only “outside” of the system as a matter
of principle--to the extent that it would
choke off activist groups from institutional
resources that might be re-employed in a
radical way and used to enrich the pursuit of political goals. In other words, for
students who are interested in challenging
the injustices of the contemporary world,
the current structure of the AAS presents
an opportunity--one that they should not
be afraid to seize. By running for office and
filling the seats of the AAS with critical
leftists (rather than apolitical technocrats)
significant structural change will be possible. Radical resolutions can then be passed,
calling for institutional action on a variety
of campus, national, and global issues, such
as greater transparency regarding Title IX
compliance, increased support for working
students, and divestment from apartheid
and fossil fuels; substantive, value-based
funding politics can be enacted (or, better
yet, the responsibility of funding can be
returned to College staff); and student
advocacy and organizing can become
organized and given more power.

The AAS has largely been filled with
students who are putatively interested in
‘making Amherst a better place’ by planning concerts and festivals, helping clubs
receive funds, and contributing to committees. Political activism and advocacy has
been left to the outskirts, away from the
central body of the AAS. Students outside
of the institutionally recognized power
structure—that is, students who are not
members of the AAS Senate—have led
political movements, including the Black
Lives Matter movement. The Senate has
been reduced to a near-vestigial structure,
a mere functionary body that gives out
money absent any acknowledged basis of
political commitments.
And yet, despite its current apoliticality
and bureaucratic proceduralism, the AAS



In the wider social context, the AAS is
a useful institution. By converting its
apathetic complicity into a site of activism, leftists on campus can use the AAS to
make political gains. I encourage first-year
students, particularly students interested in
anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and anti-patriarchal causes, to seek to fill AAS positions.
By actively campaigning and mobilizing
voter support among critical members of
the student population, we can re-politicize the AAS.

Brian Zayatz ‘18

1 An excellent synopsis by Ethan Corey ‘15 is available

Divest Amherst was formed in September, 2012 as a part of the Green Amherst
Project, with the stated goal of divesting
Amherst’s $2 billion endowment from the
coal industry. This followed an appearance
on campus by renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben of in which he
called for such an action. Amherst joined
a movement of universities, municipalities, and other large fundraising bodies in
pursuing coal divestment, most notably
Stanford, Harvard, Yale, the nation of Norway, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
Since then, Divest Amherst has hosted
numerous events, raised the support of
an overwhelming majority of the student
body in a survey in April, 2013, delivered
a petition to the Board of Trustees containing over 500 student signatures, and
received an endorsement from 22 faculty
members. Divestment has a wide appeal,
in that it is both a progressive, free-market
approach to change, yet also a revolutionary statement that the divesting group does
not believe a certain industry should exist.

continued from page 25
3 “Should Domestic Violence Reporting be Mandatory?”
Medical Ethics Advisor, 1997
4 Questions & Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence.
5 See opinion letter from Harvard Law Faculty, “Rethink
Harvard’s Sexual Harassment Policy,” October 15, 2014,
The Boston Globe.

In February, 2015, the Board finally gave a
formal response after dodging the request
for two and a half years. In the response,
the Board stated that it would not divest
from coal, but rather “call for a framework


for investing with managers who thoughtfully and consistently incorporate environmental considerations into their investment decisions.” The statement also lays
out a series of vague goals, such as carbon
neutrality and making sustainability a “defining feature of Amherst’s educational and
community life,” devoid of a timeline and
concrete commitments.

edly could not convince a manager to divest if we wanted to. Complete divestment
would entail switching to entirely different
money managers, and the representatives
made it clear that they were not willing to
sacrifice their existing financial relationships, nor would they accept any decrease
in stock performance in favor of sustainability. Put another way, the investment office would choose the more sustainable of
two equal options, but would not sacrifice
any profits at all for a green portfolio. This
policy had already been in place, and belies
the meaninglessness of the “statement on

While the Green Amherst Project is happy
to work with the administration to develop
the campus’ sustainability potential (although much of this work can be done by
the recently created Office of Environmental Sustainability), many of the statement’s
suggestions left us with more questions
than answers. Would carbon neutrality be
reached by purchasing offsets in the form
of trees rather than cutting emissions?
Should the college really be building more
natural gas-burning infrastructure, even if
it is more efficient? What does it mean to
“incorporate environmental considerations
into the investment process,” if not divesting?

two equal options, but would not sacrifice
any profits at all for a green portfolio. This
policy had already been in place, and belies
the meaninglessness of the “statement on
As of the writing of this document in May,
2015, the Green Amherst Project and Divest Amherst have formally split, although
they will continue to work closely with
one another. The members of these groups
feel that each will be more successful in
its stated goals if they are able to focus on
them individually. The Green Amherst
Project will continue to promote sustainability practices among individuals and on
campus, and Divest Amherst will escalate
its campaign to demand a responsibly
invested endowment.

In March 2015, members of the Green
Amherst Project met with Board of Trustees President Cullen Murphy and Simon
Krinsky, one of the college’s financial
consultants, to attempt to learn more about
what the new investment strategy meant.
This meeting revealed a number of important facts. First, that the college had no
direct holdings in the coal industry, and to
divest direct investments from coal would
be to move no money. The college does,
however, directly own substantial holdings
in other fossil fuel companies. Prior to this
meeting, we had known that a vast majority of the college’s endowment is invested
through money managers (many of whom
invest in coal), but the representatives
informed us that the college has very little
leverage in these relationships and suppos-


how to
cheer for

Step One: Don’t Mention the Moose.
Recently, our esteemed mascot, the Lord
Jeffrey Amherst, backer of biological
warfare, sponsor of smallpox, has been
upstaged by a moose that wandered into
Biddy’s backyard in May 2014. Some want
this serendipitously-encountered moose to
be our new mascot, but that would make
it so terribly difficult to show your support
for genocide when cheering on your favorite Jeffs! Cheering for a moose wouldn’t
have any connections to the extermination
of Native Americans, whereas cheering for
Lord Jeffrey Amherst practically places you
right there with him as he writes to Colonel Henry Bouquet of his brilliant genocidal plan. If students keep talking about
the moose or other alternative mascots,
Jeffrey’s complacent constituency may be
eroded. Tradition!

Lizzy Austad ‘16
Congratulations on your decision to
matriculate to Amherst College! Here at
Amherst, we make it easy to root for your
favorite genocidal schemes, particularly if
you’re a fan of the time Lord Jeffrey Amherst suggested giving smallpox-infected
blankets to Native Americans. We even
line it out for you on our website. Let’s take
a look how you can still support Lord Jeff if
you so choose:


Step Two: Don’t Examine the Evidence

Hartwick College, St. John’s, University of
Tennessee, Miami University of Ohio,
Yakima College, Southern Nazarene University, Hendrix College, Seattle University,
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts,
University of Massachusetts, or Dartmouth
College. Definitely don’t try to look at
high schools, middle schools, elementary
schools, and city sports teams that have
all abandoned their anti-Native American
mascots. They make it look way too easy.
If we remember how many times mascots
have been changed in the past, our precious Lord Jeffrey Amherst might also be

Let’s keep focusing on the possibility that
the ideas Amherst suggested never came to
fruition. Remember, his suggestions probably didn’t result in the actual use of smallpox blankets or trying “every other method
that can serve to extirpate this execrable
race.” We only know that he thought and
wrote about committing genocide, which
is totally acceptable. If we knew for certain
that he himself gave the smallpox blankets,
or that his suggestions were carried out
specifically because of his order, then it
would be much easier to cheer for genocide. But alas, we have a mascot who was
racist just in his thoughts, beliefs, words,
and any actions based on his suggestions.
The best way to cheer for genocide is to
continue to insist on a strict dichotomy
between thought and action: after all, when
have ideas ever affected the real world?

Step Four: Don’t Pay
Attention to the Plates
Yes, our own school’s dining hall used to
serve meals on plates depicting Englishmen with swords chasing Native Americans. But don’t think about that. Try not to
reminisce too much about those glorious
days when racism was served with every
meal. When we lost these plates, we lost
part of our connection to our beloved,
racist, mascot. With each removal of these
racist connections, we have a little bit less
racism in our daily lives. Getting rid of
the plates didn’t stop us from continuing
to cheer for genocide. Even if we get rid of
Lord Jeff as our mascot, don’t fret, racism
will live on. But keeping him around, just
like these plates once did, helps to serve as
a reminder to all of us that racism is still
prevalent and can be seen all around us. As
long as we have Lord Jeff around, it’s easy
to remember that you, too, can cheer for
genocide. Go Jeffs!

Step Three: Don’t Consider
Other Colleges
Remember that changing the mascot is
like, really hard. Don’t think about the
many schools that started with racists
mascots and later changed them. Don’t
think about how over 50 years ago, the
University of Oklahoma retired its mascot.
Don’t think about Marquette University
abandoning its mascot in 1971 or Stanford
University and Dickinson State changing
their mascots in 1972. Don’t think about
Syracuse University, Southern Oregon University, Siena College, St. Mary’s College,
University of Illinois, Simpson College,


life after

after presentation by consulting, finance,
and other powerful firms. The atmosphere
of celebration around these events makes
it clear that hosting these events is the
reason for the Career Center’s existence.
Let’s be explicit about why these sorts of
firms recruit on college campuses: they are
looking to exploit your anxiety for stability and salary by working you to the bone
at a time in your life when you are used
to this workload anyway! This working
life dovetails with the Amherst culture of
overwork, which is not so much a symptom of a “rigorous education” but rather
conditioning for grueling and unfulfilling
post-graduation working life—job training, not education.

Alex Diones ‘14
My mother has always wanted the best
for me. To her, this meant a single trajectory: that I was to receive only the best
undergraduate education, then I would
matriculate to an equally excellent law
school. With this training, I would then
become a lawyer. Trial law? Corporate law?
Didn’t matter, as long as I could be called
a lawyer. The one index of value I heard
throughout my childhood was ambition.
“She’s smart, but she could only go that
far in her life? Lawyers are so much more
prestigious. I hope that you will have more
ambition than that, Alex.” Never once do
I remember her asking me what I wanted
for myself. Amherst, too, is caught up in
imposing its own values on its students,
rather than nurturing their own. Amherst,
like my mother, wanted the best for me,
acts on this wish by deciding for me what
careers, lives, and choices I ought to value.

Before entering that life, though, you’ll
have to sit through your commencement. There, this college’s president will
tell you how to understand the relationship between your college education and
your post-college life, your “Life of Consequence.” What does your future alma
mater expect of you? Tony Marx tells us
that we will “transform the world” (Commencement 2004), perhaps in the manner
of a conquering Roman general (Commencement 2007). Through these speeches, the college makes it very clear what
makes a life valuable: a career of “consequence,” that is of power and influence.
What sorts of power and influence?

This imposition comes in many forms. For
example, the Pathways program, which
fosters alumni-student mentoring relationships, aims to “bridge the gap from student
life to work life” and to help with “career
exploration.” The goal, the program’s
instructional materials note, is to help
you understand the relationship between
your “academic and professional life.”
As though the only meaningful interactions between students and alumni can
take place through networking. You will
get used to the college’s post-graduation
preparation department (tellingly called
the “Career Center”) hosting presentation

The current language that Amherst deploys
comes from the “Lives of Consequence”
fundraising campaign that ran from 2008
to 2013. While Amherst sought to reassure
everyone that the meaning of a “life of consequence” was open for the individual to
determine, the message was clear enough:
that an Amherst graduate should be
ambitious, and in a very specific way. He
(yes, he) should pursue a career in law, in
business, in finance. And if he’s not thrilled


about working for banks, Amherst understands! He can go into politics, or perhaps
even work for a major sports team if that’s
what you’re interested in. In any case, rest
assured, Amherst tells us, that with an Amherst education he will succeed. At every
turn, we see the Amherst graduate using
his education to wild success in public and
business life. He will confidently stride
forth, making his mark in the places of
power, and in the course of his comfortable life his donations to Amherst will
perpetuate the sort of education he himself
received. The rhetoric directly benefits
Amherst’s bottom line.

to the top of the hierarchy reinforces that
very hierarchy by seducing many of those
who would challenge it.
Many of Amherst’s armada of deans and
assorted administrators really do wish you
well, however well or poorly they manifest
it. The history of Amherst as I described
above works not through the intentions of
administrators but through their myopic
practices. Given their resignation to the
world that is, their logic is sound: if you
just ignore the countless forms of violence
that you will encounter in the communities Amherst wants you to enter in order
to secure your own advancement, then you
can attain personal financial security with
the tools Amherst gives you. And you only
need to give up your other dreams in order
to attain that security that Amherst wants
for you. The situation is tragic: Amherst’s
desires for its students’ wellbeing ends up
causing many of us harm. But even if Amherst were the most open-minded mother
in the world, it remains that any attempt to
dictate your desires threatens your intellectual autonomy and self-actualization. At
best, it could only reflect Amherst’s desires
for your life rather than your own. Keep
in mind Amherst’s historical situation: it is
not a temple of learning, abstracted from
a reality of oppression and hierarchy, and
its continued support of the latter depends
on you mistaking it for the former. Nothing is without its history; you must protect
yourself from naively accepting knowledge
as abstractly given by questioning this very
givenness. That is, rather than “question
everything!” without thought to what you
might question and why, critically investigate your specific experience: the tensions
between your values, the gap between what
you expected and what you encounter.

To buy into Amherst’s values is to buy
into Amherst’s historical role; it is through
participation in these values that Amherst
perpetuates a hierarchical society. Amherst
is one among many institution that profess
the “liberal arts”: that education which
claims itself proper to a free citizenry, but
in terms of both historical genealogy and
contemporary practice is an aristocratic
concept. The liberal arts in its original
form is the educating of (white, European, male) children in subjects that allow
them to participate in the high culture of
their day. If the particular subjects have
changed, this is a testament to the changing demands on the governing class. Then
it was Classics and Rhetoric, now it is Economics and Statistics. Forget the mascot:
this hidden ancestry is attested to above all
in Marx’s instruction to literally imagine
ourselves as imperials. And contrary to
Amherst’s assertion that it is now engaged
in an egalitarian project, the diversity to
the student body indicates not a repudiation of this historical role but rather its
necessary next stage. Instead of exclusively
educating wealthy white males, it introduces those of marginalized class and race
into the fold. But this introduction of “the
best and the brightest” of the marginalized

Examples from our own experiences navigating post-grad life: What sort of career



would I find to do what I consider good
work? Does this work need to happen in
the confines of a career? How do I reconcile my politics and a desire for justice with
a need for my financial security or political
safety, particularly if people back home
will depend on my paycheck? Is it possible for me to make change from within a
hierarchical oppressive system or industry,
or can I better serve the communities I belong to by working on “the outside”? How
can I honor and support the communities
that I come from?



A question is the acknowledgement of the
existence of a problem in your world, and
the prerequisite of thinking through the
possibility of its resolution. This is education, which must necessarily be open to
contestation, not simply assertion. Contestation not only between the administration and the authors of this guide but
between the many that participate in your
new community, and between your own
conflicting desires. Your education is too
valuable to undermine by uncritically following another’s agenda for your life, even
if they want only the best for you.


Edward Kim ‘15
At the time of writing this, there is on the
table a proposition for instituting Social
Clubs at Amherst College. You probably
will, as a current Amherst student, have a
vote on this issue, but aside from asking
that you remain informed on the question,
I will leave you to vote as you will. I would
instead like to discuss an already existing
social institution at Amherst College, one
that I am quite sure still persists to this day
regardless of when you are reading this:
Social Groups.
A Social Group, as opposed to a Social
Club, is a broadly, though not loosely,
defined entity, which can range on many
qualities such as number of members, to
presence on campus, to level of institutionalization. To be sure, Amherst College is
not the only institution of higher learning
wherein Social Groups exist. But given our
history, policies, and student body, the in
and of itself innocuous properties of Social
Groups manifest themselves here into
something largely unique to Amherst.

Be sure to check out our website at!


Consider four properties in

are strongly encouraged by the college
administration to do so. But therein lies
the danger. A horrifying demonstration of
having one major Social Group on campus
is that you have probably already been encouraged and/or invited to join it in some
capacity. Given the abovementioned 4th
property of Social Groups, this unequivocally discourages first-years from discovering other Social Groups they might enjoy
more, and especially discourages them
from forming their own.

1. To form a Social Group
requires no pretense, you need
only you and a few friends.
2. Joining a Social Group is not
compulsory, but is both highly
encouraged, and automatic.
3. A Social Group will exist at
Amherst College until all of its
members have graduated.

It is tempting to join the robust tradition of Delta Psi Chi as you are ostensibly
freed from the anxiety of possibly finding
yourself without a Social Group. But a
Social Group centered about tradition and
seniority will necessarily be incapable of
changing in response to the wants or needs
of its newer members. Many have left
Delta Psi Chi for reasons ranging from a
mere mismatch of sensibilities, to extreme
physical, emotional, and mental trauma,
wrought by a dangerous social culture
which Delta Psi Chi embodies, preserves,
and reproduces. I am positive that some
Amherst students are incredibly happy to
be premiere members of Delta Psi Chi and
would be quite unhappy anywhere else.
I am honestly happy for them. However
the existence of these select individuals
does not excuse the damage caused to the
fecundity of social life at Amherst College as a result of an unhesitating policy to
normalize Delta Psi Chi membership. We
must at the very least concede our right to
be surprised that if we insist that everyone
take a sip of the drink, some will find it
distasteful, and some may even discover
it to be, personally, poisonous. These are
costs we should not be willing to bear just
in search of said select individuals, and
only to the benefit of said select individuals, who will happily belong in Delta
Psi Chi.

4. Inclusion in Social Groups is
not mutually exclusive in principle, but often is so in practice.

I have no evidence but mathematical
logic for the claim that in its earlier years,
what with graduating classes of only 25,
Amherst College had a few Social Groups
all of which were of approximately equal
size. But walk into Val in 2015 and you’ll
notice that the campus divides itself largely
according to its Social Group affiliations,
which equates to one very large group, and
many much smaller ones.
The largest Social Group on campus I have
fondly nicknamed “Delta Psi Chi”, and
despite the moniker and ostensible qualities, I admit it’s not technically a fraternity.
(Fraternities were officially banned from
Amherst College in 1984 and officially
ultra-double-dog-banned in 2014.) Delta
Psi Chi’s size is unsurprising given that it is
in many ways the oldest Social Group on
campus, whereas the vast majority only last
a few years (refer to the 3rd property). The
difference lies in the fact that Delta Psi Chi
members actively recruit first-years, and in
fact some members in particular



By the fact that there exists one large, hyper-publicized, Social Group, there results
a profound pressure on social life external
to the one. The eminent presence of one
enormous hegemon inculcates in individuals a growing expectation to be part of a
Social Group at all. Ones hastily formed in
response to this impressed urgency might
find that the wants or needs of its members are in fact incompatible. This creates
situations in which one can feel one’s social
needs are wholly ignored despite being
constantly surrounded by so many de jure
friends. Needless to say, loneliness is quick
to follow. And what began as a false need
results in a reified lack.

Thomas Dumm, William H. Hastie ’25
Professor of Political Ethics
I’ve been on a sabbatical leave this past
academic year, and have only tried to keep
up with the goings on of the College sporadically. One of the things I heard about
while on leave was that a survey had been
conducted that indicated that Amherst
College students are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. I heard that it has been
actually described as a crisis. I also heard
that the evidence of the survey was being
used as an argument -- the rude term
would be bludgeon -- by the folks running
student affairs to advance a group of programs and other interventions designed to
mitigate, ameliorate, eliminate, overwhelm,
overcome, and otherwise confront this
pernicious epidemic of loneliness. I imagine that all sorts of interventions have been
planned, and that more personnel will be
hired, even as we seem to be running out
of room on the second floor of Converse
Hall, mostly occupied by student affairs, to
create more programs where everyone will
be together, lonely no longer!

Staring at the night sky, I find the moon
to be of little interest to me, despite being
told by everyone pointing over me to look
at the moon. I much rather the stars; their
incredible diversity, their innate ability to
string together networks amongst themselves, their playful visibility, and most of
all their deceptive presentation of stature
versus complexity. Yes, some do fade. But
I can think of nothing so brilliant or so
beautiful as the stars I discovered during
my four years at Amherst College.

May you find your
guiding light.

When I heard about the survey, I thought
to myself, “Tom, someone from the realm
of student life will surely be in touch with
you soon to ask for your advice.” Why
might they have done so? Well, in 2008
Harvard University Press published a book
I had written entitled Loneliness as a Way
of Life. It was my attempt to figure out
what loneliness is and what we ought do


about the ubiquity of loneliness in our culture. But I was wrong - Never was I asked.
Since this is a disorientation guide, let us
imagine that these luminaries actually did
seek my advice.

life and higher education to expand the
empire of bullshit, to offer you false ways
of overcoming loneliness. But in my more
sane moments I realize that they are just
like most folks in their line of work. They
follow each other, offering each other
workshops on this and that, attending
conferences, justifying their existence by
making new programs that they can run.
And we professors have been followers
as well, shrugging off our serious duties,
having been at best asleep at the wheel as
this gradual undermining of our work has
happened. We have allowed this gradual
encroachment upon the core of life here—
learning from a curriculum—to reach the
point where some of us last year actually
had to explain to the director of student
affairs that no, extracurricular activities are
NOT as central to the life of the college as
curricular activities.

I guess these folks found that what I had
written -- I’m assuming someone over
on the second floor of Converse read the
book, no? -- didn’t offer anything like
a program to mitigate, ameliorate, or
otherwise stomp out loneliness. Instead,
having thought through so much of what is
offered as cures for loneliness, I concluded
that there is in fact no cure for it, that loneliness is itself a fundamental part of the
contemporary human condition, and that
in the many possibilities we have for learning to cultivate forms of solitude out of our
lonely existence we might eventually find
that being alone can be something that
leads to a deep and thoroughly wonderful
transformation of one’s life. That transformation will come about as you learn
that loneliness is not to be overcome, but
inhabited. The great opportunity you have
as students is to explore your lonely condition, to experience it in the context of that
peculiar and rare freedom that is afforded
to you as students.

I think that every extra-curricular demand—and it is a demand—that is made
upon you is a curb on the deeper freedom
you could exercise to explore the most serious of matters that grow out of your lonely
condition. Don’t be fooled when they tell
you that these extra-curricular activities
are opportunities, that they are essential
to your education, every bit as valuable as
what happens in a laboratory or seminar
room, or in the quiet riot of your mind
as you begin to learn to think, to write,
to formulate. They aren’t. They are at best
pleasurable distractions from what ought
to be the main event of your lives here, the
serious cultivation of your mind and soul,
and are meaningful only to the extent that
the friendships you make in these places
and while doing these activities may help
you to advance the main event of your life
here, the learning on offer by those of us
who actually know more—at least for the
first few weeks— than you do about subjects that matter, more or less, to the future

But to explore your lonely condition you
will need the time and quiet that all such
explorations require. What has saddened
me about this college over the years is
the growth of so much extra-curricular
bullshit that steals that time from you.
(“Bullshit” is a technical term, one well
explored by the philosopher Harry Frankfurt). Extra-curricular activities increasingly interfere with the more serious
explorations that ought to be at the center
of your lives here. In my more conspiratorial musings I sometimes think that the
student affairs bureaucracy has seized
upon a moment of transition in American


of this imperiled world. At worst, extracurricular activities are superficial, shallow,
worse than meaningless, ways of killing
time, as Nietzsche once put it. (Nietzsche
thought that one of the worst things people
can do is kill time, since each of us has
such a limited period of time between
when we have not yet existed and when we
will cease to exist.)

here, even sports – though I myself think
that there are sports and there are other
sports that aren’t very sporting, like the
ones that damage the brains of students as
a central part of their practice. (But that is
a subject for another time.) You can’t focus
on the terror, the crisis of identity, the pain
of becoming an adult, all the time. But
you shouldn’t be told that you could avoid
or overcome that pain through whatever
extra-curricular activities student affairs
offer up.

What is tempting about these distractions
is that they can steer you away from what
is seriously painful and dreadful in your
lives upon your arrival and for much of
your time here, your sense of isolation, of
your identity in crisis, of the pain of not
knowing who you are or what you are to
become. You can evade that pain, you can
get temporary relief, by joining: joining a
team, a club, a theatre group, a group of
drinking or drug buddies, a sport, or all of
those other things that you will be encouraged to join, and I won’t deny that for some
of you one or more of those activities may
actually become your path through this
place. That will be okay, too, as long as you
are aware of the risks on that path and of
the path untaken. But these activities won’t
be the way for most of you. And when you
go from these activities back to the quiet of
your own loneliness you will find that the
pain is still there. The terror of not knowing what to do or whom you are will still
be awaiting your attention.

But what if your pain is too much, what
if it comes, not simply from our more
ubiquitous and shared loneliness but from
more specific and traumatic sources? I
sympathize with you deeply on that matter,
and there are clearly traumas and damages
that many of you either will be bringing
with you from your life prior to Amherst
or will suffer while here. These traumas,
these inner hurts, need to be faced, and
we need to help you face them. I would
suggest that the best and primary role of
student affairs ought be here, in this area
of our lives, and that they, hand in hand
with us professors, should pay very serious
attention to helping, however we can, our
students who so suffer. (Part of the recent
crisis of our college has had to do with our
shortcoming in this area. I hope we are
repairing that deficiency, though I sometimes wonder.)

Am I telling you not to have fun? No. I am
only asking you to take yourselves seriously. Stanley Cavell, another philosopher,
once noted that he was always puzzled
when people would say to him, “You take
yourself too seriously.” “If I don’t take myself seriously, who will?” was his response.
Taking yourself seriously doesn’t mean not
enjoying yourself, the company of others,
the popular culture that surrounds you,
the plethora of distractions offered to you

Your loneliness will become toxic if it is
accompanied by despair, and a large part
of your education should be to learn how
to separate the two, to cultivate a care for
yourself that is deep and abiding, a care
that will allow you to live better with the
consequences of those earthquakes that
have so shaken you and that you bring
with you here. This is the more general
therapeutic role that a liberal arts education could provide; I think here especially


the humanities might offer such help, but
I also know that my inclination is only my
prejudice on this matter, because I have
gotten to know many of our scientists,
who generally seem to me to be humanists
avante le lettre.


Anyway, as you get started here, know that
some of us know that you are lonely. Know
as well that we take that loneliness seriously. But know as well that anyone who tells
you that loneliness is something that needs
to be cured is either a fool or a knave; that
becoming an adult, which is what you are
up to, means facing hard truths; and that
the existential fact of loneliness is one of
those truths. Stanley Cavell, that philosopher who defended seriousness, also once
said something else that might serve as
a rallying cry for those of you who take
yourself seriously. When asked to define
what philosophy is he said, “Philosophy is
the education of grownups.” If he is right,
and you seek to grow up, you need to
become philosophers, which is only to say
that you need to become educated. And to
become educated, you need to take yourselves seriously.


Samuel Rosenblum ‘16
This coming week you will be bombarded
with countless opportunities to “get
involved.” Many of the groups you will
consider joining claim to be activist, a
term you and I might also use to describe
ourselves. These groups represent student voices on college committees and in
meetings with administrators, promulgate
activities at various resource centers, lead
community engagement projects with local
organizations, and write op-eds on campus
blogs. You will probably sign-up for numerous clubs and thereafter discover your
inbox flooded with messages about club
meetings, leadership posts, and pre-games.
Drowning in such a barrage of opportunities, how are you to stay afloat? The answer
comes through self-criticism.
Let me first clarify what self-criticism is
not. Self-criticism neither denotes apology nor skepticism. The former sometimes
begins with the thinking that it is more important to develop friendships than pester
one’s potential peers with one’s political or
social bantering. Apology, when rooted in
the possibility of offending someone, both
privatizes trauma and assumes hypersensitive and passive victims. It is a way of
thinking which frequently limits how we
think, live, and fight, especially toward
those in power. And although administrators, in Student Affairs and elsewhere,
carry traumas, they usually wield power
painlessly. Acting from apology, we risk

So, welcome to
Amherst College.
Welcome to loneliness.
Welcome to taking
yourself seriously.
And welcome to
broadly understood.


constantly compromising our activist work
to the policies of the powerful. Furthermore, self-criticism is also not synonymous with cynical skepticism, a constant
self-doubt, which when directed inwardly
is an obstacle for taking action. This paralyzes us, plaguing us with the inability to
commit to any form of political activism.

approved (by the Administration). We
confine ourselves to opportunities which
have been presented to us (or in your case,
those that will be presented to you).
Of course, activist “opportunities” take
many forms (they are diverse, as is Amherst!). However, they tend to follow a
common trajectory: student energy and
activism are trampled by administrators
working to protect the public image of the
College, avoid controversy, take credit, and
depoliticize the radical critiques offered
by students. Last year, a group of students
committed to the Black Lives Matter
movement advocated for a Day of Dialogue on Race and Racism. Soon co-opted
and sanitized by the Administration, the
Day moderated itself: fellow Disorientation
author Sharline Dominguez ‘17E said to
me that the result was a “weak sympathy”
from white students toward the experiences of students of color. Mere comfortable reaction—whether it is in Administration-planned Days of Dialogue or online
comment sections—to student activism
demonstrates the hostility against activists
who pose radical critiques.

Rather, self-criticism is rooted in acting as
ourselves, against and beyond the opportunities that will soon flood your inboxes
and mandate your attendance. We contrast
who we are and might be and how we live
and might live with the ways that our lives
are unfree and circumscribed by what is
deemed acceptable at Amherst. In this
sense, as Zak Brown notes, self-criticism
might originate with a woman’s understanding that her life is sexualized, with a
Black man’s understanding that his life is
criminalized, with a worker’s understanding that her life is exploited. It begins with
a direct confrontation with the institutional and social structures that limit us. Of
course, when the Office of Student Affairs
says it is “helping...maximize [your] use
of resources on campus”—opportunities
galore!—self-criticism becomes essential,
precisely because there seem to be no

To reiterate, self-criticism is more than a
mode of thinking and a way of analyzing;
it is more than mere understanding. It
directs us toward acting, toward exorcising
the social and political norms which limit
us from the self-actualization of what we
can be. Karl Marx noted that self-criticism
commands us to “Dance!” For one, the
imperative “Dance!” reminds us that there
is no time like the present at which we can
act.1 More importantly, dancing conjures
up the physicality of action – of admitting,
recognizing, and engaging in the toil and

If we do not persistently make ourselves
vulnerable to our own criticism, we run
a risk fatal to our activism, and, perhaps,
ourselves: blind conformity—in institutional memory, shared vocabulary, and
(un)selected modes of activism—with
what student leaders, college administrators, university consulting firms, and legal
counsel have deemed or co-opted as reasonable, all-right, and safe. We stick only
to modes of activism that are admirable
(to us) and sanctioned (by the Administration); useful (for us) and certified (by the
Administration); imperative (for us) and

1 Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis
Bonaparte,” in Marx: Later Political Writings, ed. Terrell
Carver (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,
2010), 35.


labor needed to make our lives better.
Merely writing a blog post, staging a walkout, or scheduling a meeting with administrators silences the physical and emotional labor of activism which consumes
time and space: whether it is sitting in Val
tabling with a petition for some cause, attending meetings with administrators and
compiling follow-up notes, or negotiating
the myriad bureaucratic channels to return
to campus after medical leave.

ship-crafting philosophy that underlies
this feeling (yay! I wrote a thing!), we
risk reifying and continuously congratulating ourselves on the accomplishment. Content with the thing we
have accomplished, we become stuck,
unable to consider what we must
do next to effectuate change. However, precisely because the process of
struggle transcends us and continues
forever, we should realize our fatigue
and take care of ourselves. Don’t work
all the time.

Marx’s other insight is that as we engage
in self-criticism, our opponents’ forces
intrude more and more on our lives. This
is logical. At first, we arrive at Amherst
wide-eyed, hoping for some liberal arts
enlightenment, a freeing environment
to study disinterestedly beyond various
limits – economic, social, familial, among
others – placed on our lives. When we
become self-critical, we see how the College’s policies and “best practices” can both
negatively (and positively) affect our lives.
The more self-critical we become, the more
we perceive this intrusion. At some point,
the intrusion becomes so great, so obvious, so clear, so seemingly absurd, that we
act. The dissonance between what we see
around us and what we want to see around
us is so fraught with tension, that we have
no other choice but to respond to that
disharmony with “Dance!” Thus, in returning to “how?,” – the actually acting – the
limitations imposed on what is and is not
acceptable invite us to transcend them.

2. Collective action – If you write an
op-ed, the Administration has little
to worry about – their total power,
reinforced by outside consultants, will
exceed the individual actions against
it. In other words, the Administration
appreciates, even encourages, some
activism, as long as it poses no serious
threat to their power. Student-wide
referenda, teach-ins with varying student groups, collective walk-outs and
other forms of community organizing
are critical, as a way of connecting our
individual work. Solidarity, as a practice to build support for our struggles
and those of our allies, is essential.

3. Material change – The boundary
of the Internet is difficult to cross,
with the predominance of Tumblr,
blogging, and Facebook activism.
We should ask what sort of material
dimensions our actions take. How can
we occupy spaces? Which committees
have the power to do what? And how
can we use that power?’s
one-click checkout is an insufficient
model for activism. Real activism
requires endurance, time and energy,
but can be developed with the tools
of solidarity, camaraderie, playfulness
and humor.

When no one listens, responds, reacts, or
changes what they do because of our activism, how do we respond?
Here are five points to consider:
1. The process of struggle – Be wary of
the senses of accomplishment and relief of some battle won. Apart from the
egotistical, resume-building, leader-


4. The unsayable – Despite seeminglydiverse discourses on campus, certain
views and questions are excluded in favor of others. In rupturing discourses
and creating new shared vocabularies,
what voices and views are silenced?
In our work, we might consider the
apartheid-state of Israel and academic
and social vulnerability and failure.

5. Demanding power vs. proclaiming
power – Be wary of activism which
takes on the form “I got this…by asking…so-and-so.” This form, on which
many AAS projects take (e.g. moving
compost bins to improve traffic flow
in Val), requests and demands power,
rather than announcing and performing it. We frequently forget that
actions such as striking and collective
disobedience differ from other forms
of activism in that by doing them, we,
in fact, create power.

What does self-critical activism then
mean? It constitutes an opening and a
beginning, starting with a critique of what
closes and concludes. In this sense, it is
paradoxical to call activism successful, for
success names a kind of conclusion. Consider the Disorientation Guide itself: what
makes the document you are reading activist, subversive, and radical is not merely its
content, nor the process by which it was
distributed (under the auspices of students,
unauthorized by administrators). The
organizers of the Disorientation Guide are
unable to claim success now, even as you
read it. Only if and when this zine contributes to our collective and direct acting does
it even have a chance at a funny, almost
nonsensical kind of success, a success of
setting in motion, one that draws strength
from remaining unfinished. The Guide’s
own orientation is political because it asks
us to rupture the limits and boundaries on
which we rely to organize our ways of acting and being. In this sense, we hope that,
in asking you to think for yourself, the
Disorientation Guide lives up to its name.


professors we love:
We believe that these professors, either through the themes upon which their classes touch
or their pedagogical styles, engage with counter-hegemonic ideas and practices. Some teach
theory critical to the Left; others teach practice; and still others conduct their classrooms in
a manner that counteracts, more than most, the pedagogical biases endemic to the academy.
Among them, we may find allies and comrades, but we should, as with any other individual’s politics, maintain a dose of skepticism. This is not an exhaustive list and is based on the
personal experiences of the organizers. The values which organizers used to add professors to
this list may contradict those of other students.

Elizabeth Aries, Clarence Francis 1910 Professor of Social Sciences (PSYC)
Daniel Barbezat, Professor of Economics (ECON)
Amrita Basu, Domenic J. Paino 1955 Professor of Political Science and Sexuality,
Women’s and Gender Studies (POSC, SWAG)
Ellen Boucher, Assistant Professor of History (EUST, HIST)
Kristin Bumiller, George Daniel Olds Professor of Economic and Social Institutions
Nusrat Chowdhury, Assistant Professor of Anthropology (ANTH, ASLC)
Christopher Dole, Associate Professor of Anthropology (ANTH)
John Drabinski, Professor of Black Studies (BLST)
Thomas Dumm, William H. Hastie ‘25 Professor of Political Ethics (POSC)
Jeffrey Ferguson, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Black Studies (BLST)
Deborah Gewertz, G. Henry Whitcomb 1874 Professor of Anthropology (ANTH)
Amelie Hastie, Professor of English and Film and Media Studies (ENGL, FAMS)
Hannah Holleman, Assistant Professor of Sociology (ENST, SOCI)
Nasser Hussain, Professor of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought (LJST)
Ronald Lembo, Professor of Sociology (SOCI)
Rick López ‘93, Professor of History and Dean of New Students (ENST, HIST)
Pavel Machala, Charles E. Merrill 1908 Professor of Political Science (POSC)
Trent Maxey, Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Civilizations and History
Edward Melillo, Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies (ENST,
Marisa Parham, Professor of English (BLST, ENGL)
Andrew Poe, Assistant Professor of Political Science (POSC)
Khary Polk, Assistant Professor of Black Studies and Sexuality, Women’s and Gender
Studies (BLST, SWAG)
Sahar Sadjadi, Assistant Professor of Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies (SWAG)
Geoffrey Sanborn, Professor of English (ENGL)
Austin Sarat, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science and Associate Dean of the Faculty (LJST, POSC)
Leah Schmalzbauer, Associate Professor of American Studies and Sociology (AMST,



Dwaipayan Sen, Assistant Professor of Asian Languages and Civilizations and History (ASLC, HIST)
Krupa Shandilya, Assistant Professor of Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies
Adam Sitze, Associate Professor of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought (LJST)
Martha Umphrey, Bertrand H. Snell 1894 Professor in American Government and
Director of the Center for Humanistic Inquiry (LJST)

staff we love:
Through their work, we believe that these staff members either support student activism and
organizing or can serve as mentors and contacts to help students with the political, intellectual, social and emotional transformation which happens at College. These staff do not
limit how they interact with students because of their position, and interact with students as
fellow community members. As with the list of faculty, this is not an exhaustive list and is
based on the personal experiences of the organizers.

Jesse Barba, Associate Director for Institutional Research and Associate Registrar
Sarah Barr, Director of the Center for Community Engagement
Maria Cartagena, Assistant Director of Student Programs, Center for Community
Tony Esposito, Cafe Supervisor
Don Kells, Postmaster
Michael Kelly, Head of Archives and Special Collections, Robert Frost Library
Peter McLean, Farmer, Book & Plow Farm
Dunstan McNutt, Research and Instruction Librarian
Tobin Porter-Brown, Farmer, Book & Plow Farm
Missy Roser ‘94, Head of Research and Instruction, Robert Frost Library
Sara Smith, Arts and Humanities Librarian
Paul Sorrentino, Director of Religious Life; Protestant Religious Advisor
Andy Tew ‘07, Case Manager in the Office of Student Affairs
Angie Tissi-Gassoway, Director of the Queer Resource Center
Lourdes Torres, Communications Operator / Dispatcher



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