A Defense of 'Amherst Uprising'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A couple weeks ago, I published “The Illiberal Demands of the Amherst Uprising,” a look at the demands that student activists presented to their college president. In response, student activist Andrew Lindsay, Amherst College Class of 2016, writes:

To be a student of color at Amherst College oftentimes is to walk around without skin. It is to feel continuously vulnerable and naked to the elements. The stakes of being are higher than most. The erasure of our bodies and the homelessness that results takes its toll. This overexposure is all consuming and exhausting. “Why am I so vulnerable?”, “Is their no place for me?” — very little security against racial injury exists for minorities on college campuses. Without protection students feel invisible and strike out. They strike out through depression and social anxiety. They strike out through physical and social isolation. They feel like phantoms although they are continuously exposed to others.

Students hope to create spaces of mutual respect to reduce this feeling of homelessness.

Amherst College activists hope to create learning spaces from such alienation. The demands of Amherst Uprising are not illiberal. They are concerned with the creation of spaces and community norms that affirm individual dignity. These Amherst College students are not in favor of perfunctorily sanctioning anyone from their community. They are simply pressing their college to create necessary structures to address instances of racial injury in a sufficient way. Debates on free speech detract from the fact such movements at Yale, Mizzou and Amherst are primarily concerned with equal justice.

Administrators are more mindful of petty drug violations than matters of racial injury. This prevents minority students from fully taking advantage of what their schools have to offer. Students merely hope to not only prevent behaviors that cause racial injury in an inclusive, restorative way for both parties, but also to create introspection within the involved parties about the factors that led to racial injury. The Amherst College administration may not be able to change an individual’s beliefs about certain issues but they can certainly create spaces for parties respectfully learn about and reflect on their behaviors.

Andrew Lindsay
Amherst College Class of 2016

I thank him for the engagement; wish him success in inculcating mutual respect and creating community norms that affirm the dignity of all students, not just members of majority groups; sympathize with students who do not feel welcome on their campus; and stand by my characterization of the original “Amherst Uprising” demands as flagrantly illiberal. Readers can see them here and judge for themselves. Amherst Uprising has subsequently engaged Amherst’s president in dialogue about alternative ways to proceed that are, in my view, less objectionable.