UMass Amherst’s Racial Inequity and Sexual Harassment

Thatcher Richard, Scarlet Staff

During the fall semester of 2021, the University of Massachusetts Amherst has faced quite the slew of issues. On September 17th a mass email was sent out to the Amherst student body addressing ‘Black Students of our campus,’ claiming to be “sharing the sentiments of many students on campus of all races and creed (except yours).” The first paragraph of the email made blatant attacks to Black students’ presentation, culture and intelligence making statements that Black students “live like hoodrats” and are “lacking intelligence along with an elementary grasp of subjects most of us learned in high school.”

The email then goes on to make claims that UMass Amherst’s Black students do not fit in with the rest of the student body stating “White people, Asians, Hispanics almost none of us truly want to interact with [Black students],” and that Black students must “beg the rest of society to accept [them] and allow [them] in because otherwise we [the other students] would never interact with you [Black students].” The email is wrapped up with a statement from the anonymous writers, claiming that Black students should “get sterilized,” and a sign off from the group calling themselves ‘Umass Coalition for a better society.’

On September 23rd, UMass administrators released an official statement on the sentiments expressed in the email:

“To begin, an anti-Black racist email was sent to numerous Black-centered student groups. The content of these emails is vile, blatantly racist, and violently offensive.”

Additionally, the president of the university, Marty Meehan, sent out a statement on September 27th regarding the slew of racist action on UMass’s campus.

“The blatantly racist emails recently sent to Black student organizations at UMass Amherst and other deplorable acts of anti-Black hatred are appalling and disgusting. While UMass Amherst is still trying to identify the source of these messages, we do know that the messages in no way reflect the true character of the UMass community and we have zero tolerance for such behavior. We are reminded, however, that we all have an obligation to confront the racism that continues to infect our society.”

This is not the first offense of racist actions taken by students on UMass’s campus. A few years ago, it was reported that racist graffiti was plastered on the side of Melville Hall. The graffiti included the word “hang,” as well as the n-word, which was shortly followed by a painting of the confederate flag about one month later. It was stated that university police were working to find the culprit, though nothing came from their investigation.

On September 27th a thread on Twitter was published by UMass Amherst’s official account to supplement Vice Chancellor Walker’s statement from the previous week. The statement came from Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.

“I want to share with you today that we have secured the services of Stroz Friedberg Digital Forensics, a leading national firm in cyber security, to assist us in our investigation of the source of the racist emails that were sent to members of the Black student organizations… We will also fight back against bigotry and intolerance with a series of educational opportunities and action steps to promote understanding and an ongoing commitment to justice.”

The educational opportunities outlined by Chancellor Subbaswamy are listed as forums lead by Black individuals exploring Black justice, as well as a Black Advisory Council that plans to work on improving “the experiences of Black students, faculty and staff on campus.”

The original racist email itself was sent out on September 17th. It took the University 10 days to pull together any sort of idea of what to do about the racist ideology of its students, and still nothing has come to fruition. Replies to the university’s tweet included outrage over why it took almost two weeks for the administration to take action to find the students writing the email, as well as outrage over the fact that their effort – while there – was extremely minimal. Hosting forums for students to attend at their own discretion is not an effort. Students with racist ideology, who would most benefit from a forum like that, simply will not attend. UMass Amherst needs to hold mandatory racial sensitivity training, as it is glaringly obvious that many of their students lack the skills to empathize with Black students on campus.

Outraged students on UMass Amherst’s campus have been participating in protests since the email was sent out. Sarah Hunter, a sophomore at UMass Amherst made a statement regarding the actions of the administration:

“They went on about making an effort to make positive change but like how high is the effort if you’re not even going to track down whoever said those things.”

Students on campus feel unheard at the inaction of their administration, and Black students on campus feel unprotected by the lack of effort put forth by the administration to find and expel the students behind the email. If this kind of racism won’t make the administration jump to root out their racist students, what will? Hosting a forum to talk about racism is not sufficient when the racism itself is so thoroughly ingrained in the student body. The lack of care around this sends a direct message to Black UMass students that they are unprotected and unsafe on their campus.

The University states that the incident is not a hate crime because “no criminal activity is involved.” There has not been any update on administrative effort to find those behind the email since September 27th.