Someone nearly vandalized a menorah and a sign attached to it on display on the Amherst College campus in Massachusetts last week, and school President Biddy Martin just will not stand for it.
Martin and Dean of Students Charri Boykin-East quickly responded with an email Dec. 5 asking for more witnesses to contact the administration:
Witnesses have come forward with helpful information, and this incident remains under investigation. The lighting of a Menorah on Hanukkah symbolizes triumph over persecution and spreading light at the darkest time of the year. We respect and hold inviolable each individual’s beliefs and values. Any injury to any group of people on our campus is an injury to all of us.
Hanukkah’s celebration of light and joy in the overcoming of persecution provides an occasion for all of us to end the semester with a commitment to a safe and welcoming community. In light of all of this, we invite the campus community to come to the Valentine quad today at 4:00 p.m. to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community for a brief Menorah lighting ceremony.
Students also voiced their objection to the menorah vandalism, with one writing on Facebook:
Why is Amherst taking this so seriously? Well, besides dealing with backlash over mishandling of sexual assaults on campus earlier this year, just a week prior to the menorah incident, an Amherst student reported a car parked next to the Lord Jeffery Inn had the "N-word" written in the snow on its roof, according to In The Cac, a blog covering the NESCAC.
Following the incident, Martin sent out a lengthy letter addressing how Amherst will seek to change the culture on campus:
In the face of such an aggressive act, I suggest that the rest of us take responsibility, not for having spelled out a racist epithet on a car, but for a response to it that condemns this act and all the forms of racism of which it is an instance. We cannot undo what is done, but we can call racism by its name, agree that it will not be tolerated on our campus, and counter it by doing more to create a culture that honors our differences and our shared humanity. We have spent much of this semester addressing sexual assault and our responsibility as a College to do more on the side of prevention, while improving the way we handle it when it occurs. Other obstacles to equity and inclusion have arisen in our discussions and deserve our focused attention. We have made a start in the long-term project of changing culture, but there is a great deal more that needs to be done, here as elsewhere.
In the case of the writing on the car, the administration warned if a student is found to be responsible, he or she will face "serious disciplinary action."
Martin proposed to hold a symposium in the spring semester about promoting an inclusive atmosphere on campus. According to the Amherst Student, a campus newspaper, the symposium would deal with race and diversity and other possible actions the college could take.