Racism and Rape: A Revolutionary Side to UMass

By: Elienishka Ramos Torres

Everyday when I walk around campus, I see lamp posts with banners on them. ‘BE REVOLUTIONARY’ is what’s written on them in big, bold text. 

I read these banners and remember all the reasons why UMass does the opposite of what they push to their students. This logo has never been about what UMass has stepped up to do, but about everything students have done against the challenges they face here. 

I was a freshman still attending different club meetings, still trying to figure out the bus system, and deciding my favorite dining hall. But all of the fun quintessential college experiences got put to the side as hate crimes began to target black minority students.

During my third week of courses, a hate crime occurred at Melville hall, UMass’predomentality black freshman dorm . I was sure that something would be done to help the students affected, or efforts would be introduced to prevent something of this magnitude from ever happening again. But,I came to realize that institutions like UMass aren’t intentionally built to protect its students, and will fail into protecting those that harm them. 

After multiple incidents targeting Black students took place that semester, students organized and created the UMass Amherst chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). This gave me hope, but there was a vital piece to the puzzle missing: Administration. 

Ever since, there hasn’t been a semester where administration hasn’t rushed to mass send emails (even with spelling errors) about occurrences of racism targeted towards Black students. 

Another issue that has progressively gotten more intense this semester is sexual assault. Just in September, we’ve watched how the school hides behind policies that protect alleged rapists, instead of trying to actually change campus policies to help sexual assault survivors. 

The influx of both public and anonymous statements from students telling their stories, many of them accusing Theta Chi and other fraternities on campus, demonstrates that we need a survivor’s bill of rights on campus. In fact, the bill passed in a student referendum vote in March 2020 with 92% approval, but the university has yet to approve it. The history to pass the survivor’s bill of rights goes back to 2015 when UMass was under investigation for Title IX violations

Three free therapy sessions and a few excused absences cannot undo the damage that happens when a person gets victimized, and the school perpetuates this state of victimization in their delay of passing this bill. 

In the same month, a racist email was sent to multiple Black student organizations. The eugenics filled email has contributed to the unsafe environment that Black students have felt on campus, but this is nothing new. 

Black at UMass Amherst is an Instagram account created by students in June of 2020, the summer when there was a massive influx of support for the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd. The account’s goal is to show the experiences of Black students at UMass, many recent, and a significant number of incidents going back a few years. These experiences include racism happening in classes, in friends groups, by random people on campus, and even from professors and staff who are supposed to be there to help students. 

Because of these incidents, a student organization called the Racial Justice Coalition submitted a 57-page document proposing what they believe are the steps necessary in developing an anti-racist campus. While the RJC touched upon how to uplift BIPOC students and staff, the administration’s response mainly focused on how we were already reaching those goals. Yet somehow we’re still here. 

The school will host lectures, invite speakers, list resources on campus to go to, but there’s no action to prevent future people from being victimized by their professors and peers. Time and time again students show up to demand action and policy change from the school. The UMass administration assures us they can handle the situation, but we continue to face the same problems every year. 

Subbaswammy’s most recent statement about the racism on campus  shows some action being done about the racist emails but not only should this have been his first response, but there hasn’t been any substantial progress made from the last time he had to address campus. 

Students have been organizing, helping each other, and stepping up when administration fails. UMass, we’re revolutionary, now it’s your turn.

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