Around New England

Amherst College Students Greet Former AG Jeff Sessions With “Stink Bomb,” Protests, And Accusations Of “White Supremacy”

April 29, 2019

Jeff Sessions’  recent April 24 visit to Amherst College led a protester to set off a “stink bomb” in the college’s revered Johnson Chapel where the former US attorney general was giving a talk on free speech. Moments later, in a scripted protest, “about 70 students” stood up and left the assembly, some shouting as others waved a gay pride rainbow flag.

The rainbow flag is esteemed by progressives as a symbol of tolerance, and unity in diversity.

According to the Amherst College newspaper The Amherst Student (Student), Sessions was invited to campus by Young America’s Foundation and the Amherst College Republicans.

The Amherst Student reports that Sessions was able to continue his talk despite the interruption, and that those who marched out went to an organized event on the college’s first-year quad, where members of the college’s Direct Action Coordinating Committee (DACC) had “set up tables with food and drinks” for the protesters.

The protesters could be heard chanting “Ain’t no power like the power of the people because the people don’t stop!” and “No justice, no peace! No racist police!” as they entered the quad, the Student reports. 

The Student also reports that tickets to Sessions’ talk offered to students in advance were scooped up by protesters who did not attend the Johnson Chapel lecture, thus preventing those who might have wished to hear Sessions’ speech from attending. The Student reports that the chapel was less than half filled once the protesters left.

Though the Student reports no specific reasons for the protest, the paper reports that the protesters were unhappy with Sessions “overturning several Obama-era policies” during his time heading the US Department of Justice and that much of their outrage over his campus visit was based on mere suspicion.

The Student reports that the following statement drafted by the DACC was read to those assembled in protest on the quad:

“When Amherst College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation, went out of their way to invite Sessions to this campus, they knew very well that the action was one of power, not of free speech. We suspect that they intended to provoke students of color to react in such a way that would paint student-organizers of color as aggressive, fitting neatly into the narrative that has vilified racialized bodies in this country for centuries. We oppose not only Jeff Sessions, not only the Amherst College Republicans and not only the Young America’s Foundation, but the global system of white supremacy which created them, which funds them, which feeds them. We stand firmly against global hierarchies that attempt to maintain themselves through the veneer of ‘free speech’ rhetoric. We stand for the power, the sanctity and the love of every human being. And we decry the cowardice, on this campus and off, which allowed for Sessions — and those like him — to continue waging a war on marginalized people.”

The student paper did not follow up in its report whether the DACC’s suspicion, expressed in its “We suspect” [line 2 of statement above], was based on any facts at hand.

Amherst College President Biddy Martin, attending another political event at nearby Keefe Campus Center, told the Student that she supported the response to Sessions’ visit to campus.

“Like a number of students, staff and faculty on our campus whose lives are directly and negatively affected by the decisions Mr. Sessions made as attorney general, I attended gatherings … [and] it is part of my job to defend academic freedom and freedom of expression and assembly for the good of the whole. The celebrations at Keefe offered one way of exercising those freedoms. The peaceful protests on the first-year quad was another.”

She also said she had “confidence in the moral groundedness of the college.”

There are no reports of any consequences for the person or persons who set off the stink bomb in Johnson Chapel.

The Student further reports that Thomas Dumm, a poli-sci professor at Amherst, sent “a strongly-worded email” to President Martin in which he accused Sessions of being a “racist” and “misogynist.”

“[Sessions] is a man who is a racist and misogynist, a person who served in Trump’s administration and promoted policies having to do with separation of parents from children. He promoted policies that would continue mass incarceration, who promoted policies that would continue to deny women the right to choose in regards to abortion, who generally followed the path of an extremist. I thought this was something that was wrong.”

In a separate article in The Amherst Student which focused specifically on Sessions’ talk, the former AG is quoted encouraging those in attendance who believe in, and defend, free speech:

“The attack on free speech strikes at the heart of what it means to be American. […] It cannot be that one can say, ‘Your words offend me, your words hurt my feelings, therefore you must shut up. You can’t talk.’ Subjective ideas about one person can shut down the free speech guaranteed in the Constitution by another? Not right. Unfounded arguments should be confronted by better arguments, more persuasive arguments. Not by force. […]  You’re in an important time in history. You’re on the front lines, you’ll be deciding these battles. Do not despair, though, because in this country, truth has, from time to time, been submerged, but it has always risen again. You will not yield, I know. You will not abandon the field. May you preserve, protect and defend the great heritage you’ve been given in this country, and by doing so, you’ll honor those who’ve gone before, who’ve sacrificed for us.”

The Amherst College Republicans (ACR) were “reprimanded” earlier this month after alleged “transphobic language” was found in an online comments thread on the ACR’s GroupMe page.

According to The Amherst Student, complaints about “transphobic language” were filed to the “Association of Amherst Students” (AAS) and the association’s “Judiciary Council,” described as a “body of authority under the AAS,” which reprimanded the ACR.

The Student reports that the Judiciary Council declared the ACR’s executive board members must “step down from their positions and [are] prohibited from” being involved in leadership in “any registered student organizations for the remainder of their college careers.”

Amherst College was founded in 1821 “for the classical education of indigent young men of piety and talents for the Christian ministry.” The elite liberal arts college has since undergone considerable secularization.