May 16, 2024

     We, the faculty of the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, condemn the recent violent suppression of peaceful protests on our campus. We demand that all legal and University charges against arrested students, staff, and faculty be dropped.

     On Tuesday, May 7, 2024, University of Massachusetts Amherst students and faculty amassed in protest against the war in Gaza. After (re)establishing an encampment on the public lawns, facing east of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library and south of the Student Union, student organizations rallied to denounce the violence, dislocation, famine, and suffering imposed on the people of Gaza and to call for the university’s divestment from military industries supplying the weapons for the war.  Over 130 students, faculty, and community members were arrested by state, local, and university police during their peaceful protest.

     Student-led movements of principled, peaceful dissent in opposition to injustice, however unwelcome by previous administrations, have historically had a salutary effect on the University and broader society, pushing the University to enact the ideals it was founded on and is meant to embrace. These include acts of student protest calling for the University's divestment from fossil fuels, denouncing the apartheid regime in South Africa, opposing the Vietnam war, advocating for women’s rights, and, indeed, the creation of the W.E.B. Du Bois Department itself.

     Our department was founded and shaped by student-led civil disobedience and activism. In November 1968, students marched on the Whitmore building with twenty-two demands for change, including the creation of a Black Studies Department.[1] February 27, 1970, marked the occupation of Mills House by students who were calling for the necessity of a Black cultural space. The student-occupation of Mills House led to the creation of New Africa House, still the home of the Du Bois Department. By April of that year, the Board of Trustees approved the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies. Without the protest of students, we would not have a department dedicated to teaching the Black experience, challenging various forms of oppressions ranging from colonial occupation to white supremacy and anti-Black violence.

     We teach the history of the struggle for Black freedom in our classrooms every day. This history is significantly one of direct action and public protests. This history also shows that, for many in Black communities, encounters with armed police can have fatal consequences. Therefore, we find the use of police to silence peaceful protests abhorrent at a public university and loathe the sight of violent arrests of peaceful students and faculty. We stand in the values of free speech, peaceful protest, and principled dialogue that resulted in the Du Bois Department and that inform our concerns. We demand that the administration on the campus of UMass Amherst drop all legal charges and university sanctions and these charges and sanctions be removed from the records of students, faculty, and staff.

                                              - The Faculty of the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies

                                                                                                May 13, 2024