Chancellor Reyes sent the following message to the campus community on Oct. 26, 2023
Dear Campus Community,
The University of Massachusetts Amherst has a long-standing history of respecting and valuing student activism. Last night hundreds in our community came together to peacefully exercise the right to demonstrate and seek change. Today student leaders met in the Chancellor’s Office to continue this dialogue with senior leaders of the university.
Activism such as what we’ve experienced here over the last week lies at the heart of free speech and vigorous, public debate. The university stands by its commitment to protect that right even, and especially, when some pause to speak in a tense atmosphere, or people are made to feel invisible in the public square.
At the same time, we also emphasize the responsibility that comes with exercising these rights. All members of our community are expected to engage in conversations about sensitive topics with respect for the perspectives and experiences of others. The reach of advocacy protected by free speech on our campus is not limited to our campus, and actions and words may draw the attention and engagement of those who do not share our points of view.
We protect the rights of our community to hear and be heard without harassment or threats. We will not tolerate any member of our community threatening the safety of another; if you or someone you know has been the target of such behavior, please make a report so that the appropriate office may follow up. Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks are beyond unacceptable in our community.
We know, too, that we are grappling with the arrest of more than 50 members of our community for refusing a lawful order to depart a university building after it was closed. Members of the Student Affairs and Campus Life team were at the Whitmore Administration Building until 2:30 a.m. this morning to provide support and guidance to every student, no matter what brought them to that space. Everyone who was arrested has been released, and we will reach out to them individually as they navigate the next steps of both the judicial process and the university’s Code of Student Conduct process.
To be clear, no one was arrested for their views, and everyone was provided multiple opportunities to leave well after Whitmore officially closed. As stated in our Demonstration Guidelines, “Demonstrators entering campus buildings to conduct orderly and peaceful demonstrations may not … remain in buildings after the close of regular hours of operation.” Our policies, like our commitment to support, apply to every member of our community without regard to their beliefs.
The last few weeks have seen long-active conflict in the Middle East develop into open war. With thousands of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, our hearts break for those in the region, across the globe, and here in Amherst affected by this violence. As a community, we are committed to the care of every one of our students, and we know that events such as these can take a toll on one’s mental health and wellbeing. Finding the opportunity to be connected to university resources and with peers may be helpful in the days and weeks to come. Students: Please communicate with your faculty if you are facing new challenges related to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, or the subsequent events and actions here on campus. If you are experiencing distress, the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health (CCPH) offers online resources, same-day consultations, and other opportunities for conversations that provide emotional and mental health support.
The Employee Counseling and Consultation Office (ECCO) offers free and confidential counseling to staff and faculty.
We know that it feels like there is little room for dialogue on the heart-wrenching issues we are facing. The public debate and social forums, both virtual and in person, can feel less like an open square and more like a divide that can only be yelled across with increasingly loud voices. This is where UMass, and where higher education, has a critical role – by making room for the necessary work of teaching, learning and dialogue.
Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life