While the university serves society through its land-grant mission of learning, discovery, and engagement, we have a reciprocal relationship with our citizenry. For, in equal measure, the institution benefits from external influences: As we export innovation and creativity, our excellence is fueled by the societal changes and movements that flow across our campus, challenging us to always evolve and expand the promise of this great institution.
In 1867, our first student body of 34 young men—almost all farmers from Massachusetts—arrived on a nascent campus consisting of five farms and a handful of buildings.
Thirty years would pass before George Ruffin Bridgeforth, the first African American student, arrived on campus. Sixty-eight years would pass before Major Franklin Spaulding became the first African American to receive a doctorate from the university—and the first nationally to receive a doctorate in agronomy. And it was 81 years after our first students arrived in Amherst that Edwin Douglas Driver, just 23 years old, became the first person of non-European descent to join the faculty, and one of the first two African Americans hired onto the faculty of a state flagship university in the 20th century.
Given this protracted timeline, how do we find ourselves today, known nationally and internationally for our commitment to social progress and justice; a welcoming haven for the greatest Black artists and activists of the time; and home of the groundbreaking W.E B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, a leader in the academic exploration of Black people in the Americas and the African Diaspora?
The answer is found gathered here, among the voices and stories of our Black students, alumni, faculty, and staff. Members of our community who, beginning with George Ruffin Bridgeforth, challenge the university to evolve and expand its understanding of what it means to learn, discover, and engage. With their commitment and contribution—past, present, and future—our excellence continues.