The University of Massachusetts Amherst

UMass Amherst Campus Updates


Communications to the UMass Amherst Community:

From Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy & Nefertiti A. Walker, Vice Chancellor & Chief Diversity Officer, Office of Equity & Inclusion - Nov. 22, 2021 

November 22, 2021

Dear Campus Community:

Today, we are writing to follow up on our previous message, of October 28, announcing the formation of a Black Advisory Council (BAC). We have now named the members of the council, and the full list can be viewed online.

The BAC is being launched in close coordination with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Serving as co-chairs are Whitney Battle-Baptiste, professor and director for the W.E.B. Du Bois Center, and Wilmore Webley, associate professor and associate dean of the Graduate School’s Office of Inclusion and Engagement.

BAC objectives include, but are not limited to:  

  • Providing expertise, counsel and recommendations to support positive, equitable and inclusive experiences for Black students, staff and faculty
  • Developing within the UMass community fuller awareness and understanding of Black and African American issues, within and of our campus community
  • Identifying opportunities for increased education and awareness for the campus community 
  • Encouraging and supporting campus initiatives and strategic planning that seek to imbed specific focus for Black people and matters
  • Monitoring campus performance and guiding goal setting for the ongoing recruitment, retention, and success of Black students, staff and faculty 

The BAC will meet once this semester, and will begin its work in earnest in Spring 2022. Although the core council members have been established, there will be many more opportunities for the UMass community to serve and support this work through subcommittee membership. So, please do visit the website for more information next semester.

Sincerely,

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy
Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer Nefertiti Walker


From The Office of Equal Opportunity - Nov. 4, 2021

Information Regarding the UMass Title IX Student Advisory Task Force: Students Hayden Latimer-Ireland, Anika Nayak, Sophie Shapiro, Raaya Alim, Berlyann Rivera, Leela Ramachandran, Arsema Kifle, Arik Howe and Clare Sheedy have graciously agreed to serve on this important advisory group. Campus members seeking to provide their feedback may do so by emailing Title IX Coordinator Kerri Tillett and members at: titleixcoordinator@umass.edu


From Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy - Nov. 4, 2021

Dear Campus Community,

Today, I am writing to announce the creation of a Title IX Student Advisory Task Force. Working in collaboration with the Equal Opportunity Office, the Dean of Students Office, and the Advocacy, Inclusion and Support Programs within Student Life, the task force will provide input and guidance regarding policies, procedures and education efforts related to sexual misconduct.

The taskforce will focus on four main areas:

Offering student input and perspectives on policy, procedures, programming, education and communication efforts related to sexual misconduct

  • Serving as liaison between students and the administration on matters related to Title IX
  • Helping to identify emerging issues and trends
  • Raising awareness about ongoing efforts to confront sexual misconduct on campus

Associate Vice Chancellor for Equal Opportunity and Title IX Coordinator Kerri Tillett will lead the task force. The names of student appointees are listed on the Equal Opportunity Office website.

The formation of the task force is part of our ongoing effort to address sexual misconduct, which includes a thorough, seven-year review of reports of sexual misconduct being conducted by Comprehensive Investigations and Consulting (CIC) that I announced earlier this month. The Student Advisory Task Force will provide invaluable insight as we work to make our policies and procedures as impactful as possible.

Sincerely,

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy

Additional Information Regarding the UMass Title IX Student Advisory Task Force: Students Hayden Latimer-Ireland, Anika Nayak, Sophie Shapiro, Raaya Alim, Berlyann Rivera, Leela Ramachandran, Arsema Kifle, Arik Howe and Clare Sheedy have graciously agreed to serve on this important advisory group. Campus members seeking to provide their feedback may do so by emailing Title IX Coordinator Kerri Tillett and members at: titleixcoordinator@umass.edu


From Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy - Oct. 28, 2021

Dear Campus Community,

I am writing today to announce the formation of a Black Advisory Council (BAC) to provide the university with input and insight on how we can create a more supportive, just and equitable campus environment for our Black community.

As we are all painfully aware, this semester Black students on our campus were targeted by virulently racist, anonymous emails and other acts of racism, including when Black students were subjected to racist taunts from a passing car. Sadly, in the aftermath of these incidents, despite our efforts to reach out to the students to whom this racist hate was directed, many members of our Black community expressed disappointment that my administration and I did not respond more visibly and more forcefully to these incidents. For this, I wholeheartedly apologize.

The acts of anti-Black racism that have occurred on campus this semester and the disappointment Black students have expressed in our response to these incidents have caused my colleagues in campus leadership and myself to reflect on how we can more effectively confront racism and support our students. I am grateful to our Black students past and present for your activism, hard work and persistence. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with students to build a more inclusive community.

The Black Advisory Council, which has been in development for several months, is being launched in close coordination with Vice Chancellor & Chief Diversity Officer Nefertiti Walker. Serving as co-chairs will be Whitney Battle-Baptiste, professor and director for the W.E.B. Du Bois Center, and Wilmore Webley, associate professor and associate dean of the Graduate School’s Office of Inclusion and Engagement.

The BAC will be composed of administrators, faculty, staff and students, who have been asked to meet monthly to discuss issues related to the education, opportunity, access, well-being and success of Black people, and particularly African Americans at UMass Amherst. They will represent a broad network of more than 21 different programs, departments and resources. Full membership of the committee will be announced shortly.

The BAC will address large-scale topics related to the Black community, not to be confused with day-to-day climate-related issues, which are the responsibility of individual units in collaboration with the Office of Equity and Inclusion. Most specifically, the BAC is charged with

guidance on issues that broadly impact Black students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni. This includes:

  • Providing expertise, counsel and recommendations to support positive, equitable and inclusive experiences for Black students, staff and faculty
  • Fostering mutual relationships with state, national and international higher education Black communities
  • Developing within the UMass community fuller awareness and understanding of Black and African American issues and history, within and of our campus community
  • Identifying opportunities for increased education and awareness for the campus community
  • Encouraging and supporting campus initiatives and strategic planning that seek to embed specific focus for Black people and matters
  • Monitoring campus performance and guiding goal setting for the ongoing recruitment, retention and success of Black students, staff and faculty

I am hopeful that with the formation of the Black Advisory Council, the UMass administration and the entire campus community can benefit from the perspectives that its members will bring in helping us foster a living-learning environment that is just, equitable diverse and inclusive.

Sincerely,

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy


From Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy - Oct. 8, 2021

Dear Campus Community,

As part of our intensified efforts to address the concerns raised by students advocating to prevent sexual assault, support survivors and improve campus culture, the campus has retained the services of Comprehensive Investigations and Consulting (CIC), to conduct a review of reported sexual-based misconduct at UMass, including off-campus at fraternities, going back seven years, the time-frame for records retention mandated by federal Title IX law.

Retaining CIC, a firm that is known for its expertise in conducting impartial and detailed investigations of local and state agencies, represents one aspect of the promise I made at last week’s campus forum to take meaningful steps to thoroughly address issues related to sexual misconduct and develop practices and procedures to more effectively confront this challenge. Additional measures, including our ongoing work with the Student Government Association to adopt a version of the Survivor’s Bill of Rights that is aligned with federal and state law, are in the works and will be announced in the coming weeks.

In its review, CIC will:

• Organize and review all reports known to be filed with any UMass Amherst office from Sept. 1, 2014 through present that involve sexual assault, stalking, domestic violence, or other gender-based offenses pursuant to Title IX or the Violence Against Women Act.

• Conduct an analysis of known reports and provide legal, investigative and advisory insight on the nature of the allegations or violations, their perpetrators and survivors, locations, any known aggravating factors, known outcomes, and trends relevant to alleged misconduct.

• Work with campus stakeholders, including student groups and relevant university faculty and staff, to understand current climate around sexual assault.

• Make comprehensive legal, investigative and advisory recommendations, based on the firm's findings and national best practices, on how to enhance sexual assault prevention efforts, increase reporting of offenses, and promote a culture of transparency, communication and safety for the UMass Amherst community.

Based on the findings of the review, the campus will take specific steps to ensure that our practices and procedures to prevent sexual assault and support survivors are as impactful as possible.

I am grateful to our students for their activism and commitment to preventing sexual violence.

Like you, I am saddened and angry when I hear the stories of survivors. I am hopeful that we can channel our energies and emotions into something positive and together we can make our campus a safer and more welcoming place for all.

Sincerely,

Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy


From Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy - Oct. 6, 2021

Dear Campus Community,

The investigation I announced last week to determine the source of the racist emails that were sent to members of Black student organizations is underway and is in its initial stages. The comprehensive probe is being conducted by Stroz Friedberg Digital Forensics.

Since retaining Stroz Friedberg, we have provided its investigators with the emails in question and additional supporting materials. While we are limited in what we can reveal about the methods of the investigation for fear of tipping off the perpetrator, we can share that the investigators will assess the online targeting of the UMass community across multiple sources, including dark websites, and will leverage custom tools as well as proprietary and commercial datasets in their probe. Stroz Friedberg will use similar techniques to provide guidance on whether the emails to UMass Black students were an isolated matter or part of a larger white supremacist campaign.

I want to assure you that evidence gathered through the investigation leading to the person or group responsible for the hateful, racist emails will be shared with law enforcement officials for potential criminal prosecution. Currently, it is unknown whether the perpetrator is part of the campus community or not at all affiliated with UMass. If the source is someone in the campus community, that person will face severe university sanctions, up to and including expulsion or employment termination, as well as a referral to the District Attorney for criminal prosecution.

Anyone with information related to the emails should contact the UMass Police Department. If you choose to do so confidentially, you can use the UMass Police Department’s anonymous witness form.

Finally, I want to reiterate that we are committed to on-going support for our students who have been victimized by these hateful, racist emails and other acts of racism that have occurred this semester. In meetings with some of our Black student leaders over the past week, my leadership team gained valuable insight on how we can more fully realize this commitment. I pledge to you that we will do everything within our power to alleviate the burden that these racist acts have placed on our Black students. In doing so, we will redouble our efforts to foster a campus community grounded in justice, equity, dignity and respect.

Sincerely,

Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy


From Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy - Sept. 27, 2021

Dear Campus Community,

The anti-Black racist incidents that have occurred on our campus this semester, described in an email from Vice Chancellor Nefertiti Walker last week, are contemptible and cowardly. We will not be intimidated by the hateful acts of craven individuals who hide in anonymity. We stand with our students who have been victimized, and we will continually strive for a more equitable community grounded in the principles of dignity and respect.

I want to share with you today that we have secured the services of Stroz Friedberg Digital Forensics, a leading national firm in cyber security, to assist us in our investigation of the source of the racist emails that were sent to members of Black student organizations. While we are mindful of the challenges of determining the source of anonymous emails such as these, we are confident that Stroz Friedberg, with its extensive expertise and technical capacity, will methodically follow every lead in pursuit of the contemptible individual or individuals responsible.

We will also fight back against bigotry and intolerance with a series of educational opportunities and action steps to promote understanding and an ongoing commitment to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. These initiatives, which complement the measures described in Vice Chancellor Walker’s email of last week, include:

  • Black Joy, Black Healing and Black Justice Forum – A forum led by the Center of Racial Justice and Youth Engaged Research (CRJ) and sponsored by the Office of Equity and Inclusion on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, 5:30 to 8 p.m., location to be determined. The forum will bring together Black students from across the UMass Amherst campus for an evening of community, love and kinship against a backdrop of ongoing anti-Black hatred that will never define or deter us. Food, music and space for healing, joy and reflection will be led by students and faculty of CRJ.
  • Launching the Black Advisory Council – A team of faculty, students, administrators and staff charged with developing recommendations to the Office of Equity and Inclusion that will improve the experiences of Black students, faculty and staff on campus. More details to come. 
  • Increased funding for the Center of Racial Justice (CRJ). An opportunity to invest in our internal expertise on racial justice and support the expansion of their capacity to advise on UMass Amherst-specific racial injustices so that our Black community can feel safe and thrive on campus.

When an act of hate occurs in our campus community a comprehensive response protocol is activated. This protocol includes meetings with those directly affected, deployment of support services, communication to members of the impacted student organization, residential community or academic department, and notification of university police (UMPD). When the perpetrator of any of these acts is identified, the full weight of the university’s disciplinary and legal apparatus will be brought to bear. I want to assure you that we are committed to doing everything in our power to support our Black students at this difficult time and will spare no measure in our investigation to determine the perpetrator(s) of these incidents.

The steps that I have shared with you today are part of our continuous efforts to ensure a safe and welcoming living learning environment for all, and we will work with campus partners to launch additional initiatives throughout the course of the academic year. As we chart a path through these troubling times, I am hopeful that we can all work together to stand up to intolerance and build a better, more equitable and just community.

Sincerely,

Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy


From Brandi Hephner LaBanc, Vice Chancellor, Student Affairs and Campus Life - Sept. 24, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

Earlier this week, Student Affairs and Campus Life sent the message below to all UMass Amherst students. SACL has asked that we share the message with faculty and staff so that you, too, have this important information.

Dear Students,

Many in our university community are hurting. Last weekend’s allegations of a sexual assault activated an impassioned outpouring of support and public sharing of similar experiences by other students. The peaceful protests made it clear that there is a deep sense of anger, frustration, and unease with what many of our students see as a pervasive culture of sexual assault on our campus.

I write to you today to acknowledge and thank those who have spoken out about their trauma and those who stand with them in solidarity: We hear you, we see your pain, and we are committed to doing better.

While the university stands unequivocally with survivors and is committed to investigating all allegations of sexual assault, as the events of the past few days clearly demonstrate, we commit to identifying the support, outreach, and reporting tools that are most effective in meeting the needs of our community. We also recognize the events of the past few days may trigger those students previously impacted by relationship or sexual violence.

Today, I want to share some information regarding:

  • Services and supports available to members of the UMass community
  • Plans to partner with sorority and fraternity community members who want change
  • And a request for feedback about how and where we can do better

Services Available

Sexual Assault Support & Advocacy Services (SASA) at CWC

SASA serves as the Rape Crisis Center for all of the residents of Hampshire County and is situated on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. SASA supports people of all genders who have been impacted by sexual violence with our free and confidential services.

As our community continues to address and discuss sexual violence, it is important that anyone impacted by violence know that they are not alone and we can provide support.

SASA Services Include:

  • 24/7 Sexual Assault Support & Advocacy (SASA) Hotline
    The 24/7 SASA Hotline is available to provide emotional support, information, and resources for survivors of violence as well as their friends/family/support networks. The hotline can support survivors immediately after a sexual assault or even years later.
  • Advocacy Services The 24/7 SASA Hotline can also provide information and connect survivors with a SASA advocate.
    Medical Advocacy – SASA advocates are available to support survivors through a SANE exam (collecting evidence of an assault) as well as other medical needs related to sexual violence. An advocate can accompany survivors to Cooley Dickinson Hospital and University Health UMass Health Services.
    Police, Court, and Conduct Advocacy – SASA advocates can support survivors reporting an assault. An advocate can accompany a survivor to police departments, court, and college conduct processes.
  • SASA Counseling
    Walk-in By arrangement, SASA offers a private counseling room with a computer for walk-ins to meet with our sexual assault support and advocacy staff.
    Ongoing – SASA counselors provide short-term peer counseling.
  • Support Groups – Support groups are offered on a range of topics – including groups for survivors and others impacted by trauma.

If you have suggestions for additional support services or wish to provide feedback on any of the available services, please submit feedback on SASA services.

Concerns in our Community, Next Steps

Many members of the community have called for the immediate adoption of the Survivors’ Bill of Rights, a framework of caring for and responding to issues related to sexual violence on campus. Last semester we began working with leaders in the Student Government Association to review the Survivors’ Bill of Rights and align it with federal Title IX laws to facilitate adoption. This effort is still underway.

While issues and concerns related to a culture of sexual violence at the university is not limited to the sorority and fraternity community, a perception exists for some that these organizations are permissive and responsible. I have heard from leaders of the sorority and fraternity community who are equally concerned about this culture and are committed to acting on systemic change. The university will partner with these students and work with a consultant who specializes in sexual assault prevention within Greek-letter organizations.

If you have suggestions for additional trainings, workshops, or wish to provide feedback on existing plans, please submit feedback on concerns in our community and next steps.

Reporting

The decision to report sexual assault or violence is a deeply personal one, and the university respects survivors’ wishes to decide when, how, and to whom they disclose information. In recent days, students are sharing the barriers they faced in reporting incidents and we must address this situation. Reporting options must be as accessible as possible for all members of our community so if they choose to report, the path forward is clear.

If you want to report a sexual assault, contact the Office of Equal Opportunity or the UMass Police Department:

If you are seeking confidential information but do not want to make a police report, you may call the:

  • Center for Women and Community 24-Hour Crisis Hotline at 413-545-0800
  • University Health Services Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Phone: 413-577-5000

If you have suggestions for changes and modifications to our reporting structures or wish to provide feedback on existing reporting tools, please submit feedback on our existing reporting structures.

Allegations shared online and in recent media articles related to the events of last weekend have ignited deep concern, outrage, and sadness. We want to channel this energy into something that makes UMass Amherst better for all students. I invite you to share your perspective on how we might improve educational prevention, outreach, and support services for the community. I know with your help we can and will do better.

Thank you, and take care.

Brandi Hephner LaBanc
Vice Chancellor, Student Affairs and Campus Life


From Nefertiti A. Walker, Vice Chancellor & Chief Diversity Officer, Office of Equity & Inclusion - Sept. 23, 2021

Dear Campus Community:

I write to you today in response to an increase in anti-Black racist incidents happening on our campus, all of which are being targeted at African American and Black students. To begin, an anti-Black racist email was sent to numerous Black-centered student groups. The content of these emails is vile, blatantly racist, and violently offensive. In addition, there have been other acts of anti-Black hate imposed on our community through the “Contact Us” online forms of registered student organizations, as well as an incident involving the offender driving by and yelling an anti-Black racist epithet at a group of Black students. All of these anti-Black racist acts run in stark contrast to who we strive to be, which is a campus where all students are welcomed and feel a strong sense of belonging. We condemn all acts of anti-Black racism and will work to diminish their intent to cause harm to Black students on campus.

Since hearing of these incidents, we have begun a multi-unit collaborative investigation into the hateful acts. We have also created opportunities to support the students directly impacted.

In the investigation of the anti-Black racist acts, UMPD is actively working with UMass IT to uncover the identity of the sender of these emails. This exhaustive investigation is ongoing.

In supporting Black students impacted and targeted by these emails, the following is ongoing:

  • Administrators from multiple campus units have followed up and connected the students to campus resources
  • Student affairs and campus life administrators have held office hours dedicated to giving affected students space to gather for dialogue and support.
  • All students impacted have received emails, calls and outreach from leaders within the administration in multiple campus units to dialogue, receive support and create opportunities for healing.
  • Staff working with student groups targeted have been updated and provided direction on how to support impacted students.

Our priority is both to support our impacted students and investigate these incidents to the fullest extent. Both processes are ongoing.

In addition, we would like to revisit our process for intaking acts of hate and bias incidents on campus. Bias incidents should be reported through the Office of Equity and Inclusion. Once the incident is reported, it is processed and managed in collaboration with campus leadership. All administrative units work in collaboration to ensure our campus is safe, respectful and inclusive.

We stand in solidarity and support of our Black students, and in opposition to any anti-Black racism. Please continue to report these hateful acts, even if the act is not directed to you. Active Bystander engagement is important to eradicating racism on our campus. Students who have experienced or witnessed biased activity may seek support and be referred to the Dean of Students Office through the Student Support Request & Referral online form. This link includes additional support resources for you or someone who has been impacted by anti-Black racism on our campus.

Sincerely,

Nefertiti A. Walker, Ph.D.
She/Her/Hers
Vice Chancellor & Chief Diversity Officer
Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) | UMass Amherst


From Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy - Sept. 20, 2021

Dear Campus Community,

Yesterday afternoon approximately 300 student protestors converged off campus at the Theta Chi fraternity house in response to reports circulating online and among students of an alleged sexual assault involving the fraternity. Let me be unequivocally clear, we condemn sexual violence of any kind and are committed to providing robust support services to survivors and to vigorously investigating all allegations of sexual assault.

The allegations of sexual assault that came to light this weekend, prompting an outpouring of concern and outrage among students, are deeply troubling. At this point, no survivor or witness has come forward to file a complaint or a report substantiating the claims that have been made on various social media platforms. While we respect and support a survivor’s decision whether or not to report an assault or pursue sanctions, we cannot take action against alleged perpetrators, whether they be individuals or organizations, without actionable evidence.

We take seriously our responsibility to take clear and direct action in support of survivors and to uphold the Student Code of Conduct. To do so most effectively, we need your help. Our community needs you to take an active role and report incidents to the administration so that we are able to conduct a thorough investigation and hold accountable any responsible parties. We strongly encourage anyone with direct knowledge of or information related to the alleged Theta Chi incident, or any incident of sexual assault or misconduct, to contact university authorities immediately.

Allegations of this kind and the impassioned response of our community remind us of the work we must do to change the culture here on campus and in society more broadly. The violence exhibited yesterday by some in the crowd, however, is not the answer. Those who were responsible for the violence and damage to property will be charged per applicable laws and the Student Code of Conduct. We owe it to survivors and to every member of our community to work together to channel our emotions in a productive way to ensure a safe and secure environment for all.

Sincerely,

Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy