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News :: Organizing
Students and allies mobilize to fight racism at UMass-Amherst
05 Oct 2004
Students fight back against racism at UMass Amherst. "Rally Against Racism" Wednesday, Oct. 6, noon, UMass Amherst, Student Union.
Students and allies mobilize to fight racism at UMass-Amherst
Campaign launched after KKK photos exposed

By Bryan G. Pfeifer
Amherst, Massachusetts

The weekend of Sept. 25-26 photographs were distributed via email throughout the University of Massachusetts at Amherst community of nine senior undergraduate student government officials drinking in a student government office and posing with a caricature depicting Ku Klux Klan symbolism.

The photos, taken March 29, show the students drinking in the student government-funded Student Center for Educational Research and Advocacy while posing before the KKK symbols.
The photos were posted to the personal web page of SCERA’s student office coordinator, and linked off this organization’s website. They were discovered a few days prior to their circulation by students at the Office of ALANA (African, Latino/a, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American) Affairs.

One of the photos circulated features Patrick Higgins, former Speaker of the undergraduate Student Government Association (SGA), dressed as a “Grand Wizard,” a burning cross in his hand with a word bubble stating “I love ALANA.”

Although Higgins has since resigned his position due to massive protest, he and the other students have not been expelled although the university’s student code of conduct states students can be expelled for hate crimes.
In fact as of deadline one of the students is on the ballot vying for an SGA position in elections scheduled for October 6-7 and the others are still employed by various student-funded organizations. ALANA students and their allies are mobilizing their candidates and allies to defeat the racists in the elections and other arenas.

Administration’s role in campus climate

Although these nine students must be held accountable, the university administration’s character is clear when their concerted action in relation to ALANA, LGBT, women and other students is analyzed.

Examples include:

*The viscous and racist treatment directed at Rene Gonzalez, a Puerto Rican graduate student at UMass, last spring when he wrote an op-ed opposing the hero-worship of Pat Tillman a U.S. Army Green Beret killed in Afghanistan April 22.

Gonzalez’ op-ed, published in the undergraduate newspaper The Daily Collegian April 28, was denounced on the floor of the Massachusetts State Senate, was the recipient of a racist diatribe by UMass System President Jack M. Wilson and received numerous death threats. At no time did the UMass Amherst administration denounce the racist attacks against Gonzalez who eventually decided to leave campus due to the very real life threatening threats against himself and his family.

Counter pose this to these nine students celebrating a terrorist organization, but not so designated by the U.S. government, responsible for murders, kidnappings, burnings, lynchings, whippings and the most hideous forms of torture and mutilations which have characterized the Klan’s existence in all its forms.

The KKK first organized at the end of the Civil War outside of Pulaski, Tennessee. Its principal leader was Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former slave trader and a general in the Confederate Army who oversaw the torture and massacre of 300 Black soldiers at Fort Pillow, Kentucky.

“The Klan is an extra-legal, extra-governmental organ, promoted and maintained by the capitalist state as an instrument of special and exceptional repression under circumstances when the state itself cannot or will not intervene in the struggle against the masses,” writes the late author Sam Marcy in “The Klan and the Government: Foes or Allies?”

*Dismantling affirmative action and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, removing advising programs for students of color and under funding or not funding at all support services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students (LGBT) and women among others.

*The seven-month battle the administration waged against international students in an attempt to implement a racist student “fee” only on those students to pay for their own surveillance.

*A concerted effort by various administration officials to attack ALANA students including not appointing an Assistant Director for the Office of ALANA Affairs and working closely with racist students in the SGA to undermine ALANA students’ representation in that body.

*A precipitous decline in faculty of color hired, tuition and fee increases, minimal or no recruitment in local communities of color such as Springfield and Holyoke, and skyrocketing textbook prices due to the privatization of the university’s book store.

These examples and many more show that the hostile administration has given a green light to racists and bigots on campus. The bold KKK celebration and posting of the pictures was the most extreme manifestation of this to date.
Prior to this on Sept. 19 a Native American statute on campus was desecrated. The 500-pound plus Chief Metawampe statute stands 5-feet 8-inches tall and was secured by four bolts on a granite pedestal that is about 5 feet tall. The statute was pulled from its stand and either dragged or transported to a main campus thorough fare about 100 yards away and dropped onto the street. The statute has been recovered and is being repaired my union maintenance workers.

With this type of climate many students, especially students of color, LGBT students and women report feeling unsafe walking on campus property.

“I’m really scared, I’m really, really afraid,” said an undergraduate African-American women student at a recent meeting to discuss protest actions against the campus climate.

Progressive independent student mobilization forged

The administration initially attempted to co-op and deflect the struggle against the institutional racism and oppression at UMass after the KKK pictures were exposed. The time-honored tactics of a “diversity forum” and a public relations campaign focusing on the “bad apples” was launched but didn’t work as effectively as the administration would have liked.

An independent student-led mobilization, albeit in embryonic form, has been forged.

A “Rally Against Racism” with the main slogan “Stop the Attacks, Increase support,” scheduled for Oct. 6, has received broad support from ALANA, other students under siege and progressives in the campus community.

“We pledge our unity and solidarity and stand with ALANA, LGBT, women and all students fighting the UMass administration’s attacks on all progressive organizations and struggles,” declared an September 28 statement by the Western Mass International Action Center.

Speakers at the rally also plan to raise various tactics to move forward and will stress that the UMass administration’s character is but one example of a right-wing mobilization on campuses nationwide.

Bryan G. Pfeifer is a Labor Studies graduate student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a member of the Graduate Employee Organization,

-- 30 --

(c) 2004 Bryan G. Pfeifer. Article may be used in full or in part provided full attribution is given to author.

***We can't let these people keep their positions in our student government. We can't tolerate such blatant racism and irresponsibility at our university.

Furthermore the administration must be held accountable for its institutional racism where this example is but the most recent manifestation. From the highest levels the UMass Amherst administration and the UMass System president’s office has mobilized to relentlessly attack students of color dismantling affirmative action programs, removing advising programs for students of color and more.

Future actions will be forthcoming but for now


John V. Lombardi, Chancellor
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003
(413) 545-2211
lombardi (at)

Jack M. Wilson, President, University of Massachusetts System
One Beacon St. 26th Floor
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 287-7050
jwilson (at)

Michael Gargano Jr., Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003
(413) 545-2333
dunk (at)

Charles Dimare, Director of Student Legal Services
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003
(413) 545-1995
cdimare (at)

-- END --
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