VOLUME CXLIX COMMENCEMENT EDITION
SUNDAY, MAY 31, 2020
COMMENCEMENT CXCVIII Photo Courtesy of Jen Manion
THE STUDENT NEWSPAPER OF AMHERST COLLEGE SINCE 1868
The Year in News SEPTEMBER After a rise in campus protests, the administration issued a new policy addressing student protests and free expression. The policy allowed the college to “reassign and limit activities to particular locations on Amherst College property,” and place certain restrictions on the student demonstrations
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined President Biddy Martin in conversaton this October.
Following the news of campus’ evacuation, hundreds of students filled the library, where Martin and Dean Liz Agosto answered questions on the ever-evolving upheaval.
Photo by Emma Swislow ‘20
Photo courtesy of Matai Curzon ’22
Students joined millions around the globe in a climate strike. Many skipped class in exchange for a series of climate “sitins” where community members, professors, faculty and students alike, led workshops. Hundreds of students gathered on the firstyear quad to hear from student activists and State Representative Mindy Domb on the necessary steps the college and the state must take in order to secure a more sustainable, equitable future. The college updated the Pass/ Fail grading option with the Flexible Grading Option (FGO). Students who designate a class as FGO wait to receive their letter grade at the end of the semester before deciding to invoke the Pass/Fail Option. OCTOBER Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke in conversation with President Biddy Martin about the current political climate, gender equality in the workplace and the role of the courts. The event took place in Coolidge Cage and drew nearly 1,600 attendees. In the conversation, RBG described her upbringing and noted that the current political climate is “an aberration” and that in another life she would love to be a diva.
Photo by Ryan Yu ‘22
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The college community mourned the loss of Lyle McGeoch, Brian E. Boyle ’69 professor of mathematics and computer
science. McGeoch taught at Amherst for 30 years, during which he was the chair of the computer science department and a class dean. A remembrance ceremony was held in the Friedmann Room for the community. The college announced plans for a new student center to be built where the Merrill Science Center and McGuire Life Sciences buildings stand. The college selected the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, which has designed structures including the Bird’s Nest in Beijing, China and Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany, to develop a vision for the project. NOVEMBER Students expressed great dismay after The Student reported that many professors signed a letter in favor of delaying the development of an affordable housing unit near Pratt Field, which the Amherst Town Council began debating the previous summer. In a letter, some voiced concerns that the project — which would house 28 low-income and homeless individuals from the Amherst area — would increase local crime and drug use. The AAS shortly after released a statement that “in their actions as private citizens, professors do not speak on behalf of the student body” in response to student uproar. MARCH In an email to the student body on the evening of March 9, Martin announced that all students must leave campus for spring break and classes would resume online on March 23 citing coronavirus concerns. “The risk of having hundreds of people return from their travels to campus [was] too great,” Martin said in the email. Following the announcement, several high-level administrators held an impromptu Q&A ses-
sion at the weekly AAS meeting and continued a Q&A until after midnight at a library sit-in. The college allowed nearly 200 students to petition to remain on campus for the remainder of the semester. At the time of the announcement, Massachusetts had 92 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and there were no cases in Hampshire County. Three members of the men’s lacrosse team chanted the n-word outside of a Black teammate’s suite, and student organizers pushed for more just institutional protocols surrounding hate speech, remotely. In response, the incident, Martin suspended the team’s 2021 post-season and team gatherings until Nov. 1, 2020, fired Head Coach Jon Thompson and vowed to address the “culture and actions” of the team. Following the events, the BSU wrote an open-letter to #IntegrateAmherst, condemning the men’s lacrosse team and the administration’s response and demanded additional transparency from the administration regarding disciplinary procedures. APRIL The college implemented a universal Flexible Grading Option for the spring 2020 semester. The option allows students to take their given letter grade or opt for a Pass/Fail for all classes. Some students preferred a shift to a mandatory Pass/Fail option, arguing that the policy was more equitable than FGO. The college confirmed its first coronavirus case on campus on April 23. In the email to the campus community, Martin announced that a custodial worker tested positive for the virus. Following the announcement, the college relocated students living in Morris Pratt Dormitory where the custodian worked.
Table of Contents SENIOR PROFILES
4 6 8 10 12 14 18 20 22 24 26 28 30
Sade Green Speaking Her Truth to Power Ryan McMillan Trying & Failing Upwards: A Biophysicist’s Journey Shawna Chen On the Scene, Reporter’s Notepad in Hand Soledad Slowing-Romero A Voice for Engagement, On and Off Campus Emma Swislow Taking on the All World’s Weird and Wonderful Audrey Cheng The Nexus of Econ, Law and Piano Chimaway Lopez Bridging Home Wherever He Goes Charlotte Blackman The Pragmatic Idealist Avery Farmer Common Sense Leadership Shows the Way Aqiil Gopee Scholar, Writer, Future Teacher Yasmeen Saeed A Winding Road Into Leadership Noah Wheaton Defending Equality Across All His Fields Eric Hasegawa A Steady & Disciplined College Career
2 The Year in News
16 & 17 Fellowships and Scholarships
32 To Our Seniors May 31, 2020 | The Amherst Student | 3
Senior Profile | Sade Green
Speaking Her Truth to Power Sade Green’s life-long dedication to advocating for change is a testament to the drive and passion that she brings to the table — Lauren Kisare ’22 One of the things that stood out to me most about Sade Green ’20 during our twohour long conversation was her laugh. Distinctive and full of levity, her hearty laughter immediately laid the groundwork for the ease with which we communicated with each other. Bualong Ramiz Hall, former director of the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) who previously worked with Green, summed up her laugh perfectly: “It is just a sound that I can call on and it’s present.” Ramiz Hall continued, “I think that’s one of my favorite things about her,” she said. “Especially as Black women, the more conscious we get, the more violent experiences we have ... it can be hard to access some of that joy and laughter … I think it’s really beautiful that she could experience a place like Amherst and the world and be as conscious as she is and still have a beautiful, memorable laugh.” It is through this laugh that I was able to see the confident and accomplished Sade Green — not only for her numerous achievements, but for the kind and warm soul behind her many accolades.
A Passion Awakened Hailing from Long Island, New York, Green has been immersed in a wide variety of activities ever since high school. In addition to being a member of the Future Leaders of America and a track and field runner, Green was the managing editor of her high school’s newspaper
as well as the president of the Key Club, where she mainly used her platforms as avenues for holding greater discussions on social justice issues. With a strong desire to further shed light on problems affecting people of color, Green stated that it was understanding her own power that really encouraged her to get involved with politics. She credits her experience working at the District Attorney’s office in Nassau County as setting the stage for the path that she would go on to pursue in college. As a 17-year-old intern, Green was able to advocate for less severe punishments for young people of color who had recently been convicted. She remembers a specific conversation with a young Black boy who commited a crime, opening his eyes to the long-term barriers that his sentence would bring in his future. In the end, the boy faced a lighter punishment instead of being sentenced to juvenile detention. That was the first time, Green notes, “where I realized I could advocate for people in my community and create a change,” she said. “I didn’t single-handedly do it … but I played a role in preventing the school prison pipeline. And I realized that this is something that could be a career for me.” From her internship at the DA’s office to her time as the president of Key Club in high school, it was difficult for Green to ascertain a specific moment that completely cemented the steps she would take in the fu-
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ture. Rather, it seems that the turning point was a combination of different moments. “Sometimes, it just hits you,” she said. “But I think after you’ve been brave enough for a while, you start to know yourself, and you know what you want to do.” As such a well-rounded student, it was no surprise, then, that Green chose to attend Amherst, where she always knew she would major in English. As someone who aspired to go to law school, she had considered being a political science major or an LJST major — because that’s what was expected. But she adamantly stated that she chose English because “I wanted to do something I love.” During her first years at Amherst, mentors and friends alike both commented on Green’s drive as well as her goal-oriented approach to life. Sommer Hayes ’20E, who has been Green’s friend since her first year, mentioned that “she has such a strong grasp on her purpose … [She’s] making decisions not based on probabilities or what might happen, but [rather] ‘This is where I am. This is what I can do. What steps do I need to take to go further down this path?’” In addition to describing her as curious and empathetic, Ramiz Hall also noted that she is particularly fond of Green’s self-focused attitude. “Sade is a person who I have experienced as [being] committed to her own growth,” she expressed. “Committed to learning about herself,
Photo courtesy of Sade Green ‘20
Memorable and enduring, Sade Green’s legacy at Amherst is characterized by her ongoing efforts to empower and embolden students of color. committed to thinking about how to be better.” “I think that kind of self focused learning and development is vital to becoming a productive, compassionate human in the world,” Ramiz Hall continued. “Over time, I’ve watched Sade grow from an unsure first year at Amherst trying to find her place to an outspoken, unapologetic Black woman who is not afraid to speak truth to power and to pretty much say it like it is.” “Speaking truth to power,” a phrase Green continuously used throughout our own conversation, encapsulates the fearless nature with which Green engages activism. “For me,” she asserted, “speaking truth to power is saying what needs to be said, even if it’s not the most popular thing, and even if it might cost you something, even if you’re afraid.” Both in and out of Amherst,
Green’s strong grasp on how she views the world and her involvement in shaping it grounds her passion for social justice. Her commitment to advocating for change stems heavily from her experiences as a Black woman in America as well as seeing the futures of other Black people taken away by a system that is routinely stacked against them. “My activism came out of a necessity to see my community alive and it wasn’t something I did for fun,” she said. “For me, it was always about how do I fight for my community’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness because we’re owed this. ” “I think seeing those injustices,” she went on to say “was not even negotiable. I looked at these injustices … and realized we don’t have to live in a world like this — we can change it. Because there was a point where it didn’t look this.”
Senior Profile | Sade Green Putting Words Into Action Green’s goals and aspirations to continue amplifying the voices of marginalized individuals is reflected greatly in her work with the MRC and the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) on campus. As a program director for the MRC since her first year, Green organized several programs around race, intersectionalities and social justice, such as Kinks, Coils and Curls, an event that celebrated Afro hair textures. She also helped co-host programs like Black Art Matters, an exhibit at the Mead Art Museum, and has worked continuously to facilitate conversations about race on campus. She is also a member of the Black Student Union (BSU), African Caribbean Student Union (ACSU) and the Remnant Black campus ministry. Starting in her first year, Green spent three years as a senator for the AAS. As one of her first leadership roles outside of the MRC, Green noted
that being a representative gave her a glimpse into what amplifying the voices of marginalized communities would be like. “[During] budgetary committee meetings where they would allocate funding, I always had to pay extra attention to the funding they gave the BSU and ACSU and Remnant and other Black and brown organizations, because I had to make sure that their funding wouldn’t be cut or that they would get what they asked for. It was hard sometimes because there are people in student government who often don’t care if they cut funding from Black or brown organizations ... they don’t see that inequity,” she said. Green went on to illustrate that sometimes she was the only one in the room willing to spend time advocating for Black and brown student voices to be heard. As a first year, for instance, her senate project consisted of creating a State of the College Address, an event that sought to enhance communication transparency between the col-
Photo courtesy of Sade Green ‘20
One of the many stages that she will likely speak from in her life, Green’s TEDx Talk was a crucial reckoning that called to action the need for diverse voices in influencing legislation.
lege administration and the student body. President Biddy Martin, who has worked alongside Green, also had much to say about the significance of the project. “Sade came to me several years ago, perhaps in her first year in the senate, to ask whether I would be willing to give an annual state of the college address that would be sponsored by AAS. I thought it was an inspired idea, and I was impressed with her initiative, her interest in governance and transparency and her determination to have an impact,” Martin said. “Speaking truth to power for me was having the State of the College address,” Green said. “Even the mere act of suggesting that something be better, that things need to be improved, the mere act of asserting that you deserve more — that’s speaking truth to power. [It’s saying] this is what I desire.” Admittedly, Green’s leadership roles could be burdensome. “I often feel worried that they’ll view me as the angry Black woman … but then I would remind myself that one, someone has to speak up. And two, people have been doing this before me,” she said. In her efforts to continue “speaking truth to power,” Green greatly valued her summer 2017 congressional internship for U.S. Representative Kathleen Rice. Working alongside activists and politicians such as senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker and Representative John Lewis, Green’s everyday responsibilities included researching legislation, producing policy letters and writing memos for hearings, briefings and committee meetings regarding immigration, healthcare, homeland security and more. Green would come to carry these experiences with her from D.C. to Amherst, when she gave a TEDx Talk presentation at the college in her sophomore
year. Titled “A Seat at the Table,” Green’s presentation discussed the importance of having people of color in positions of power. Through her time as an intern for Congress, where diversity was slim, Green used her presentation as a way of opening up dialogue on what it means for people of color to be actively involved in legislation. The TEDx Talk followed Green in many positive ways. In September 2019, she became a Forbes Under 30 Scholar, and she additionally organized the Leadership Brainery National Impact Summit at Harvard Law School in October 2019.
Writing As a Tool For Change In addition to her robust activist role, Green also credits her love of writing as crucial in reaching the audiences that she impacts. Writing has always been an integral part of Green’s development, she said, both as a student at Amherst and as an activist who uses writing to elevate her voice and the voices of others. Green attributes writing as the tool that allowed her to find her voice, even before activism took root in her life. However, when Green was a young Black reader, she didn’t really see herself represented in the books she read. Her thesis sought to be a response and a rejection of narratives that excluded girls like her. For her senior thesis, Green produced a body of work that highlights stories that exist at the intersection between her passions for writing and activism. Green’s thesis, titled “Free Like No Fear,” is a creative collection of short stories that feature Black women and girls as the protagonists. The goal for each story, Green emphasized, was to represent some of the most marginalized identities within the Black community. In each story, the protagonists, Kendra, Aina, Jazz and Ruby, have to make a decision on whether to accept
the narrative that society has imposed upon them or whether they will instead write their own stories. “Each story is about what it means to be brave enough to choose yourself, [and] what happens when Black women and girls [do],” Green said. “I wrote this thesis, because I want Black girls to see themselves as leaders. I wanted us to be fully realized characters who have dreams, relationships, and hopes and fears,” she said. “You often don’t see that.” Green also shared her love of being able to construct creative worlds that allow for all sorts of beautiful and necessary convergences to occur. “Creative writing allows me to create these characters, give them names, control the narrative and write newer, Blacker and freer narratives than the ones that this world tries to impose on us. That’s something that has always been a goal of mine,” she said. “How can I reject these narratives that society puts on Black people or Black women and girls specifically? And how can I write newer ones that we define for ourselves?”
A Goal Realized After leaving Amherst, Green plans to take about two years off to work before going to law school. She sees herself working for a civil rights law firm or a nonprofit organization that handles racial justice or civil rights in the future. Post-graduation, there are many lasting lessons that Green hopes to take with her. She started by stating that her greatest personal accomplishment in college “has been stepping into my greatness and owning it.” In doing so, Green noted that it has inspired many others to “own their Blackness and their greatness as well.” It’s a realization that gets at the core of Sade’s mission while at Amherst: “Speaking truth to power,” said Ramiz Hall, “also means speaking truth to yourself.”
The Amherst Student | May 31, 2020 | 5
Senior Profile | Ryan McMillan
Trying & Failing Upwards: A Biophysicist’s Journey Despite his self-declared “timidness,” Ryan McMillan has made roaring waves with his biophysical research from which nobody can turn their ears. —Ryan Yu ’22 Ryan McMillan ’20 is not a loud person. Ask him, and he’ll tell you that he has, for most of his life, been varying degrees of timid, even if he’s eased into a slightly bolder attitude. Luckily, McMillan doesn’t need to be loud to exercise the type of quiet empathy that he’s become known for on campus, nor does he need it to advance the groundbreaking biophysical research that he’s received accolades upon accolades for — among them a Goldwater Scholarship, a Fulbright Scholarship and a National Science Foundation (NSF) graduate fellowship — over the past four years. What he does need is what he already has: the unbridled passion of a young scientist, a constant concern for others and, above all, the determination to keep trying that marks an exceptional student. It’s with these traits that McMillan graduates Amherst and begins a new journey of scientific inquiry but not without a deep fondness for the path that led him here.
A Limited Upbringing McMillan grew up in what he described as “a sort of sheltered [and] homogenous environment.” More precisely, he grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he was born and lived his entire life before coming to Amherst. Accordingly, his upbringing was rather uneventful, in part due to his “really timid” at-
titude as a child and throughout high school, which, according to him, limited his interactions with others at a young age. Nevertheless, McMillan was able to find a place of his own in the Boy Scouts, where he made some of his closest friends and eventually made his way to becoming an Eagle Scout. When he entered Providence High School, the local public high school, he found another outlet in the school’s German department, immersing himself in exchange programs and German literature. In particular, he could often be found reading from “a collection of [German] fairy tales” and working through its comprehension exercises as he slowly built his understanding of the language. However, his main academic interest in high school wasn’t German but instead biology, a curiosity that he credits as having developed due to early and frequent exposure to the subject. When choosing where to attend college, McMillan was fairly insistent on majoring in biology, although that didn’t factor too much into his overall decision. A significant factor when deciding between his three top choices — Amherst, Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) — was his desire to “get away from North Carolina for a bit,” especially given how many of his classmates matriculated to ei-
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ther Duke or UNC. That, combined with a particularly warm welcome at Amherst’s admitted student open house, led him to move almost a thousand miles to the north, landing in the colder reaches of Massachusetts.
Settling Into Amherst Like many students, McMillan did not feel immediately comfortable upon coming to Amherst, feeling intimidated by the accomplishments of his peers, which he felt far exceeded his own. However, as he became familiar with his classes and began interacting more personally with his classmates, his “imposter syndrome” gradually subsided. “It took until the first round of midterms for me to feel like Amherst was tough, but that it was something that I could do, that I wasn’t completely out of my league,” he noted. Participating in clubs on campus also helped ease McMillan into life at Amherst, with the fencing club and the Kidney Disease Screening and Awareness Program (KDSAP) providing a sturdy foundation for him in his four years at the college. The former appealed to McMillan for the sense of community that it offered, whereas the latter allowed him to explore the world of health care and apply his knowledge in biology in a concrete way. “I never really liked the com-
Photo courtesy of Ryan McMillan ’20
McMillan initially wanted to study biology but decided to explore more quantitative routes after taking a calculus class. petitive aspects of fencing,” McMillan admitted. “Fencing competitions encourage people to be very self-centered and chest-thumping ... and that was never something that I wanted to be involved in. But I really enjoyed the team-building aspects of fencing, especially with the members of my squad.” This aversion to competition was something that McMillan noticed as distinct about Amherst more generally, too, along with the college’s diversity relative to his hometown. “I didn’t really hear people talk about their grades, or at least not in the same depth as they did in high school, where it felt like people were competing with each other to have the best GPA,” said McMillan. “It was actually hard for me to break out of at first, because coming in, I still had this mindset that I had to be competitive in classes.” Ultimately, McMillan came to take this value of cooperation over competition as a key lesson
from his time in college, paired with a newfound appreciation for exploring beyond his typical boundaries, academic or otherwise.
From Biology to Physics to Biophysics As for McMillan’s academic interests, his desire to study biology carried into his coursework early in his college career. However, after finishing his multivariable calculus course at the end of his first semester, he “realized that [he] wanted some sort of quantitative background to ground biology.” As he started looking for ways to integrate a more quantitative approach into biology, he came upon two possible pathways: computational biology and biophysics. It was only upon speaking with Professor of Physics Ashley Carter, who would turn out to be McMillan’s most significant mentor during his time at Amherst, that he realized that bio-
Senior Profile | Ryan McMillan physics was the path that suited him best. Consequently, McMillan not only started taking more physics courses, but also started working in Carter’s lab, where he’s been continuously assisting in research since the interterm of his first year. Recalling his growth as a scientist, he pointed to a period in the summer after his first year, when he was attempting to develop a set of assays to directly image DNA for Carter, as an especially significant point in convincing him to continue with research and instilling in him the importance of failure in science. He and another student had worked for over a month without producing any meaningful results, and their deadline — when they were supposed to put the assays to use — was fast approaching. On the day before their deadline, they still hadn’t made any progress and so McMillan tried a “Hail Mary,” where he “stayed in the lab later than [he] would
care to admit” in an attempt to figure something out — and miraculously, “the next day, there was something on the slide that looked somewhat promising.” “The nice thing about research is that nothing ever works, so when something does work, it’s very exciting,” he said. “Finally getting to see that work pay off after like a month of trying was really rewarding for me and was something that, I think, encouraged me to keep going in research.” With his classes, however, he found himself in a bit of a dilemma, as he was increasingly drawn to physics as opposed to biology or chemistry. At the end of his sophomore fall, after some deliberation with Sai Chauhan ’20, his best friend who also happened be making a similar decision, McMillan and Chauhan chose to simultaneously switch their focuses to physics as a major, even though McMillan would ultimately finish the biochemistry-biophysics (BCBP)
A Precocious Researcher By the end of his sophomore year, McMillan was starting to get recognized for his research. For the summer before his junior year, he was granted a fellowship to conduct research in Saarbrücken, Germany, marrying his passion for science with his long-standing linguistic interests. There, despite having trouble with the “culture shock” and the task of speaking only in German, he confirmed that scientific research was what he wanted to do professionally, having had positive experiences in two labs by then. It was near the end of his junior year when McMillan received the prize that would perhaps mark his college career: the Goldwater Scholarship, which provides $7,500 in funding for exceptional student scientists, mathematicians and engineers and is considered the most pres-
tigious undergraduate scholarship in those fields. If you bring it up with him, however, he’ll be quite humble, insisting that he was “lucky” to get the scholarship by pointing to the hundred-or-so additional awards granted in his year due to additional support from the government. Matthew Yarnall ’20, a close friend of McMillan’s who also applied for the Goldwater Scholarship, noted his humility and compassion when the results of the prize were announced. “The minute the grant information was released in mid-March, and it turned out he won the grant and not me, his first action was to send me a text telling me what an intelligent scientist I was and that he was sure I would win some other grand [award] soon,” Yarnall said. “Ryan is eager to celebrate the success of others, but not often his own.” “Despite the magnitude of his achievements, over the past four years, Ryan has remained one of the most grounded and sincere people I know. He has provided me, and the rest of his friends, with a reliable source of support, academic and emotional,” Chauhan added. “While he did bully me mercilessly over our journey through the physics major (all in jest!), I don’t think anyone doubted his integrity or kindness for a minute. He’s one of the best people I know, and honestly, his humility infuriates me.”
From Graduation and Onwards
Photo courtesy of Ryan McMillan ’20
As part of the Carter lab, depicted above, McMillan (far right) conducted research on the role of protamine in DNA folding, starting from the interterm of his first year.
The recognition didn’t abate in his senior year either. While hard at work on his thesis — a culmination of his research in the Carter lab, investigating how DNA compacts information in spaces as small as a sperm cell, through an analysis of a protein called protamine and the geometry of DNA when interacting with it — McMillan received a number of acceptances to graduate programs, including to a
doctorate program at Harvard in biophysics, which he will be attending starting the fall of 2021. More, to fund his Ph.D., he applied for and received a NSF graduate fellowship, which is particularly extraordinary considering that McMillan is not yet in graduate school. As the coronavirus pandemic swept up the end of his senior year, he took that in stride, too. McMillan used the abrupt end as an opportunity to take a breather from his thesis, to reconnect with the Amherst community one last time and to speedrun the remaining items on his college bucket list with his friends. “Right after the email that told us to leave campus came, there was a palpable change in the atmosphere on campus. The Amherst Awkward disappeared — for the first time since orientation week, I could eat meals with people I’d never met before,” McMillan wrote in his thesis acknowledgments. “Our senior year may not have gone at all the way we’d imagined, but I’m so proud of the way we came together to make our last week of college special nonetheless.” McMillan intends to be back in Amherst this coming fall, however, finishing up some remaining work with the Carter lab. After that, he’ll be off to Munich, Germany, conducting research funded by a Fulbright grant, where he will continue his analysis of protamine and examine its potential for nanoengineering applications. When he gets to Harvard for his Ph.D., he hopes to be able to explore beyond his intellectual comfort zones, just like he did at Amherst. Eventually, he would like to end up in a role like Carter or his other professors: a mentor to aspiring young scientists like he was just a few years ago. Until then, he’ll have all the time in the world to continue the research he loves, in areas that he’ll surely make big strides in — even if he won’t characterize it like that himself.
The Amherst Student | May 31, 2020 | 7
Senior Profile | Shawna Chen
On the Scene, Reporter’s Notepad in Hand Shawna Chen’s name has graced the bylines of countless articles in The Student. Behind the words lies her compassionate desire to amplify unheard stories. —Natalie De Rosa ’21 In my three years at The Student, I’ve had my fair share of intimidating interviews. On more than one occasion, I’ve frantically loitered the halls of Converse reminding myself to take a deep breath before walking into the office of an administrator with difficult questions in hand. And yet, I’ve never prepared for an interview more than this one with Shawna Chen ’20. The nerves didn’t come because I had a list of challenging, unsavory topics I wanted to bring to the fore — if anything, Chen and I joked about how redundant our conversation felt at times as I asked her questions about her hometown fully anticipating what she was going to say next. Rather, interviewing Chen felt like I was being put to the test, because everything I know about journalism I know from Chen. “It’s weird, huh?” Chen told me, acknowledging that she usually isn’t on this side of the interview. While some may not know her face, nearly everyone on campus recognizes her name, which has sat comfortably in the byline of countless articles in The Student. I’ve seen her in action, scribbling notes with a Muji pen into her reporter’s notepad, furrowing her eyebrows while very meticulously editing the week’s articles. It’s rare to see someone exhibit so much passion toward a job as laborious as that of a journalist, but Chen does. She strives to get the facts straight through whatever means it takes, all the while handling her interviewees’ stories with tremendous stew-
ardship. With someone as skilled and ambitious as Chen, it’s not hard to imagine why presenting my questions to her for this profile induced some anxiety. I’ve been lucky enough to get to know the person behind the print, to both see Chen in her element as a journalist and build a friendship that has impacted me in more ways than she knows. There’s more to Chen than the words she spills onto a page: She knows exactly where to get the best boba; she can guess anyone’s Myers Briggs personality type after knowing them for 15 minutes; she is quick to compliment. Undergirding all of what Chen does, regardless of whether it’s in print or not, is a profound sense of compassion.
Between Shanghai and Silicon Valley Though Chen was born in Cupertino, California, the Silicon Valley neighborhood would not be her permanent home, with her family moving to Shanghai when she was four. Her early memories in China are colored with vignettes of her rollerblading with her cousins and drinking milk tea. “I swear, I fell in love with boba,” Chen said. Chen would not stay in Shanghai, either, and her family moved back to the Bay Area again when she was 10, this time permanently settling in Palo Alto. Living in a familiar place should have proven less difficult, but the cultural differences between Shanghai and the bay grew starkly apparent to Chen. “I remember coming back [to
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the U.S.] so proud of being Chinese,” Chen said. “Within a year, it was all stripped away from me because it became clear to me somehow — not explicitly, but somehow — that all of that was considered weird or inferior.” Coming of age in the heart of the tech industry further illuminated a new cultural dimension Chen did not encounter to the same extent in Shanghai: the work-centered, perfectionist atmosphere that defines Palo Alto. With Stanford on one end of town and a plethora of tech giants mere miles away, this micro-culture didn’t come as a shock to Chen. Among her classmates and neighbors going into high school included the children of Stanford professors, Yahoo executives and the cofounder of eBay (Steve Jobs’s daughter attended the rival high school, she was quick to add). “We were really proud to be Titans, and there was a lot of school spirit,” Chen said about her alma mater Henry M. Gunn High School. “But it was a hard environment.” Chen was not the only one to sense the deep-seated perfectionism at her high school and in Palo Alto at large: the Silicon Valley town would soon become infamous for its suicide clusters, with three of her Gunn classmates and one student at the other high school taking their lives in her junior year, including one friend. “It really fundamentally changed me as a person, grieving and trying to learn how to grieve and not really having the
Photo courtesy of Audrey Cheng ’20
Chen’s love for journalism began at her high school paper, where she began to see the craft as a way to combat inequity. space to. Because, you know, junior year meant getting your SATs ready and your subject tests and your grades and your GPA, and you’re about to apply for college. You don’t have time to mourn,” she said. It was in this context that Chen made her college decision, choosing between Amherst, Cornell and Northwestern. When she visited Amherst the classes she attended were intellectually stimulating to her. “I never thought I could question the fundamentals of things,” Chen said about her visit. Months later, Chen would head to the east coast to begin her first year at Amherst, her mother crying in the bushes near Memorial Field as Chen went off with her orientation group.
All the News That’s Fit to Print In her first year at Amherst, Chen admitted that she viewed her experience through rose-tinted glasses. Her hallmates on the second floor of James cultivated a vibrant community to come home to at the end of each day. Chen kept herself busy as she immersed herself as
a member of the Amherst Christian Fellowship, Amherst Mixed Martial Arts and the orchestra as a violin player, alongside working on the Amherst Says Instagram page with the Office of Communications. It was also in that first semester that Chen, who had applied to the college as a psychology major, realized that she “wasn’t kidding anyone, that English was my top love” after taking a class with Henry S. Poler ’59 Presidential Teaching Professor of English Geoffrey Sanborn, who “really made the difference in opening my eyes to the kinds of literary experience you can have.” Perhaps the most notable part of her first year was joining The Student, first as a news writer before moving into the role of managing news editor a mere month into the fall semester. Chen didn’t always intend to be a journalist. When registering for classes during her freshman year of high school, she was dismayed at the lack of creative writing courses offered. As a compromise, her mother suggested that she take journalism courses instead, unknowingly sowing the seeds for her infatuation with the field.
Senior Profile | Shawna Chen “I was trash at it at the beginning,” Chen quipped. “My journalism adviser would hand [my articles] back with big Xs.” It didn’t take long for Chen to stop being trash at it, soon taking on stories that covered students’ cheating habits (a majority of them had cheated at least once, she found) and starting a “Changing the Narrative” column to address the school’s mental health crisis. Chen recounted all of these journalistic feats to me with great enthusiasm, but there was one story in which her devotion to the practice became most palpable. In her sophomore year of high school, she reported on a protest happening across the street from her high school, in which parents argued that their Black and brown children were tracked into special needs programs at disproportionate rates. She sat with a parent organizer in a Starbucks on a Saturday afternoon for a couple of hours. Though Chen told the parent that she couldn’t guarantee change, the parent started crying, thanking Chen for listening to her to begin with. “I think that was when it came clear to me how reporting can really be a way to address social inequities,” Chen said. “That
has always been the appeal to me, holding people in power and institutions of power accountable and trying to provide a platform for people who have been erased.” This vision of holding institutions accountable could not hold more true than in Chen’s tenure at The Student, where she ended her career there once again as editor-in-chief. At the same time that Chen remembers taking Buzzfeed quizzes at 1 a.m. with fellow news editor Isabel Tessier ’19 on publication nights, equally as vibrant in her memory are the articles she has written on the various protests and controversies that have clouded Amherst in her time here. Her first year marked the election of President Donald Trump and the ensuing demonstrations in front of Converse. Chen remembers co-writing a story with Tessier on the creation of new tenure-track positions designated for Black and Latinx professors — a learning moment for Chen that “yeah, it’s all really inequitable.” Considering the bloated nature of the stories she covered that first year — and beyond, with the Common Language Document, men’s lacrosse and Jeff Sessions controversies also
stacked on her resume — the issues Chen tackled naturally led her toward investigative reporting. “I’m always nosing around in some way. My mom always says that I think too much,” Chen said. “I tend to try to see things where sometimes there isn’t anything. But a lot of times there are things.” “Inevitably, you build relationships with people and sources and get to know their perspective on things. And then they trust you enough to pass on information because they think you can do a good job with it,” she added. So it went — in her junior year, a source provided Chen with “the right documents” that allowed her to investigate the obstacles faculty of color at the college face in the tenure process. In a four part series titled “A Flawed System,” Chen examined the issues with the college’s governance systems, the additional workload faculty of color carry and the general elusiveness surrounding tenure. The three months of investigation would culminate into something much bigger than she could have imagined, with The Atlantic citing the series in an article on the scarcity of and barriers to Black people earning a Ph.D. “I know the thing I’m proud of [myself for] is ‘A Flawed
Photos courtesy of Asian American Studiies Working Group
In her junior and senior years, Chen grew more involved in Asian American activism, moderating panels as pictured above. Left to right: Chen, Visiting Writer Thirii Myint, CHI Fellow Lili Kim and Writer-in-Residence Min Jin Lee.
System,’” Chen said. When I asked her what she was most proud of leaving behind at The Student, Chen went beyond her own personal accomplishments to incorporate the editorial staff as a whole — a testament to her innate desire to build community. “I think [CoEditor-in-Chief Emma Swislow ’20] and I created a really nice little family,” she said. “You kind of see each other at your best and worst. There are times where I’m really angry, like, ‘why didn’t you do the thing that I told you to do?’ And then there are other times when we nail down a story and we’re all euphoric.” “There was a hole in my heart when I left,” Chen said.
English department exploring the second-generation Asian American experience through an analysis of Ocean Vuong’s “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” and Weike Wang’s “Chemistry.” In between these traditional chapters of literary analysis, Chen incorporated vignettes of her own experiences, imagining her father’s childhood and journey from China to the U.S. A few weeks ago, Chen sat with Logan Deming ’20, who wrote her thesis with Chen collaboratively under Assistant Professor of English Alicia Mireles Christoff, to submit their theses together, hitting the “send” button simultaneously. “All right. Oh my God. We’re done,” Chen said.
Coming Into Identity
Outside of The Student, Chen grew increasingly more involved in Asian American activism, particularly in her junior and senior years. Recognizing the nuances around her identity was more of a “progression.” “Even though I grew up in an area that had a lot of Asian Americans, I never really read about myself or learned about myself in school,” she said. “I never read books by Asian American authors; there were like two paragraphs on the Japanese American incarceration in the U.S. history textbooks that we read.” Coming to Amherst allowed her to take classes including “World War II and Japanese Americans” and “Model Minorities,” giving her the exposure that her previous education lacked. By her junior year, Chen was moderating panels for the Asian American Studies Working Group, which has advocated for the implementation of an Asian American Studies major at the college for over 30 years. “[The panels] were so engrossing ... You don’t really think about solidarity and what it looks like to actually break free and advocate for yourself,” Chen said. Come senior year, Chen would be writing a thesis in the
To end college at a time like this can evoke a plethora of emotions. For Chen, graduating during the coronavirus pandemic has relieved much of the worry on what comes next. For now, she will be living at home once more — her Morrow Dormitory room was littered with moving boxes when I Zoomed her for this interview — and applying for jobs, though she is in no rush. “Because of COVID and how everything is, I am just giving it off to fate to decide what happens next,” she said. Regardless of where she ends up next, Chen was insistent on recognizing her supervisors for the jobs she held at Amherst — Theater and Dance Academic Department Coordinator Suzie Rivers; Science Library Specialist Maryanne Alos; and Concert Programming Manager Alisa Pearson — along with her therapist Min Cheng, for the support she has gotten from them. “The word that comes to mind surprisingly, is heartbreaking,” Chen said about her Amherst experience. “But in the best of ways. I changed a lot here. I said goodbye to old versions of myself. I made a lot of relationships and learned and had my eyes open to the world.”
The Amherst Student | May 31, 2020 | 9
Senior Profile | Soledad Slowing-Romero
A Voice for Engagement, On and Off Campus Whether she’s energizing class discussions, volunteering in town or cultivating a space for debate at the Amherst Political Union, Soledad Slowing-Romero has established herself as a pillar of the Amherst community. —Theo Hamilton ’22 There is no question that Soledad Slowing-Romero ’20 has left a significant mark on Amherst College throughout her four years here. From volunteering in the local community, writing the first honors thesis for the Latinx and Latin American Studies (LLAS) department and serving as president of the Amherst Political Union (APU), Slowing-Romero’s combination of determined activism and easygoing charm has consistently enhanced the Amherst community.
First Interests Born into a middle-class home in Guatemala, Slowing-Romero credits her parents for instilling in her a strong commitment to social justice from an early age. Describing the political climate in which she grew up, she noted that Guatemala “is a very reactionary country, [where] racism against indigenous people is pretty much institutionalized.” Like most middle-class families in Guatemala, the Slowing-Romeros hired an indigenous woman, named Tomasa, as a live-in maid. When Slowing-Romero’s parents started treating Tomasa like a family member — inviting her to sit at the dinner table and helping pay for her education — they faced serious backlash from more conservative members of the extended family. Looking
back, Slowing-Romero sees this as one of the first experiences that prompted her to question existing social and economic structures. When she was five, Slowing-Romero moved with her parents and sister to Ames, Iowa, where she quickly settled in. “I loved growing up in Iowa,” she reminisced. “I definitely identify a lot as Iowan.” By her high school years, Slowing-Romero had already begun looking for ways to put her grounded belief in social justice into practice in the local community. She quickly became president of Students Helping in Poverty and Hunger, foreshadowing the dedication to community work that she would later bring to Amherst. At the same time, Slowing-Romero, excelling in her high school coursework, also began to take classes at Iowa State University and turned her eye eastward.
Choosing A Direction Slowing-Romero’s path to Amherst was far from straightforward. Although she became determined to go to an East Coast college after a family vacation when she was just 13 or 14, Slowing-Romero initially leaned towards larger universities. At first, Columbia University was her dream school. Even after Richard Mansbach, one of her professors at Iowa State and a
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Swarthmore graduate, sold her on liberal arts colleges, Amherst was by no means her guaranteed choice. “I was pretty sure I was going to go to Williams,” she confessed hushedly. “They let me know [I’d been admitted] about a month before any other colleges.” Ultimately, Slowing-Romero credits her decision to come to Amherst with the college’s dedication to equality and diversity, noting that “having people of color, having people from different socioeconomic backgrounds is a critical part of having real discussions.” Slowing-Romero wasted no time helping to facilitate real discussions at the college, joining APU — a club dedicated to creating an open space in which students can debate a diversity of political opinions — and becoming a member of its executive board during her first year. Slowing-Romero’s interest in social and economic justice and desire to understand how inequalities are created naturally led her towards the history and political science departments. While she leaned toward focusing on political science at first, she increasingly realized that her preference for concrete stories, as opposed to theory, might be better suited to history. While Amherst still lacked a Latin American studies major during Slowing-Romero’s first year, she found herself naturally drawn
Photo courtesy of Soledad Slowing-Romero ’20
Soledad Slowing-Romero ‘20 was among Amherst’s first majors in the Latinx and Latin American Studies department and the first to write an honors thesis in the department. to taking history classes focusing on Latin America, discovering that “it was really empowering to see all of these people like me in history, and I want to be able to tell their stories that oftentimes aren’t told.” She quickly demonstrated a clear knack for telling those stories. Praise for her academic achievements in history and LLAS is loud and seemingly unanimous. Rick Lopez, dean of new students and chair of Latinx and Latin American studies, has been Slowing-Romero’s academic advisor for the duration of her four years and her thesis advisor as well; he singled out Slowing-Romero as “one of the most impressive students I’ve ever worked with.” Vanessa Walker, the Morgan assistant professor in diplomatic history, is similarly ebullient about Slowing-Romero, praising her passion, healthy skepticism and ability to “balance
serious commitment and levity [with a] willingness to have fun with topics and requests.” Walker added, “she really energized class and allowed other students to think about different dimensions.”
Developing Community Slowing-Romero has been just as influential outside of the classroom as in it. While she has also worked with the Amherst Law Review, Slowing-Romero identifies APU as her most significant extracurricular. After three years on the club’s executive board, Slowing-Romero was elected president at the start of this year. One of Slowing-Romero’s first actions as president was to shift the meeting day so that it didn’t overlap with Black Student Union meetings, allowing engaged and interested Black students to participate in the club.
Senior Profile | Soledad Slowing-Romero Along with helping move the club towards realizing its goal of providing an expanding diversity of viewpoints, Slowing-Romero worked to bring an exciting collection of speakers to the club. She is particularly happy to have brought in Lucrecia Hernández-Mack, former Guatemalan minister of health, to give a talk on public health, noting that the club typically invites speakers from the U.S., “so I was really excited to bring in an international perspective.” Not willing to settle with only improving options for students on campus, Slowing-Romero has also done valuable work to bridge the divide between the college and the broader Town of Amherst. She has volunteered at the Pioneer Valley Workers Center and at First Baptist Church, pushing other Amherst students to engage in the community similarly. Her friend Zehra Madhavan ’20, who also worked on editorial board of The Student, fondly recalls one of these occasions: “I was pretty purely in the Amherst bubble, but spiritual director Harrison [Blum] was arranging for a few people to go to soup kitchens. [Slowing-Romero] was the one who said, you should do this … having someone else to motivate me to go out and make a difference was so valuable … She reminds me that that kind of help, even on a small scale, is a real contribution.”
A Thesis Challenging Incomplete Narratives The culmination of Slowing-Romero’s time at Amherst has been her thesis, titled “Primavera Tracionada: Ladino Anti-Communism and the Politics of Race and Class During the Guatemalan Decade of Spring,” which combines her long-standing interests in political activism and Latin American history. The thesis was the first written for the college’s LLAS department. In her thesis, Slowing-Rome-
ro explores the causes that brought an end to Guatemala’s “Decade of Spring” — a brief period from 1944 to 1954 in which Guatemala was ruled democratically by progressive presidents Juan José Arévalo and Jacobo Árbenz, both of who strove to improve living conditions for the working class. It was followed by nearly 40 years of civil war and genocide against indigenous people, what Slowing-Romero describes as “state terror.” Slowing-Romero’s thesis argues that the traditional Guatemalan narrative of these events, which places the blame for the end of the Decade of Spring on the U.S., is both incomplete and counterproductive. While it is true that the Árbenz government was ultimately removed by a C.I.A.-planned coup and replaced with an authoritarian military government, Slowing-Romero suggests that this is only part of the picture — the coup was enabled by a significant political movement inside Guatemala. She explained that, “there was an appropriation of Cold War anti-communism, tailored to racial and class anxieties of the middle class and upper classes in Guatemala that won over enough people to create a coup environment.” Without this grassroots reactionary movement, which has often been ignored and is the main subject of Slowing-Romero’s research, “the overthrow of Árbenz would most likely not have had the success it did,” she argued. Ultimately, the part that middle-class ladinos (people with mixed Spanish and indigenous descent and cultural identity, about 60 percent of Guatemala’s population) played in ending the Decade of Spring has been whitewashed. Because of this, “a lot of ladinos don’t really understand their role, not just racially but economically, in maintaining a really oppressive system,” she said.
Looking Forward Now that she’s nearly graduated from Amherst, Slowing-Romero is beginning to plan out the next phase of her life. She’s interested in pursuing a Ph.D., but says that she’ll give herself three years to figure out whether that will be her next step forward.
In the meantime, she has accepted a job at Cuti Hecker Wang, a New York law firm specializing in fighting economic injustice in housing discrimination and wage theft cases. Slowing-Romero said she’s very excited to start working there, particularly as she “think[s] so much of what is happening in the world right now is more a
symptom of economic injustice than anything else.” Whatever she does next, it seems certain that, in Walker’s words, Slowing-Romero “is always going to be somebody politically and civically engaged, constantly bringing the issues she cares about to bear on the real lived experiences of others.”
Photo courtesy of Soledad Slowing-Romero ’20
As an executive board member, and later president, of the Amherst Political Union, Slowing-Romero has helped bring a number of exciting speakers to Amherst. She is pictured above with former Guatemalan Minister of Health Lucrecia Hernàndez-Mack, who visited campus as a speaker.
The Amherst Student | May 31, 2020 | 11
Senior Profile | Emma Swislow
Taking on All The World’s Weird and Wonderful Emma Swislow spent her time at Amherst leading The Student, writing an English thesis and communicating her excitement for the nuance in her surroundings. —Olivia Gieger ’21 My earliest memory of Emma Swislow ’20 comes from before I even knew who she was. Early in my first year at Amherst — her sophomore year — we both frequented the first floor of the library, where we’d sit at the wheeled tables near the periodicals. Emma would sit behind her brightly stickered laptop, laughingly commanding a table full of 19-year-old college boys. As I sat tables over, I was so captivated because it was everything I so badly wanted to find for myself. She seemed so cool and comfortable in herself, which could not be further from the adjectives used to describe me that September of my first year. She reigned over this table with such certainty, seemingly unbothered by the boyish taunts and teasing of her tablemates. Who was she, confident in her own niche nerdiness? And how could I be like her too? Come spring, Emma and I both found ourselves in the basement office of The Student — she was a fresh news editor and I was on arts & living. Still insecure and uncertain, I saw Emma as someone who I could easily recognize myself in. We were both literary-minded, dabbling in the ultimate frisbee team (which neither of us really stuck to, ultimately) and interested in natural sciences (she as a geology student and I as an environmental studies major). I looked up to her as a role model then, and I still do. Three years later, as I sat down to write this profile from the suburban house where I grew up, I wondered what those versions of ourselves would think of us now as we’ve both grown and taken the helm of something far greater than
a table full of sophomore boys. Life On and Off the Page Swislow’s tenure on the newspaper defines her time at Amherst. Starting off as a news writer in her first year, she stepped into the role of news editor in the spring of 2018 as a sophomore and then served as the editor-in-chief, from the fall of 2018 to the fall of 2019. The road of editorship has been rewarding, but certainly rocky, Swislow says. Her introduction to The Student was through writing on fairly light topics like our Fresh Faculty and Thoughts on Theses series; her introduction to news editorship was a little less rosy. Specifically, the campus faced two student deaths only weeks apart, and Swislow grappled with how to cover that in a newspaper, on a campus where everyone seems to know everyone else. “I think both of those deaths were felt really, really strongly by the entire community, and figuring out how to cover them in a way that both respected the privacy of the students and the families but also provided information that was important and impactful to the community was something that taught me a lot,” she said. “It was tough. I mean, I wrote the article about one of the memorial services, and I have to admit I was crying through the entire thing because it was just so emotional.” And it did not get easier going forward. The next year, Swislow and her fellow editor-in-chief Shawna Chen ’20 oversaw the coverage of the controversy surrounding the college’s Common Language Document, sexist and transphobic remarks about it in the Amherst
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Republicans GroupMe, the visit of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, anti-semetic harassment by men’s lacrosse players, Chen’s series on tenure for faculty of color and the report of some faculty opposition to an affordable housing development in town. Each came with its own fresh batch of ethical questions. It’s hard, being at the head of a newspaper and knowing that you can’t pass off tricky choices onto anyone else higher up the ladder. Swislow looked to her parents, who both led careers in journalism at the Chicago Tribune for some answers, but the workings of a big city paper are not a one-for-one match for the ethical questions that plague a tiny college newspaper. Often, it comes down to what feels right. “I have my gut instincts,” said Swislow. “You can come to a pretty solid conclusion on what is mostly right and what is mostly wrong. You know, nothing is ever black and white.” (Not even newspapers...) But, for all these challenges, Chen was in it right alongside Swislow. “I could not imagine being editor-in-chief with anyone else really,” Swislow said. The two have known each other since before coming to Amherst — they met at a journalism summer program run out of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism (“We’ve known each other since we were 16/17… Oh my god,” she laughed). When Emma arrived as a student on campus, Shawna was the only other person she knew. Chen had joined the paper as a news editor a little bit before Swislow, and the two held the po-
Photo courtesy of Emma Swislow ‘20
Swislow approaches all she does with a quiet appreciation to absorb all that she can about the topic at hand. sition side by side for most of their sophomore year. “We’ve basically been working together intensively since the beginning of sophomore year, which is a really long time,” she said. “It was really, really wonderful to sort of have that person throughout basically my entire time in the newspaper. It’s so important to just have someone who understood what it was like. My friends are amazing, but also, they don’t always get it. Newspaper can be really intense; it can be really draining; it can be really rewarding. And so having someone else that got it was really, really important.” Chen agreed: “Because of newspaper, there’s a dynamic of partnership that really played a big role in my life at Amherst,” she said. “Having that partnership, having that support and knowing that she had my back no matter what was really important to me and helped me get through a lot, not just with newspaper but personal matters too.” “We work really well together,” Swislow added. The two have different approaches to journalism that made them complement each
other so well . “It was so easy with her. The type of partnership and rapport I had with her was so easy. I keep returning to the word easy but I think just because it was like two pieces of a puzzle, as cheesy as that is. We just fit really well,” Shawna said. Their relationship, to me, stands out about what is so uniquely special about working at The Student: It breeds this deep intimacy and closeness among people whose lives overlap only in this one intense project. The friendships that come out of newspaper are ones that would not exist in any other context and operate unlike any relationships I’ve had, in the most wonderful way. “One of the main things that I’ve just loved about being on the newspaper were production nights. I love when everyone is in the office. Sometimes people talk too much, myself included, but it’s just so much fun to all be together, working on creating that week’s issue,” Swislow said. “I love being with the staff of the paper. I mean, I just loved everybody who was on the staff during my time as ed-
Senior Profile | Emma Swislow itor-in-chief and so that was just so much fun. I miss that a lot, honestly, because then at the end of the night, Shawna and I would send the paper off, and it’s like one in the morning, but we just did something. And it was a really, really great experience to have.” The Past, in a Modern Light As Emma and I spoke, the shadow of the coronavirus and its effects hung over our interview. Instead of talking in person, I spoke to Emma over Zoom in her childhood bedroom at her parents’ house in Chicago, where she’s been filling her days searching for jobs, jogging around Chicago streets and baking with her mom’s sourdough starter. She’s lived out most of the senior milestones she expected to experience on campus from behind the screen of a Zoom call, rather than with her friends in their neighboring Taplin suites. Most notably, “I wish we [Swislow and her friends] could have been together when we finished those theses,” she said. Swislow’s social circle is a strong and intense group of very different people, who are all academically driven, as she describes. Her close friendships have been another defining part of her time at Amherst. Swislow’s own thesis, written in
the English department, focused on the life and writing of Emily Dickinson, tracing desire as it relates to food. She divided the thesis into three chapters: the desire for desire (“very meta,” she said), the desire for control and the desire to shrink and vanish. Within these chapters, Swislow applied three different tools of analyzing (or different “buckets” as Swislow described it). The first was in close reading poetry. In the second approach, she looked at Dickinson’s letters and life, “both the times she lived in and her biography.” For the third bucket, Swislow wrote about her own life and her own relationship to food. To her thesis advisor and long-time professor, Geoffrey Sanborn, Henry Poler ’59 Presidential Teaching Professor of English, this first-person writing in the thesis opened a window onto the thoughtfulness that defines Emma. “Her most salient trait, in my experience, is her quiet focus. All of her social qualities have a kind of interior depth, it feels like to me, because somewhere inside her is a kind of fundament, where things that have happened to her and things that matter to her have coalesced into something lasting,” he said. “In the personal-essay interludes that she began incorporating into her thesis last winter, that interior space became the subject
Photo courtesy of Emma Swislow ‘20
Visiting the Jurassic Coast, Swislow stumbled upon fossils every few feet, to the geology student’s delight.
of her writing, and it was incredibly moving.” For Swislow, though, it was the collection of these little facts to build a greater understanding that resonated with her about the thesis. “I really loved writing those parts about her biography and her letters cause I feel like it just shows a side of Emily Dickinson that people often overlook,” she said. “[Dickinson’s] a very much mythologized figure in literature, and part of the goal of my thesis was to break down those sorts of walls that have been put up around her, and to see her in a more modern light. She is really modern. She’s not old like everyone thinks she is.” The influence that Swislow’s other major, geology, has had on her thinking surrounding literature and her thesis is clear. Like these elements of Dickinson that resonated with Swislow, what captivates her about geology is how its lessons from the past can also help us understand things “in a more modern light.” She said, “A lot of what I enjoyed learning about in geology was learning about climate change in the past, figuring out how I could apply that to climate change now and then thinking about first of all how to explain it, but also working to solve it.” She doesn’t expect to pursue a career explicitly in geology, but she sees how the skills she built in the major will equip her for a range of disciplines, whatever she chooses to do next. Her geology advisor, Tekla Harms, the chair of the geology department, sees it too: “I like to think that a background in geology helps prepare one for this kind of decision-making; the work geologists do is to identify the solution that best fits the often-incomplete data the earth preserves of its past. Looking toward the future asks you to identify the best option when you don’t yet know who you will become,” she said. All the Little Things Emma holds such a strong passion, not just for the nitty-gritty nuances of geology, but also for sharing and explaining them. It
makes perfect sense that she wants to find a career in environmental communications. When we spoke, she told me about a trip her family took last year to England’s Jurassic Coast, which is perhaps the most perfect place for geological and literary loves to converge. In Dorset, tourists can visit the home of Thomas Hardy and then walk along the Jurassic coastline, littered with fossils of trilobites, which are tiny, prehistoric arthropods. “Let me show you some!” she interrupted her story to dash across her room and retrieve the little rocks she’d taken home from the coast. She held them up to the laptop camera so that I could see. “Here’s your geology lesson,” she joked, as she launched into an explanation of how the fine grained mudstone of the coast created layers so that when you split open a rock on the beach “chances are that you’ll probably find a fossil.” “It was like nothing I’d ever seen before,” she said. Thomas Hardy wrote about them, too. “You would never expect to see that in a piece of literature but there it is,” Swislow said. Her friend and fellow English and geology double major, Raina Chinitz ’20 recognized this excitement to share knowledge as a defining characteristic of her friend. “When I think of Emma, I think of persistence, curiosity, hard work, organization and her tendency to fall deep into something and her drive to know everything about it and immerse herself in it. I’m trying to say like, obsessive, but in a good way,” Chinitz told me. “In her friendships, she’s the kind of person who remembers little things about you because she can fill her mind with little details but also because she cares about those little things too.” I asked Shawna if she noticed this with Emma, too, and she laughed, recalling Emma’s phone case with Larry David’s face all over it and her unabashed love for New York Times Washington Correspondent Mike Schmidt, “She’s so willing to share pieces of herself with people that it makes them feel like she places her trust
in them and that they can place their trust in her,” she said. “It feels like Emma just has such an appreciation for the world, for the random things that other people may not see [which] she’s always had an eye on and takes a liking to in the most wonderful ways. That energy has given a lot to me through the years.” This stands out in the classroom, too. “In my paleontology class, Emma decided to learn about a certain genus of extinct rhinoceros. I have seldom had a student delve so deeply into the paleontological literature to such enjoyable ends. Her presentation on Stephanorhinus (‘unsung hero of the Pleistocene megafauna’) remains one of my favorites,” said Associate Professor of Geology Dave Jones, who led Swislow and Chinitz on a research trip in Wyoming the summer after their first year. Throughout that trip, “Emma kept us all entertained with stories and conversations about books and cooking.” It is so easy for me to imagine this scene — Emma trekking through Wyoming’s wilderness sharing little stories like this — because it’s the same Emma that I saw week in and out on Tuesday nights during the newspaper’s production. As we pasted text into InDesign files and hunted for stray commas, she would keep the mood afloat with stories of her family’s quest for soup dumplings or of some particularly provocative crumbs in an Emily Dickinson poem (pre-thesis, no less). It’s this sort of pure excitement for the quirkiness of the world and the comfort she takes in knowing and sharing it that makes Emma, Emma, to me, and it’s what made her stand out to me, years ago, when she just had a cool laptop and enviable confidence at the other table in the library. I hope that now as she seeks a post-grad job, it’s what she finds in a career, too. Anything that allows Emma to bury herself in a subject and communicate its weirdness and wonder will be a profession that allows her and the people around her to thrive.
The Amherst Student | May 31, 2020 | 13
Senior Profile | Audrey Cheng
The Nexus of Econ, Law and Piano For her numerous accolades in music and economics, Audrey Cheng’s greatest strength is her unwavering commitment to finding true purpose, even if that means getting a little lost along the way. —Rebecca Picciotto ’22 Audrey Cheng ’20 has been playing the piano since she was five years old. In a parallel universe, her musical talent and passion would have naturally led her to a music conservatory where she would have lived and breathed the likes of Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Amherst’s Orchestra Director Mark Swanson believes she would have been “a star at any of the top music schools, had she chosen that career path.” But in this universe, Cheng ended up at Amherst, studying economics and music. Upon graduation, she will conduct research on tax policy as a pre-doctoral fellow at Yale Law School for one year and then continue to Harvard Law School for her J.D. Where these two universes diverged might puzzle the outsider. How does a concert pianist end up Harvard Law-bound? But when you get to know Audrey Cheng, it just makes sense.
The First Lesson Cheng grew up in the city of Sunnyvale of California’s Bay Area, where she has been sheltered-in-place for the past three months with her parents and sister. Though she vaguely remembers some parts of her early childhood, her memory immediately sharpens when she recounts her life at five years old, the year she took her first piano lesson. Her instructor had her
clap out rhythms, and each time she clapped a rhythm correctly, she got a sticker on the back of her hand. She left that lesson with sticker-covered hands and a single thought: “I want to start practicing now.” But in late elementary school and early middle school, Cheng’s piano interest lulled. She began to take up other hobbies. She joined the middle school basketball team (going on to play varsity in high school) and later picked up an interest in street photography. It was only when she decided to go to a piano camp on a whim that her spark for music reignited. The other campers were older and more experienced than Cheng. “That really widened my view of how much more I had to learn and what the possibilities were,” she reflected. From then on, Cheng’s passion for piano was sustained by a simple yet empowering idea: “The more you practice, the more beautiful music comes out of your fingers.”
A New Love in Econ Before college, Cheng wasn’t sure that she really liked school. Cheng graduated from Homestead High School, a public school in Santa Clara County, California. In high school, she took classes and got good grades but never grasped exactly “why [school] matters.” There was one course at Homestead High School that
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she loved though: AP Literature. It was a notoriously difficult class that students often avoided. The result was a small, self-selected group of invested students along with a teacher who knew how to lead engaging discussions. In that small academic environment, Cheng found a sense of community that she had only ever experienced while learning piano. As she applied to college, her AP Lit classroom remained in the back of her mind. Amherst was thus a natural fit. Arriving in the Pioneer Valley for the first time, this Californian thought, “I was discovering a whole new world. [There were] all these people to get to know and all these buildings to get to explore.” As she settled into her Stearns one-room double, Cheng had some assumptions about who she would be in college. But as is the case with many firstyear preconceptions, she turned out to be wrong. Cheng was pretty sure she was going to focus more on academics and less on piano. Then, she auditioned for orchestra. Before she knew it, she was happily embroiled in the Amherst music scene as a pianist and a flutist and became an indispensable part of it, later chosen to be president of the Amherst Symphony Orchestra (ASO). But Cheng contributed more than just her musical talent. Swanson noted that her “kindness, warmth, ebullience, joy
Photo courtesy of Audrey Cheng ’20
Amid figuring out her place in the world, Audrey Cheng ‘20 has made meaningful contributions in academics and music. and commitment to community has contributed an incalculable amount to the ASO’s social identity and cohesion.” Cheng had another incorrect pre-college hypothesis: she was pretty sure she would be an English major. Then, she took her first economics class. It was Introduction to Economics with Environmental Applications taught by Professor Katharine Sims, the chair of economicss and associate professor of economics and environmental studies, who would hire Cheng as a research assistant the next year and eventually become her thesis advisor. In economics, Cheng found a new love. “[There is] something about studying econ,” Cheng explained, “[From] how the examples apply to how we can incentivize human behavior to do the optimal things for policy reasons, [it] is very empowering knowledge to have.”
A Sophomore Summer Slump Sonata Following the high of the first years of college, Cheng felt a sophomore slump in enthusiasm, which became most prominent in the summer after her second year. She was completing a legal internship with the Prosecutor’s Office of the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Springfield, Massachusetts while simultaneously studying for the LSATs. She was the most burnt out that she had ever been in college. On the way to a restaurant one day with the other interns, Cheng stared out the window of the car while her boss pointed out the different businesses that he had prosecuted. Some had tried to launder money. Others were involved with drug trafficking. “All these people are just born here and didn’t have any other
Senior Profile | Audrey Cheng opportunities,” Cheng recalled her boss saying, “The fact that you guys are able to have this sort of education, this opportunity to learn whatever you want and choose whatever path you have for yourself, you should feel so lucky. You shouldn’t ever feel like you’re stuck in any sort of box.” In many ways, this advice was liberating. It helped Cheng understand just how much freedom she had and how fortunate she was to have it. But it also introduced a new pressure. In the car that day, she thought, “Oh my God, what can I do with my career? I don’t even know what I’m trying to do. I don’t know what my place is.” For a while, these anxieties put Cheng in a state of bleak uncertainty. One evening after work, driving to her off-campus residence down Route 2, the third
movement of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 3 started playing on her Spotify shuffle. Even to the untrained ear, the slowness of the movement vents sorrow. Cheng recalled, “I felt like it really spoke to me in that moment. It felt like it was just searching for belonging, searching for a direction or for a purpose.” Cheng listened to this piece on repeat. Some nights after her internship, rather than returning home, she would continue driving down Route 2 into the woods with the sonata playing. She would be in the woods for hours, wandering without direction, just like the sonata.
A New Crescendo These questions of purpose followed Cheng into her junior year so that by the end of her junior fall, she was ready for an escape. The timing was right for a semester abroad in Vienna.
In Austria, Cheng immersed herself in music: “I mean what else are you going to do in Vienna?” she joked. She lived in a small apartment with five other non-German-speaking Americans in the music program. They would go to the opera and concert hall nearly every day. Cheng highlighted the day that she saw her favorite pianist in concert, seated just four rows away. She fixated on the particular motions of his fingers as they pranced across the piano keys. “That moment in itself was life-changing for the way I play. Now, every time I play, I channel what I saw then,” she said. Her time in Vienna was a much-needed interruption from the anxieties of figuring out her path. So when she arrived back at Amherst, she was rested and ready to tackle her senior year. And tackle it she did. Cheng
Photo courtesy of Audrey Cheng ’20
Cheng has been playing piano for nearly two decades. Her musical talent and passion made her an indispensable part of the music scene at Amherst.
completed two senior theses, one in the economics department and the other in the music department. For economics, Cheng looked at the relationship between environmental conservation and poverty in China over four decades. Sims, who came to be her thesis advisor, observed, “Audrey is always thinking about the next step and how she can do something better … she was always coming up with new ideas to improve, to innovate and to probe the puzzles in the data.” Cheng’s music thesis, titled “Transcendence,” consisted of performing four classical pieces and writing fifteen pages of her personal musings on the music. Cheng spent countless hours refining these pieces on the piano and even developed a case of tendonitis in her arm from all the practicing, which she claims is a typical “student musician thing.” If that wasn’t enough, Cheng had to put on her thesis performance three weeks early due to the college’s COVID-19 shutdown. One of the songs she performed was the Chopin sonata she heard during her sophomore summer. When she listened to the sonata again, she found a new meaning. The hopelessness she had originally heard had turned into strong notes of triumph. Cheng believes the way you understand music depends on your own experiences. She explained, “I was in a much better place mentally, and so I heard the piece very differently.” Now, she focused on the journey of the piece from despondency to hope. To her, the piece had found its purpose: “All the soul searching worked.” And it wasn’t just the music that was entering a new crescendo, but Cheng as well.
“Go get ’em” Cheng is leaving Amherst with more confidence in her
abilities, better critical thinking skills and, above all, a purpose. At law school, she plans to learn about environmental and human rights law in order to help underserved communities. When she thinks about her first-year self, she feels “like everything has changed.” During her time at Amherst, Cheng found that the more knowledge she gained, the more capable she was of making change in the world. What kind of change does Cheng want to make? “At this point, I don’t really know,” she told me. But even without all of the answers, Cheng is not discouraged. Instead, her intellectual curiosity and confidence in her abilities propels her to “move forward and go get ’em.” To connect all of the different dots of Audrey Cheng may seem an impossible task. How does one find themselves at the intersection of law, economics and piano? But getting to know Cheng reveals the common thread: authenticity. “There’s no denying that Audrey has a lot figured out,” her friend and fellow flutist Robin Kong ’21 pointed out, “but she dedicated her time at Amherst to pursuing what she loved and simply learning more. I really admire that free spiritedness because I think it takes a lot of courage to be willing to prioritize personal growth over security.” Cheng’s biggest pressure at Amherst was finding herself, figuring out her purpose. So it makes sense that Cheng’s passions may not necessarily fit a conventional mold. She has simply followed them wherever they took her, from piano to basketball to English to economics to law and back to piano. Though it was not an easy road, she is entering the next phase of her life confident in what inspires her. Now, when Cheng thinks about the future, she says without hesitation, “Yeah, I think I’m ready.”
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Fulbright Scholars EMILIE FLAMME With her Fulbright grant, Emilie Flamme — an architectural studies and Russian double major — plans on flying halfway across the world to Tomsk, Russia, where she will conduct ground-level research on Islamic communities in the area, with a special focus on piety and multiculturalism looking at the particular experiences of each resident.
CAMILLE BLUM Russian, history and math triple major Camille Blum was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA), which she will be using to teach for a year in Russia. She is excited to experience Russian culture firsthand and interact with the sociopolitical and socioeconomic shifts that have marked Russia in recent decades. When Blum returns from her Fulbright year, she plans on pursuing a career in the U.S. Department of State, specifically applying her knowledge of Russian geopolitics and history.
HAPSHIBA KWON Hapshiba Kwon received a Fulbright ETA, which she will use to teach English — also her major — in Indonesia throughout the next year. Two of Kwon’s biggest goals while there are to learn about Indonesian pop culture against a backdrop of rising globalism and engaging directly with local communities. When Kwon returns to the U.S., she intends on pursuing an English Ph.D.
RYAN MCMILLAN A physics and biophysics double major, Ryan McMillan will head to the Technical University of Munich in Germany with his Fulbright grant, studying the biophysical characteristics behind the nanoscale folding of DNA. Read more about McMillan and his accomplishments in his profile on page six.
EMILY KWON With a Fulbright ETA, neuroscience major Emily Kwon will head to Taiwan, where she will be honing the skills she developed while teaching in China for two summers. When she isn’t in the classroom, she hopes to explore local Taiwanese food and connect with the local Christian community. Kwon will continue her work in neuroscience upon returning to the U.S. as a research assistant, before entering medical school.
GREGORY CARROLL Gregory Carroll looks forward to traveling to Germany next year for his Fulbright ETA, where he will be teaching math and philosophy — his two majors. While there, Carroll intends on examining cultural similarities and differences between the U.S. and Germany. While unsure about where he will proceed after his Fulbright year, Carroll is considering teaching either English or math.
TARA GUO Tara Guo, an American studies major, will be spending her next year teaching in Taiwan as a Fulbright ETA. There, she intends to continue developing her language skills by studying Mandarin at a local university, while also immersing herself in local art and music. Upon returning from her Fulbright year, Guo plans on attending law school and focusing her subsequent career on supporting minority communities through either immigration law or civil rights litigation.
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MARCO TREVINO Marco Trevino, an American studies major, will travel to Spain next year, where he will be developing his teaching style as part of his Fulbright ETA, while also exploring his identity as a Hispanic person through an exploration of Spanish culture and community service. Trevino intends on continuing as an educator after his Fulbright year, hoping to serve bilingual communities along the Rio Grande and along the U.S.-Mexico border more broadly. He also hopes to attend graduate school to further hone his pedagogy in bilingual classrooms.
LIZ PARSONS Next year, biology major Elizabeth Parsons will be moving 13 time zones ahead to South Korea, teaching English there under a Fulbright ETA, where she hopes to improve her pedagogical skills. Parsons hopes to work at a non-profit healthcare agency upon returning to the U.S., where she will develop experience for her master’s in public health. Afterwards, she plans on becoming a children’s health educator.
BIJAN ZOJAJI Bijan Zojaji is an economics and philosophy double major, a first generation college student and a student worker at the Office of Admission. He now will embark on a journey to Colombia where he will be an ETA and coach kids’ soccer. Upon returning to the U.S., Zojaji hopes to receive a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and teach at one of its independent schools through the university’s school of education.
ISABELLA WEINER An English and French double major, Isabella Weiner is taking her nearly lifelong interest in Francophone language and culture to Luxembourg, where she will serve as an English Teaching Assistant. After her Fulbright year, Weiner plans on attending law school in the hopes of one day being a human rights lawyer.
CONGRATULATIONS INDUCTEES The following students of the class of 2020 have been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa for their show of academic excellence, based on their cumulative grade point average. Asterisks indicate nomination at the end of junior year.
Ezra Alexander Yohan Auguste Charlotte Blackman Camille Blum Heather Brennan* Julian Brubaker Julia Burnett Gregory Carroll Alejandra Castro Sai Chauhan Shawna Chen Audrey Cheng Trent Colbert Nathaniel Corley* Logan Deming Lorelei Dietz Abigail Douglas Brandt Dudziak Avery Farmer Emily Fedor Julia Finnerty Anna Flynn Annabelle Gary* Julia Gill Jackson Herrick
Seyoung Jeon Alex Klein Peyton Lane* Eliza Laycock Chimaway Lopez Cindy Lopez Joseph Lupo* Yuxing Ma Stephanie Madaus Anna Makar-Limanov Chirag Malkani Ryan McMillan Isabel Meyers Thomas Mobley Anna Plummer Clark Ricciardelli Caroline Shim Shashank Sule Daria Taubin Ana Verma Faith Wen Leah Woodbridge Sarah Young Morgan Yurosek Olivia Zheng
Photos Courtesy of Amherst College
May 31, 2020 | The Amherst Student | 17
Senior Profile | Chimaway Lopez
Bridging Home Wherever He Goes Chimaway Lopez’s deep thoughtfulness led him to excel in his American studies thesis and in the meaningful ties he built within his communities. —Matthew Sparrow ’21 If there’s one word that comes to mind when talking to Chimaway Lopez ’20, it’s welcoming. Sure, thoughtful, passionate and kind will all be at the tip of the tongue, but they don’t paint a full picture “welcoming” does. Whether he’s with his Chumash family in Santa Barbara, his friends on campus at Amherst or the Urban Thunder drum group in Western Massachusetts, Lopez is able to find his place alongside people who care for him. Using his experience as a Mellon Mays fellow and the help of a number of excellent professors, Lopez crafted an award-winning senior thesis for the American studies department that will guide his future endeavors and change the way people view his hometown.
East, West, Home is Best Nature has been a keen interest of Lopez’s from a young age. He was raised on the same plot of Chumash land in Santa Barbara as his father and grandfather. Lopez’s familial ties to his surroundings helped connect him to the local environment, especially the nearby creek and plants. In high school, he was a part of a program for Native students at University of California, Irvine that taught him about earth science and bolstered his curiosity about the climate. When it was time to look at colleges, Lopez was ready for a change of pace: “As much as I love Santa Barbara, I just wanted to go someplace new. Whether it was California, whether it was farther out.”
A major factor in his decision to attend Amherst was being able to see the college thanks to the Early Overnight for Native Students, one of the Diversity Outreach programs hosted during the college’s Diversity Open House each October. Lopez was appreciative of the encouraging words from local Natives from around the Pioneer Valley. “I was really impressed, specifically, by some of the choices they made in contacting members of the community, leaders from the Native community around Amherst and asking them to talk to the incoming students,” Lopez said. The presence of Native professors and the strong community were determining components in Lopez’s final college decision: “The fact that there were Native professors like Professor[s of American Studies Lisa] Brooks and [Kiara] Vigil. I said, ‘You know, I think that I can find a home and community here on campus that can help me get used to life in college.’” Still, Lopez knew he would have to face one sizable adjustment: the weather. Lopez recalled, “When I told people that I was going to be in Massachusetts, they said ‘You’re crazy! Why would you ever move from California? Why would you ever move to some place where it’s the winter and it’s going to be snowing?’” He worriedly bought all the equipment he thought he would need to defeat the Western Massachusetts wintertime. He soon found out it was more bark than bite. He rem-
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inisced, “After the first winter, I realized it’s not as scary as people in California seem to think. It’s not so bad, and it’s honestly really beautiful. That’s one thing that I appreciate during my time at Amherst College. I got to experience that.”
Finding His Path Although Lopez ended up completing a thesis in American studies, that was not his original plan. His prior encounters with natural science made environmental studies an easy choice for his major, but Amherst’s open curriculum allowed him the opportunity to explore different classes. En route to a departmental presentation for environmental studies, Lopez bumped into Rowland Abiodun, the John C. Newton professor of the history of art and Black studies, who convinced him to take a Black studies course. “My first year at Amherst College, I was very much involved in the Black studies department. It was a great experience, and I learned a lot. It got me up to speed with how to be a student at Amherst College. I actually thought I was going to be a Black studies major,” Lopez said. Despite his initial hesitations, Vigil knew that Lopez would be a great fit in American studies from his time in her Rethinking Pocahontas class. “I think he was a reluctant American studies major. Early on, I was trying to steer him towards American studies because I could see that he wanted to do Native studies work. I think
Photo courtesy of Chimaway Lopez ‘20
Hailing from California, Lopez found a home through intellectual and extracurricular communities at Amherst. he wasn’t sure American studies could provide him with what he needed,” she said. Vigil, with the help of Brooks, was able to finally convince Lopez that American studies was the perfect department for him. “He could do more in American studies around Native studies than in environmental studies, and the two majors together have given him a really good foundation to do graduate level work,” Vigil said. Lopez got on board with American studies when he discovered how interdisciplinary and flexible the department is. “I liked the community American studies had. I decided that if I was going to double major, I would be a better choice to go into American studies,” he said. “I could take courses from a Black studies curriculum and put them in conversation with the Indigenous studies courses as well as environmental humanities scholarship.”
Passion Project The inspiration for Lopez’s thesis came from his interactions with the physical environment he grew up around. He describes it as an “Indigenous studies project
that ties the environmental history of cattle ranching and cattle raiding to the narratives of colonization and Indigenous resistance performed in Santa Barbara.” In particular, he wanted to demonstrate how different historical memories challenge the political and ecological aesthetics of Santa Barbara as a place. “I know a lot of people, longtime residents, who are very concerned about the ecology of Santa Barbara. They have a deep understanding of it, and they’ll still talk about the rain in bad weather even though they know that rain is really important for us in a dry climate. When we get rain, we should be happy. Assumptions of what is good about a natural place and what is bad can seep in deeper than you realize,” he said. His argument also relates to the significance of settler colonialism in his town: “There is this tentative way of understanding and being in Santa Barbara that is, ‘I survived colonialism,’ and [it] is existing in spite of colonialism that I try to argue is a way forward.” Though it was written for the American studies department,
Senior Profile | Chimaway Lopez the foundation for Lopez’s thesis started in an anthropology class, underscoring his interdisciplinary approach to academics. “I didn’t realize this, but I started with that first research paper with [Visiting Professor Caterina] Scaramelli. I found out about environmental history as a field and environmental anthropology and writing about Santa Barbara. I realized that I could write about Santa Barbara from an environmental, historical and from an Indigenous studies perspective.” Brooks, who would become Lopez’s thesis advisor, spoke about his incredible work ethic and the importance of his thesis. “I’ve been hearing about this project for a long time. It really resonates with me, the way that he uses Indigenous methodologies is right at the cutting edge of Indigenous studies. But also because of the potential impact of his work. Thinking about climate change and the way that Indigenous people, in many ways, are at the forefront of climate change but often excluded from the discussions about it,” she said. She continued by describing the collaborative working environment that they shared when writing the thesis, noting that “I was always learning too. They were often exchanges and conversations. He is a very humble and modest
person, so he would probably say that he was learning from me, but I always felt like I was learning from him. And I thanked him for that when I shared with him his honors determination from the American studies department meeting.” It’s no wonder then that his thesis achieved summa cum laude honors and was awarded the Doshisha American Studies Prize for “the American studies honors thesis judged by the department as the most likely to stimulate interest in and understanding of America overseas, a gift from Amherst House, Doshisha University,” according to the college website. According to Brooks, Lopez’s work encapsulated the accolade. “He wanted to look at the Chumash homeland in Santa Barbara within a framework that would encompass the Pacific. There’s a real transnational framework to his thesis.”
Forging Friendships Daniel Delgado ’20 distinctly remembers his first interaction with Lopez as a first year in Professor of American Studies and Black Studies Solsiree Del Moral’s Race and Revolution in Cuban History class. “This was our second semester, and it was my first time taking an upper-level Black studies
class with a concentration in history. I remember this being when Chimaway and I first connected. Sitting next to him in one class session, I voiced some questions about the Cuban Revolution’s unique place within the island’s long and tumultuous history of anti-colonial struggle. Chimaway turned to me and gave me a fist bump and said, ‘good question.’ Believe it or not, without that encouragement, I may not have become as active a participant in class discussion as I then learned to be,” he said. Lopez and Delgado then spent an entire summer getting to know each other better through the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, in which they both took part. Brooks helped explain the goals of the fellowship program: “It’s designed to create a pathway for especially promising students, who often [are] low-income, first-generation and/or underrepresented minorities, to get a Ph.D., become professors and teach in humanities. The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Program provides mentoring, training and support, as well as collaboration within a cohort of scholars.” She also noted the novelty of its existence at Amherst. “Chimaway was among the first cohort of Mellon Mays fellows here at Amherst. I’ve been
Photo courtesy of Chimaway Lopez ‘20
Lopez’s participation in Urban Thunder, a local intertribal drum group, was integral to feeling at home on the East Coast and at Amherst.
working with him as his mentor in that program since he was a sophomore,” she said. Delgado talked about their unique connection, noting how difficult it is to put into words: “Chimaway and I spent a lot of time just thinking and asking each other questions and encouraging one another through our research. There is something irreducibly difficult to convey about why Chimaway and I were able to create such a close intellectual companionship. Chimaway is a gift to our community that should be valued, cherished and appreciated as such. As a friend, Chimaway will always have a special room in my memories as a student at Amherst.” Beyond the classroom, Lopez elaborated on the home he found within Western Massachusetts, specifically amongst the local Native community — one of Lopez’s main attractions to Amherst in the first place. He said, “I’ve been really fortunate that a lot of Native people living in the Connecticut River Valley have been supportive of me and welcoming to me. As you grow to know people and build relationships with the community, you become little by little your own kind of contribution to the communities you’re involved in. I felt like I was able to build a family there.” He also found family in Urban Thunder, the intertribal drum group he became a part of in his time at Amherst: “Part of that was singing with the Urban Thunder and the Five College community drums. Everyone from Justin Beatty, the drum keeper and lead singer, to everyone who sang with them. They helped me, in a lot of ways, get through Amherst because I felt like I was part of the family.” Vigil even recalls Lopez performing a song as a senior in Native Futures, an American studies course about colonialism and Indigenous sovereignty. Vigil specifically emphasized his transition into becoming one of the leaders of the class. “There was a
moment where one of our classes inspired Chimaway to share a song with the class. But this to my knowledge, and he said this, was his first time ever being inspired by the readings, the way the community in the class was working, to share a song with the class. So he did actually sing a song for us as part of when we went around in the circle. And I think that was really profound and that sharing it was very inspirational for the other students in the class, especially the Native students,” Vigil said.
Just Getting Started Even as Lopez formed a secure community in Western Massachusetts, he always kept in mind his Chumash community in Santa Barbara. He went on, “They always encouraged me to get an education, to go to school, to be creative, to add to my understanding of the world. I felt that I wasn’t just there to get a degree [for] myself but also to follow the in the footsteps of a lot of members of the community who really were intellectually minded in their own philosophies and understandings of the world, that are profound and important, that never got the chance to get into school and never got the chance to have access to the tools of research that you do at a great academic institution like Amherst College.” The next step on Lopez’s path is getting a Ph.D. in Native American studies at the University of California, Davis. As he returns to his home state of California, albeit a different town, he’ll be able to build a new community that will enable his success in whatever he does. Delgado is certainly confident in Lopez. “I know his future will be amazing. The world needs people like Chimaway to keep pushing us towards new sites of knowledge and to keep us questioning convention,” he said. Between his family in Santa Barbara and his friends and professors in Amherst, Lopez already has a large community to rely on for support.
The Amherst Student | May 31, 2020 |19
Senior Profile | Charlotte Blackman
The Pragmatic Idealist Charlotte Blackman has consistently demonstrated both her idealistic vision for human rights in the world as well as her pragmatic resolve and willingness to work hard to achieve that vision. —Scott Brasesco ’22 When talking with Charlotte Blackman ’20, one thing that becomes immediately clear is her drive to improve the lives of those around her and leave the world a better place than she found it. This is something she has demonstrated countless times at Amherst through her work with the Women’s and Gender Center (WGC), where she has served as a graphic designer, program coordinator and education coordinator on projects such as the healing mural — which still hangs in Keefe Campus Center — or her work to start a support group for survivors of sexual violence, which would have been launched near the end of the semester but was upended by the coronavirus pandemic. At the end of my interviews with her friends, coworkers and professors, I understood that Blackman is also someone who always goes the extra mile and makes the extra effort. She has taken more responsibility each year at the WGC and continued to pursue side projects, such as her work with content warnings, and uncredited work, such as her continued graphic design work, in order to improve the WGC and the college. She participated in Choral Society where she was a natural leader, taking the time to hash out the issues her peers had and
doing the work to make sure they got solved. Blackman’s thesis advisor Sean Redding, the Zephaniah Swift Moore Professor of History, described the combination of this drive to make the world a better place and the hard-working nature to get it done best, saying “[Blackman] has an unusual combination of idealism and pragmatism, she wants to get things done but she also wants to adhere to very high ideals.”
Going to Amherst Blackman was raised in the Bronx by the women on her mother’s side of her working-class Italian American family. From them, she learned the value of community and closeness: her grandma lived next door to her and her mother, and her aunt lived on the other side of the building. She began her education in her local public school, P.S. 24 of the Bronx, but received a scholarship to attend Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a private preparatory school, in sixth grade. She is the only person in her family to have ever attended private school, and the introduction to a whole new world of wealth and privilege felt culturally foreign to her. This culture shock spurred Blackman’s involvement in activism, as she was forced to contend with
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both her disadvantages as a low-income woman and also the privileges of her whiteness. Though her experience in private school was jarring, the availability of better education and resources gave Blackman the opportunity to truly think about her post-secondary education in a way that hadn’t been an option before. Even so, she described being “iffy” as a high school junior about whether or not to apply to college. “I felt like it wasn’t fair to use the advantages [of prep school] over people who hadn’t been as fortunate,” Blackman confessed to me. However, she figured she would ultimately be able to do more good for her community and for the world at large if she chose to get a college education and use it to benefit those who are most disadvantaged, sharing that she had told herself: “You were put in this place, now you have to use that power to help other people.” Her older sister was the first person in her family to go to a residential college, choosing Barnard which was close to home. Blackman wanted to take a bigger leap of faith and try something that would take her out of New York and out of her element. So she chose Amherst. “I was drawn to Amherst for its environment, which is so different
Photo courtesy of Charlotte Blackman ’20
Blackman has used her drive and idealism to improve Amherst for survivors of sexual violence and other oppressed groups, and she hopes to do the same for the world at large. from New York, but also for the culture of sustainability, activism, art and music that I saw in the Pioneer Valley. I also felt like the [Five College] Consortium would give me a good opportunity to branch out and try different things if I didn’t like the small size [of Amherst],” she said.
Learning Something New Blackman describes her choice to major in history as though it were made almost at random. As a first year, she was determined to make full use of the plethora of academic options available at the college to both learn something outside of her planned mathematics major and gain a fuller understanding of the world around her, sharing. “I wanted to know more about systems of power and how they impact people so
I could use my education to try to work against the power systems and imbalances I saw around me,” she said. She thought first to try sociology, which would pair nicely with her intended math major, but opted to lean even further into the humanities, taking the risk of a history course in her second semester. The risk paid off. By the end of Blackman’s first spring semester, Dean of New Students and Professor of History Rick Lopez, who taught her in Struggles for Democracy in Modern Latin America, had even suggested that she consider a history major, something wildly different than her initial plan to major in mathematics. That summer, she had an epiphany. Blackman realized that the best way to give back to the world was to learn about people and their societ-
Senior Profile | Charlotte Blackman ies and to work with them directly, things a history major would prepare her to do. She took Lopez’s suggestion and asked him to be her history advisor that fall. She never looked back, only returning to math at the end of her senior year. After this initial success with Amherst’s open curriculum, Blackman branched out even more. She signed up for political science, music, Black studies, art and French courses. She ended up sticking consistently with the latter two over the course of her time at Amherst as well as joining the Choral Society in order to continue her experience with music. Her work in the history department culminated in a thesis on French propaganda efforts directed at Algerian women during the Algerian War. Redding summed up the thesis as an attempted answer
of the question “Who gets to decide what’s an appropriate role for women?” It’s a question Redding said was unsurprising coming from Blackman who has done a lot of work surrounding gender and its political implications.
Activist and Community Leader “She doesn’t revel in that title,” Luz Lim ’20, a close friend of Blackman’s, said when asked about Blackman’s activism. She elaborated that Blackman was someone driven by a moral code and a desire to truly engage with diversity of people and ideas around her rather than by any longing for personal commendation. Even so, Blackman has already made good on her goal of improving the lives of those around her. Through her work in the WGC, she has launched several proj-
ects aimed at healing and helping survivors of sexual violence, normalizing content notices in classes and working to make the WGC more inclusive, especially to the trans community who have often felt more at home in the Queer Resource Center (QRC), another resource center she has worked in. Initially upon arriving at Amherst, Blackman was bombarded by campus activism surrounding two major events, one local to Amherst College, and the other national. On the campus level, there was the controversy surrounding a men’s cross country email chain labeling various women who had slept with members of the team as “off-limits” and updated throughout the semester. On a national level, there was the 2016 election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency. These events made her feel
Photo courtesy of Charlotte Blackman ’20
Blackman stands with Resource Center Administrative Assistant Paola Gallego during a Center for Diversity and Student Leadership campaign defending immigrants rights.
less safe both on campus, she said. “Together they made me realize that everyone’s health and safety was on the line,” something she said gave the necessity of activism more of an urgent sense. After both events, the campus sprung into action with powerful activism campaigns, such as the “Meat Slabs Fight Back” campaign, that impressed Blackman in their immediacy, efficacy and ferocity. To take her own immediate action, she applied in the spring semester for a graphic design position in the WGC, but she wasn’t ultimately hired. At the start of her sophomore year however, she ran into the director of the WGC, who offered her a dual-position graphic designing for both the QRC and the WGC, which she happily accepted. Even after it was no longer her responsibility, “[Blackman] continued to do a lot of art as well because the rest of us somewhat lack in that department,” shared her WGC co-worker Theo Peirels ’20E, noting how generous Blackman was with her time. By fall of her junior year, Blackman had become a program coordinator, a position she thrived in by cultivating a new healing mural project. The project was initially the WGC’s effort, aimed at survivors of sexual violence, but it eventually broadened to become a multi-resource-center project aimed at providing art as a method of healing to anyone who was a victim of systemic violence or oppression. In her senior year, Blackman took on even more responsibility as an education coordinator, taking the lead on two new major projects: a survivor support group and a trans inclusion education initiative. She said that she hoped that the WGC would continue her work on these
fronts in order to make these projects a reality, as she was prevented from realizing them herself due to the pandemic. Outside the WGC, she worked on her own project to normalize content warnings in classes, initially thought of as a project to help survivors of sexual violence. Blackman had organized a faculty meeting with a student panel on the subject, but it was delayed due to the pandemic.
Fortunately for Blackman, her own future plans have not been called off due to the coronavirus. She won an FAO Schwarz fellowship to work as an educational coordinator at the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY). While she had initially planned on working to support field trips, she will now instead plan educational engagement with MCNY’s Saturday Academy program. “Nonprofits are tricky because it’s hard to know how to best serve the community,” shared Blackman, “Even though I think about different options every day, I always come back to education as the best way to put good into the world.” Blackman hopes to use her experience planning education at MCNY in order to lead herself into a career as a public school teacher, giving back to the disadvantaged communities around her home and giving more students the chance to better their own lives and better the world. Ultimately, Blackman has contributed immensely to making our own community a safer and more comfortable place for people who don’t have the power to do that for themselves, and, given her goals and plans, it looks like she will do the same for our world in the future.
The Amherst Student | May 31, 2020 | 21
Senior Profile | Avery Farmer
Common Sense Leadership Shows the Way A leader, scholar and friend, Avery Farmer does it all. Though his senior year was cut short, Farmer continued to show commitment through his service as president of the AAS. —Zach Jonas ’22 When I started out as a news writer for The Student during my first year, I found myself constantly interviewing one student: Avery Farmer ’20. His name appeared over and over again in the paper, as if he had a connection to every event on campus. He seemed to be in the know about everything, and everyone knew who he was. I eventually got to know Farmer as a club soccer athlete whose tireless work ethic kept him in excellent shape on the team. I remember introducing a prospective student to Farmer, who was then the president of the Association of Amherst Students (AAS), during one of our club soccer practices. I was insistent that the student know how profound it was to act as student body president, but with a quick smile and a witty comment about the importance of campus newspapers, Farmer brushed off the compliment. Because of his humble attitude, you would never know how much Farmer accomplished while at Amherst. But just a glance at his resume will leave you speechless as to how he achieved it all in four short years. Known on campus as a Black studies and English double major, Farmer found time to work as a Resident Counselor (RC) for three years, intern at The Common Magazine, serve in the AAS, write a thesis on the role of soccer in Africa and hold executive board positions with
the Amherst College Democrats (AC Dems) and the men’s club soccer team, endearingly called Amherst Football Club (AFC). To top it all off, Farmer had the small task of being president of the AAS his senior year — and amid the coronavirus pandemic, too. In sum, Farmer exemplified the Amherst experience.
First Steps at Amherst Originally hailing from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Farmer said he found his way to Amherst by luck. He attended Community High School, an alternative public school that allowed Farmer to take several classes at the nearby University of Michigan. Though more than half of his classmates either attended college in Michigan or not at all, Farmer’s college search spanned outside of Michigan. It was only by happenstance that Farmer heard about Amherst. While with the jazz ensemble during his sophomore year of high school, Farmer witnessed his fellow bandmate Dan Langa ’18 open his Amherst acceptance letter. By his senior year, Amherst was on Farmer’s short list of colleges. Though Langa “showed him the ropes” once he arrived at Amherst, Farmer credits his smooth transition from high school to the friends he made in his first-year seminar. “I got lucky with the friends I made early on,” he said. “Later on, once my academics really started to challenge me, I could
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rely on them for support,” Farmer said. As an RC, Farmer was sometimes the first impression that incoming students received of Amherst. “Avery was my firstyear RC, so he was one of the first people I really got to know at Amherst,” Bella Edo ’21 said. “He has always had this calming demeanor about him that makes you feel like he knows what he’s doing.” “He somehow manages to be so intellectual without being arrogant and an authentically engaged person in our Amherst community without the frivolity of superficial relationships,” she added. Farmer did not come into Amherst with an intended major. Instead, like a true liberal arts student, he took a wide breadth of classes and let his interests guide him. By the end of his sophomore year, when he had to declare his major, Farmer looked back at the classes he had taken and realized his love for Black studies and English. Of particular interest to Farmer was one English class that he took with Professor Daniel Hall, the writer-in-residence at the college in 2018. “Writing Poetry with Professor Hall was one of the most formative classes I took at Amherst,” Farmer said. “It was a creative writing class, but he put such a focus on reading. In high school, I had written a bit of poetry, but I hadn’t been exposed to the full breadth of what poetry could be … I found
Photo courtesy of Avery Farmer ‘20
After graduating from Amherst, Farmer will work at Berkeley Legal Group in Boston before attending law school on the East Coast. that Professor Hall was such a generous reader of my poems, it made me much more confident in my writing, and fostered a love of reading and writing in me.” “If there had been a poetry major, I would have done that,” he added with a laugh. And Farmer’s love of poetry and writing certainly translated to the work he created. During his sophomore year, Farmer completed a special topics course with Hall on poetic revision, who praised the depth of the work Farmer produced. Farmer would complete assignments independently and meet with Hall once a week for a discussion. As the semester drew on, Farmer would come to examine drafts from poets including Richard Wilbur ’42 and subsequently revise his own poetry.
“Though his work that semester was rigorous and deeply intellectual, the project finally felt to me less like scholarship than something closer to poetry itself, with its intuition and vitality, its human heartbeat,” Hall said about their course. “It was one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had as a teacher, and I still think of it as a farewell gift and a sendoff, better than any gold watch.” Farmer found similar success in his Black studies classes. During his first semester at the college, he took Black Panthers, Black Power, a course with John Drabinski, the Charles Hamilton Houston ’15 professor of Black studies. Farmer credits the relationship he had with Drabinski with his love for the subject. “From day one, he treated us all as equals in the conversation.
Senior Profile | Avery Farmer He took seriously all of our reactions to the readings. That really allowed me to find my voice in the classroom,” Farmer said. “I walked away having learned so much [that] I realized I had to continue with the major.” His senior year, Farmer continued his research in Black studies by writing a thesis on the meaning of pickup soccer to transnational immigrant Africans in the U.S., called “Pickup Soccer and Transnational African Public Life.” Farmer explained, “I argued that because of soccer’s unique history,
it could essentially function as a civic public — a structure that allows individuals to form connections across boundaries of social identity that would otherwise not be crossed.” Professor Olufemi Vaughan, his thesis advisor, noted Farmer’s knack for understanding the importance of complex social dynamics and the humanity individuals hold. “Avery’s thesis is analytically rigorous, intellectually profound and very well written — an imaginative scholarship at the intersection of the local and the global, regional
and trans-regional,” he said. “I enjoyed how Avery complicated identity formations, skillfully applied the concept of the civic public to his work and creatively engaged intersectional questions of race, ethnicity, gender, class, citizenship and globality, especially in the context of the disruptions and uncertainties of our contemporary neoliberal order — all important issues in the emerging field of transnational African studies — in his thesis. Avery drafted most of the chapters in his brilliant thesis after the college shifted to online
Photo courtesy of Avery Farmer ‘20
Farmer spent nearly half of his time at Amherst serving in the AAS. As president, one of his many responsibilities was welcoming the class of 2023 on their first day of orientation, as above.
teaching due to COVID-19,” Vaughan added.
Commitment to Service Farmer did not expect to become president of AAS, and he certainly did not expect to lead the student body during the most tumultuous challenge in recent history. But he rose to task nonetheless. As an RC and a member of the executive board for AC Dems and AFC, he frequently interacted with AAS when requesting funds. It seemed only natural, then, to become AAS senator. The rest is history. After joining the senate, Farmer worked on the budgetary committee and realized the potential of AAS that was not being met. Urged by friends and supported by the campus, Farmer ran for AAS president “on a whim” during the fall semester of his junior year. As he put it bluntly, “I thought I could do good things and that I was a good fit for the role, so why the heck not?” Farmer’s term as AAS presdient was far from typical. His second semester in the position, the COVID-19 pandemic turned the campus upside down. Given the stressful, unprecedented nature of the events, as well as the heartbreaking and abrupt moveout of students, it would have been easy, understandable even, for Farmer to relinquish parts of his duties to the college administration. But Farmer’s dedication to supporting the Amherst community would not let him take the easy way out. Instead of taking extra time in the final week on campus to pack his belongings and say goodbye to his close friends, Farmer diligently performed the duties of AAS president. The most immediate problem to address was how to allocate available funds in response to the pandemic. “While most students on campus were packing up their things and trying to get moved
out of their rooms, I was meeting with AAS and different student leaders who each had their different ideas of how the money should be spent,” Farmer said. In the end, Farmer facilitated the transfer of $100,000 from AAS to the Office of Finanical Aid to be distributed among students to subsidize costs of travel home. It exemplified his “common sense” approach to leadership. The best policies are the most obvious ones, he said. Through it all, there was not even a moment when he considered turning his back on the Amherst community.
After Amherst Following his junior year, Farmer interned at Berkeley Research Group in Boston, doing research and data analysis for law firms, a role to which Farmer will return. There, he will work as a legal consultant before he plans to attend law school on the East Coast. He finds business law particularly interesting, for reasons he can’t explain. It might stem from his broad experience in AAS, drafting precisely worded amendments and speaking the language of government. He is certain, though, that his future career must allow him to improve the lives of those around him. The value of a job, Farmer said, is not the prestige but the impact. When asked if a career in politics could be in his future, he did not rule it out. “In his own pursuit and love for knowledge he is able to uplift others as well, in a way many people do not always choose to do,” Edo said. “His support, guidance, awkwardness, bad jokes and, above all, kindness have had a lasting impact on my Amherst experience, and it has been exciting to watch him grow into the leader he is leaving Amherst as.” Though uncertain of where life will take him, if history is at all indicative of his future, it sure is bright for Farmer.
The Amherst Student | May 31, 2020 | 23
Senior Profile | Aqiil Gopee
Scholar, Writer, Future Teacher A world-renowned poet, Aqiil Gopee trailblazes across the boundaries of disciplines, by merging academic pursuits of literature, religion and history. —Arielle Kirven ’21 In his home country of Mauritius, Aqiil Gopee ’20 is celebrated as something of a celebrity for his creative writing. But when he came to Amherst, Gopee initially evaded the humanities. Instead, he hoped to fall in love with something new. Despite experimenting with different disciplines, Gopee found himself again entrenched in literary studies — this time within the realm of the Quran. As I spoke with Gopee during the last week of school, he recounted his Amherst experience with sharp specificity, despite being visibly tired in the wake of his last finals push. Coming off the heels of his thesis defense (literally minutes before our Zoom call), he spoke of his work with passion and enthusiasm, indicating a real love of his chosen academic subject, the Quran. Notably humble, Gopee avoided speaking about his accolades, not wanting to give himself too much credit. A Scholar of Literature In high school, Gopee’s writing was recognized internationally. Yet, he waited until the end of the interview to volunteer such information about himself. In 2014, he was named the Laureate of the Prix International du Jeune Écrivain de Langue Française, an award widely recognized throughout the Francophone world. The commission flew him to Paris as a representative for Mauritius, and when he returned home, things were a little
bit different. “When I went back, it was weird,” Gopee remembers. “Mauritius is such a small country, and I became sort of famous. Everyone was so excited because people don’t even know what Mauritius is or who Mauritians are.” While his accolades were recognized globally, Gopee faced a lot of pressure from those around him. He was constantly asked about his next projects, and it seemed everyone started to expect the same level of success. At the same time, Gopee became insecure about his abilities, fearing that he was “only good at literature.” His first book, “La Pièce,” was published in April 2012 after receiving a jury mention in the Prix du Livre d’Or. In 2013, he published two other books titled “Fantômes” and “Orgasmes.” In 2014, he was proclaimed laureate of the Prix du jeune écrivain de langue française in France for his short-story “Loup et Rouge,” a reconstruction of Little Red Riding Hood. Starting college in the United States gave Gopee the blank slate that he desired. When he started at Amherst, he chose to explore different passions in hopes of shielding himself from the immense amount of pressure that he experienced at home. This led him to the geology department, where he took the department’s introductory course, during the first semester of his first year. “It didn’t turn out very well,”
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Gopee admitted. In response, he abandoned his hopes of majoring in geology and turned his eye towards the humanities once again. Gopee cited Religion 111, Introduction to Religion, as the course that permanently changed his academic trajectory. As a practicing Muslim, he appreciated the opportunity to explore his faith in an academic context. He was able to reconnect with the Quran, which planted the seeds for his future senior thesis. In this class, he developed a relationship with Associate Professor and Chair of Religion Tariq Jaffer, who studies the theology and philosophy of the Islamic world. Seeing Gopee’s interest in the material, Jaffer encouraged Gopee to declare a major in religion. For a time, Gopee also declared a major in history. He enjoyed his classes in Middle Eastern history and civilizations, but he thought that religion as a discipline was more receptive to his interests. “It became clear to me that my approach to history was quite different. These different fields are very conceptual, there is no boundary that necessarily defines what history is or what religion is,” Gopee notes. “The difference lies in what you choose to focus on. My thesis was a literary analysis of the Quran. That is not something that would be considered history at all.” Finding His Focus Throughout his time at Amherst, Gopee built on his interests
Photo courtesy of Aqill Gopee ‘20
Known for his contributions to religious studies, multilingualism and Francophone culture on campus, Gopee is also a world-renowned creative writer and thinker. from that introductory religion course. In his first year spring semester, he took the course “The Quran and Its Controversies with Jaffer,” which allowed him to hone in on his perspective of the Quran as a literary text. In his sophomore year, Gopee pushed the boundaries of his knowledge and pursued many courses in religion, history and French literature. With Jaffer, he created special topics courses that dealt with issues such as the apocalypse in the Quran, and the Quran’s history. He expanded his context of Islam with Monica Ringer, professor of history and Asian languages and civilizations, taking her Middle Eastern History and Early Islam courses. Gopee wasn’t expecting French literature to have the impact that it did on his work, as it was something that he pulled away from at the beginning of his experience. He beamed as he talked about his course with Rafael Sigal, assistant professor of
French, titled “What’s the Magic Word?” The Power of Literature. In that course, Gopee was able to reconnect with his own literary power. “It was one of the best classes I’ve taken in my time at Amherst. It’s about magic in literature but in the most theoretical sense. We went through the history of literature and how literature and words are used for magic. In ancient societies, only magicians would have access to [written] words, as in the ancient Egyptian tradition,” Gopee recounted. “This performative aspect of literature and words — as something that does something — has been my premise for my analysis of the Quran. The Quran has rarely been seen as a text that is self-reliant or self-standing. It has always been seen through the lens of tradition.” This course propelled him into a subsequent special topics course with Sigal. The course focused on text-world theory, or how every book or discourse
Senior Profile | Aqiil Gopee is able to create its own foundational world from which its perspectives emerge. He then applied this theory to his study of the Quran with his thesis titled “The Quran and Scriptural World Building.” His thesis discusses the ways in which the Quran contains the world but also how it builds the world through literary devices. Abroad and Beyond Mauritius is a trilingual nation, and with most of its citizens speaking English, French and Mauritian Creole, Gopee has always had an affinity for languages. While he had taught himself classical Arabic, Gopee desired to expand his knowledge of other near eastern languages. His growing interest in linguistics took him to Egypt for a semester at the American University in Cairo in his junior spring. Gopee reflected fondly on his experience in Egypt and how his courses would later afford him a different lens through which to look at his thesis. He took a course in elementary hi-
eroglyphs and another on the religions of the ancient Egyptians. The hieroglyphs course discussed the ways in which Egyptians used hieroglyphics as vessels of magic. “The really cool thing is that this is all mentioned in the Quran,” Gopee said. “The Quran speaks a lot about ancient Egypt because of Moses. Moses is a central figure in the Quran. There ware commentaries from the Quran about the practice of magic in ancient Egypt. Having a foundation on the history and practices of the ancient Egyptians made me read the Quran differently.” When reflecting on both his Amherst and abroad experience, Gopee remarked that “I can’t really even point to a class that was not in any way instrumental to my thesis — except for the geology one, of course.” His experience abroad also gave him a greater appreciation for Amherst. He spoke about how the professors in Cairo did not expect the same level of critical thinking and engagement as
Amherst professors. Building His Community Despite not being a French major, Gopee has been the President of the French House since his sophomore year. He has worked to fundamentally change the idea of French House. He aimed to expand the community to include a wider sense of Francophone culture beyond just France. He also co-founded a new online magazine in collaboration with the Writing Center titled “Confluences: Lost and Found in Translation,” which focuses on multilingualism on campus. The magazine accepts submissions from students, faculty and staff. Student translators also receive a stipend from the magazine. “We were interested in general reflections about language, and being from different backgrounds, and being at Amherst, where English is so normative,” Gopee said. In his time at Amherst, Gopee also worked as an advocate and activist. Before his matric-
Photo courtesy of Aqill Gopee ‘20
Gopee performed in MacKenzie Kugel ’20E’s theater and dance thesis performance, “Peace in the Home,” a welcome foray outside his comfort zone of the written word.
ulation, Halal food had not existed at Valentine Dining Hall. During his four years, Gopee worked with the Muslim Student Association and Val to make the entire Lighter Side abide with Halal regulations. During his senior year, Gopee also experimented with theatre. Seeing it as a coalescence of his interest in languages and text he participated in MacKenzie Kugel’s ’20E theater and dance thesis performance titled “Peace in the Home” this past fall. “I am a very introverted and reserved person. It was very difficult for me to get used to because so many people in the play were so extroverted. It was interesting — it didn’t change my personality. But, it made me realize that it was possible to be coming from my own little world and to be able to still actively engage with a theater production and act and not be less good than anyone else,” he said. Reading and Writing to the End In his senior year, Gopee faced his fears and returned to his first love of creative writing. As he traditionally writes in French, he was extremely nervous about writing in English. This spring, Gopee took his first creative writing course at Amherst — Fiction Writing I. It is perhaps a surprising place to find a published and world-renowned author like Gopee. The course supplemented his attendance at the Creative Writing Group, which he has used as an opportunity to experiment with different languages and forms and participated in since 2018. Gopee has also read his work at the Amherst Poetry Festival. “A lot of people are so insecure about their writing, particularly when it comes to fiction. The group strikes a good balance between validation and constructive criticism. It also builds a community between that shared practice of writing
creatively,” Gopee positively reminisced. Ultimately, though, Gopee’s magnum opus has been his thesis. “It was a very unusual thesis in that it was not a culmination of a research process. Instead, it was my approach to the Quran that I’ve had since I was a little child,” Gopee said. “I approached the Quran the same way that I would approach fairy tales because it was a magical universe with so many different characters and places.” His entry consisted of looking at the Quran as its own world, containing its own foundational morality, view of good and evil and view of epistemology of humankind. Gopee believes that the literature of the Quran is able to speak for itself, it’s aware of itself. He calls it a “personal approach” to the Quran. Amherst allowed him to enrich his knowledge of theoretical vocabulary and the different literature that’s already been done on the Quran. As a result, the thesis gave Gopee the opportunity to synthesize his arguments and present them. Next year, Gopee will further his study of religion in his pursuit of a Master of Theology at Harvard Divinity School. Focusing on comparative religion, Gopee plans to learn Hebrew to aid his work in comparative studies. In his next project, his goal is to learn more about the demonology aspect of religion, and how different traditions have expressed their conceptions of demons. Gopee’s hope is to attain his Ph.D. and one day become a professor. “Now, I’m leaving Amherst, and I’m actually really sad. As a senior, I haven’t gotten to experience my senior year properly because of everything that’s going on,” Gopee remarked. “I ended up cherishing the education that I’ve had. Every college has flaws, but I’m really happy and grateful to have graduated from this place.”
The Amherst Student | May 31, 2020 | 25
Senior Profile | Yasmeen Saeed
A Winding Road to Leadership Yasmeen Saeed expected to conquer the field as a student-athlete. Instead, an injury let her to venture into new territories, taking on a leadership role in the Council of Amherst College Student-Athletes of Color. — Henry Newton ’21 In the face of a devastating and painful injury, most individuals can think of nothing more than returning to normal, doing the things they did before and forgetting the trauma. That is not Yasmeen Saeed ’20. Rather than focusing solely on recovering, Saeed turned her injury into one of the most pivotal and educational moments of her college career, setting her on a course towards advocacy and expertise that few can match. Saeed’s path to Amherst and to her interests was not linear. In fact, her first memory of Amherst was, quite literally, circuitous. As Saeed mentioned, she did not even leave her car, driving one loop around the quad before leaving. “I grew up in Glastonbury, CT, which is a small suburb right outside of Hartford, and one of the big reasons that Amherst was even on my radar was because I got recruited to play field hockey,” said Saeed. “My first impression of Amherst was, actually, horrible,” Saeed laughed. “I went in the middle of winter during a snowstorm, and I was really sick. I think I actually had pneumonia.” At that point, she wondered whether or not Amherst was the place for her, and effectively checked Amherst off her list. Luckily, however, Saeed’s future field hockey coach got
in contact with her during the summer. At her next visit, she got out of her car and saw the campus, beyond Quadrangle Drive. After going on a tour, Saeed ultimately decided that Amherst was a place that she could see herself attending for the next four years. Saeed continued, “One of the reasons I liked Amherst so much was the diversity, and, coming from Glastonbury, it was nice to see a place that had a different, more worldly perspective. That was one of the things that drew me to Amherst.”
A Leader in CACSAC Saeed’s initial experience at Amherst was one that is familiar to most, if not all new students. “That first year, I tended to stay in the circles that I had felt most comfortable in,” like the field hockey team. By the end of the year, however, Saeed found a group that would come to be a defining feature to her experience at Amherst: CACSAC, short for the Council of Amherst College Student-Athletes of Color. Saeed didn’t attend many meetings her first year, but, soon enough, she would be pulled into the community it offered. “Sophomore year, I really started to get more involved in CACSAC and that part of campus, and, once I started looking for it, I definitely found that it was there. When I found
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CACSAC and started regularly going to meetings, it felt like the part of Amherst that I was missing out on and made my experience more complete,” she said. “That was an underrated part of Amherst for me, just sitting down with a bunch of cool people, not having an agenda, meeting new people.” “Junior year, I went even more frequently and really could feel myself coming into my own within the group, establishing my voice in CACSAC,” Saeed added. It was during that junior year that Saeed took up her first position on the executive board of CACSAC. In her role, she helped organize a program that traced the history of minority athletes’ representation at Amherst as a percentage of the student body and of the varsity athletes. Senior year, Saeed would take on even more responsibility, acceding to the role of president and leading the very organization that had become a formative part of her experience at the college. “One thing that we did during my year as president was engaging more with the athletic department. We invited all the coaches to come to one of our weekly meetings and had a really good turnout,” Saeed said. “About 20 coaches and 80 or so CACSAC members came, and it was the first time that any of us had the opportunity to put things
Photo courtesy of Yasmeen Saeed ’20
Saeed’s friends note that she is willing to take on hard work without asking for recognition — a trait that has carried her as the president of the CACSAC. out in the open and for student-athletes of color to ask questions about recruiting, retainment, what coaches are looking for and how they are working to improve diversity on their teams.” The organization also hosted an allies meeting, in which about 120 student-athletes attended to hear about CACSAC’s work. “One of the things we discussed was how Amherst might have a lot of the statistics, but things can feel kind of like a show sometimes, that things are not actually as good in practice as they can appear on paper. For example, Amherst athletics can appear relatively racially diverse, but it’s not necessarily socio-economically diverse, and how that [is] one thing that is sometimes left out of diversity conversation.” Saeed had an additional
role to play within the Athletic Department’s diversity and inclusion conversations, serving on the department’s Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce. It was here where she got an institutional-level perspective on initiatives and programs designed to improve equality and inclusion within athletics to make sure sports are reflective of the college’s broader goals. Speaking about her term as president, Saeed was quick to dismiss claims that she herself was responsible, steadfastly refusing to speak on behalf of CACSAC and her executive board and instead choosing to highlight the camaraderie found within the organization. “It was so much fun,” Saeed remarked. “There would be serious conversations, but other times, we would just sit around and talk. Having that space to sit around and talk,
Senior Profile | Yasmeen Saeed to do nothing and meet new people can be overlooked. If you ask most people in CACSAC about what their favorite thing was, I would think that it would be that.”
An Injury Leads to More Opportunity However, despite Saeed’s obvious passion for her work with CACSAC, it is work that she admits might not have happened but for a devastating injury to her ankle she suffered playing field hockey her first year at Amherst. “The biggest thing that I got out of field hockey were the friendships and relationships. I obviously couldn’t get that much athletic accomplishment out of it because of my injury, which ultimately contributed to me stepping away from the sport after my junior year.” Sidelined from the sport that she loved, Saeed said, “Moving away from field hockey made me have to figure out a different role that wasn’t on
the field.” Saeed continued, “I wanted my teammates to feel like they were the best versions of themselves, and they didn’t necessarily have to be tied to how they were performing on the field.” Heather Brennan ’20, a teammate and close friend, remarked, “As a leader, she was reliable and approachable.” Brennan continued, “She spoke her mind but spoke with respect and kindness. I think that although Yaz’s injury prevented her from playing in games, it really didn’t prevent her from giving her all to the team. She was still there at every practice and every game, doing whatever the coaches asked of her and more, and her whole heart was dedicated to wanting the team to succeed.” “Having her as a teammate for me has meant feeling the most incredible support and love,” said Brennan. Brennan’s sentiments were echoed by another of Saeed’s
close friends and teammates, Elizabeth Sturley ’20, who said, “[Saeed] did so much work behind the scenes or mundane tasks without the acknowledgement or gratitude she deserved. That shows her true reason for acting was purely out of her good heart and desire to help the team.” “Getting injured opened up a lot of opportunities for things that I otherwise don’t think I would have explored,” Saeed said.“Moving away from field hockey, getting injured, and that whole experience really guided my career aspirations.” Orthopedics, the field that Saeed now intends to go into, became a natural step as a result of her experiences. Saeed focused her summers on gaining experience that would both help her further that goal and help her understand just what had happened to herself. The summer after her sophomore year, she worked as an intern on an orthopedic trauma project at Harvard
Medical School. “I remember it so clearly: I interviewed on March 12 in Boston, and on March 13, at 7:00 a.m., I went in and had a second surgery on my ankle,” she said. Saeed ultimately accepted the position, and said, “I’m so glad that I was able to do that, because I struggled a lot with feeling the whole situation was out of my control. I had a lot of personal negativity around [my experiences with surgery], and I was able to channel a lot of that back into a more positive experience.” The summer following her junior year, Saeed continued to work in Orthopedics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She plans on applying to medical school after graduation, hopeful of a career in the very specialty in which she has had such fortunate and unfortunate experiences. Sturley complimented Saeed’s drive and determination to make the best of an unfortunate situation, saying, “I am so proud of how much I’ve seen Yaz come into herself during her time in college. She has always had this resilience that I admired, but I think senior year she was able to see that more herself, giving her the confidence and strength to know her own worth and value and not put up with anything less. I think that has always been inside of her, but she has grown into it.”
Writing a Thesis and Planning for the Future
Photo courtesy of Yasmeen Saeed ’20
Before injuring her ankle during her first year, Saeed played as a member of the women’s field hockey team, which she remained closely connected with even after her injury kept her off of the field. Saeed, middle right of the top row, is pictured with the team’s seniors.
During her senior year, Saeed threw herself into her senior thesis, a project that she says she would not have been able to complete had she not had the guidance of her thesis advisor, Monica Ringer, professor of history and Asian languages and civilizations. Saeed’s thesis stemmed from her history department capstone, titled “Turkey: From Ataturk to Erdogan,” and ex-
plored how the past has been mythologized. Using primary sources — in particular, political cartoons — Saeed compares former president of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the country’s current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Specifically, she looked at the ways each leader understood the past and mythologized it for their own present purposes and to construct a generation of national identity. As Ringer said, “Yasmeen developed from someone interested in the content of history to a practitioner of history.” Ringer praised Saeed’s work, stating simply, “Her work was theoretically sophisticated and innovative.” Saeed’s time at Amherst has not been one with a linear path, but rather one that has been focused on turning her pain from an injury into a series of successes, on a passion for medicine that will last long after graduation and on helping others. Brennan touched on this last piece, saying, “She never made me doubt that she would be there for me, whatever, was to come.” She continued, “Yaz taught me that a friend can ask nothing of you but your company. She showed me unselfish friendship; she showed me the subtlety of compassion; and she showed me how to make the little moments in life special.” Indeed, Saeed has an unconscious ability to impact those around her, and a radical kindness that will serve those around her before herself, no matter what she chooses to do in the future. As Brennan summed up, “I’m so excited to see where she’ll go.” Sturley echoed Brennan, extolling, “Anyone who has the opportunity to know [Saeed] and love her is one of the luckiest people in the world.”
The Amherst Student | May 31, 2020 | 27
Senior Profile | Noah Wheaton
Defending Equality, Across His Fields As a pre-med student, Noah Wheaton exemplifies active service for kind causes; his work with the Black Student Union and other groups has transformed Amherst, leaving a lasting impact on the frontier of equality. —Jack Dove ’23 When I sat down to talk with Noah Wheaton ’20, he recounted a story from when he was ten years old, trading Pokemon cards with his brother Sirus Wheaton ’23 at a Los Angeles summer camp; he heard a loud “pop,” and Sirus abruptly stood up, walking away with his hands on his head. Noah realized something was wrong when he saw blood staining Sirus’s head and hands — someone had thrown a rock and hit his brother square in the head. As a child who hadn’t even lost all of his baby teeth, Noah reacted with decisive, selfless passion and dashed to nearby counselors, instructing them to get medical help for his ailing brother immediately. “Even if I can’t do that much,” added Noah, “I was just trying to do anything possible to help.” Even now, it’s clear how Noah remains just as compassionate as he was back then, dedicating his past four years at Amherst to bettering the college community and pursuing an academic track that will prepare him to better the world, too.
L.A. Soccer Star A Los Angeles resident
from birth, Wheaton credits his athletic experiences for much of his character development from a young age. “Soccer has been the biggest way for me to figure out who I am; I figured out how to communicate with people and become a sociable person,” he said. Besides representing a platform for making friends, Wheaton thinks of the sport as an emotional escape: “I feel like the place where I have the right to feel comfortable in my own skin is through just playing soccer.” Perhaps his biggest fan is his teammate and brother Sirus, who considers Noah to be possibly the greatest player to have ever played for the Amherst Football Club (AFC). “He is better than a lot of the varsity players,” bragged Sirus. “He wins every ball and then goes in twice as hard for the next tackle or run. He’s a true offensive threat and someone you could always rely on defensively; he was the lifeline of the team.” Noah is a center midfielder, which is considered the most taxing and most involved role on the soccer field.
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He credits his leadership role on the field with building his confidence and helping him find a home at school. “It now very much feels like family,” reflected Noah.
Integrating Amherst Soccer was also a motivating factor for Noah to begin exploring the topic of racial equality. “Sometimes walking to a soccer practice with my club team, cops would pull me over,” said Noah. Noah has multiple memories of police officers stopping him on his walks to his private high school science lab “because I was a Black man on his phone that shouldn’t have been at a private school,” he said. Growing up, Noah found that, while he wasn’t necessarily too cognizant of being Black, other people were instead emphasizing his skin color to him. Wheaton recalls a fifth-grade classmate demanding him to “say the N-word,” simply because he was Black. Just as he felt a racial divide in his hometown, Wheaton also noticed separation within the Amherst student body.
Photo courtesy of Noah Wheaton ’20
Noah is well known for his smile and can-do initiative in matters concerning equality across and beyond the Amherst campus. “You can really see it where the parties are, as well as with the whole mixer dynamic,” he said, referring to mixers between athletic teams and other groups. The college is known for being extremely diverse relative to its peers, with a 56.2 percent non-white student body. However, Noah believes diversity doesn’t tell the whole story: “As much as Amherst says that we are diverse, the truth is we are not very inclusive.” It was this dichotomy between diversity and inclusivity that drew Noah towards the Black Student Union (BSU). With no simi-
lar group at his high school, Noah quickly joined the Amherst affinity group after his first meeting when he was a first-year. Ascending to the executive board (E-board) his sophomore year as the club’s treasurer, Wheaton took on multiple roles with the BSU before becoming co-president during his senior year. As president, Wheaton facilitated group meetings and provided inspirational leadership and direction to all members of the club. Many Amherst community members took notice of Noah’s efforts, including Professor of Psychology and
Senior Profile | Noah Wheaton Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Officer Allen Hart. “The work of holding the college accountable for creating a more inclusive campus is layered and multi-faceted,” said Hart, “and under Noah’s leadership, the BSU has again become a booming voice in shaping Amherst’s future.” Lauding Noah’s contributions to his course “Intergroup Dialogue,” Hart added that Noah’s “impact and legacy at Amherst will continue long after graduation.” Noah’s most recent task with the BSU was the response to a recent incident of racism on campus, where three students on the men’s lacrosse team chanted the N-word outside a teammate’s room. To Wheaton, this issue was not an individual incident, but a problem related to the men’s lacrosse team. “I remember hearing hate speech being shouted on the third floor of Jenkins during my freshman year, and from my junior year [the incident of] the swastika drawn on someone’s face,” said Noah. In the BSU’s letter calling to “Integrate Amherst,” which responded to the school’s action regarding the racist incident, the authors argued that the issue at hand brought to light a lack of institutional protocol for disciplining hate-speech and racism. “One of the big issues is that we don’t have a guideline for this,” commented Wheaton. “Hate speech should be [weighed] as much as throwing a punch.” To Wheaton, the recent altercation represents the peak event from his time with the BSU. “Being the face of the BSU, this feels like the biggest moment that’s come up,” said Wheaton. The ad-
ministration responded positively to the changes the BSU outlined, with the final piece in the series reporting a new Amherst College institutional bias reporting and response protocol. It’s quite a legacy to leave behind, and Wheaton feels extremely proud of his time with the BSU: “I love to help my community out as much as they help me.”
The Medical Frontier Just as he condemned racial inequities as co-president of the BSU, Wheaton fights for comparable medical treatment for all. From a young age, he had an interest in the inequalities of medicine: “I’m really interested in health care and its equity disparities, which started when I was in high school,” said Noah. Even as a third grader, Noah spent time volunteering at the Dream Center in Los Angeles, which provided supplies and care for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. As a psychology major, Noah followed a pre-med track through his time at Amherst. Noah’s passion for medicine and psychology was clear to Catherine Sanderson, the Manwell Family Professor in Life Sciences (Psychology). “I’ve really seen him come full circle,” said Sanderson, “from conducting his very first lab report in Intro Psych to delving much more substantively into theory and research into an upper-level course [Close Relationships].” Besides his work as a student EMT with the Amherst College Emergency Medical Services (ACEMS), Wheaton has engaged in the healthcare industry through summer jobs. After his first year, Wheaton shadowed orthopedic surgeons in Cleveland,
Photo courtesy of Amherst Football Club
While Wheaton grew up a defender, his transition to center midfielder better fit his leadership instinct. As captain of the Amherst Football Club (AFC), Wheaton’s efforts on and off the field have propeled the club soccer team from a winless group to a talented, passionate campus icon. Ohio; this past summer, Wheaton worked as a volunteer and research assistant at the New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. “I shadowed doctors, volunteered on certain hospital floors and did some research in regards to women’s
health, abnormal pap smears and cervical cancer,” he said. Wheaton is looking to complete a post-baccalaureate program to prepare for medical school, where he would train to eventually achieve his dream job as a doctor. To Wheaton, the ethos
of such a respected medical position might carry weight in the battle for healthcare equality. It seems like the perfect profession for Wheaton, who, simply put in the words of his brother Sirus, “is always thinking about people other than himself.”
The Amherst Student | May 31, 2020 | 29
Senior Profile | Eric Hasegawa
A Steady & Disciplined College Career A committed geologist, Eric Hasegawa holds a drive to understanding the way the natural world works and has plotted careful coursework to hone that appreciation throughout his time at Amherst and beyond. —Camilo Toruño ’21 When speaking to Eric Hasegawa ’20, I was impressed by his steadiness and focus that came across vibrantly even over our Zoom conversation. They’re qualities his thesis advisor, Jack Cheney, professor of mineralogy and geology and associate provost and associate dean of the faculty, praised as key to helping Hasegawa complete his thesis on metamorphic petrology. This focus on following what he cares about directed Hasegawa’s pursuit of his geology major and the academic accolades it brought. His unwavering passion has driven him to succeed as a leader in his unusual extracurriculars, like archery and Kendo. And, certainly, it’s this clear-sightedness that’s given him a calm approach to the uncertainty that cast over the class of 2020 when this pandemic set everyone’s expectations off-course.
Choosing Liberal Arts at Amherst Hasegawa grew up in rural Highland, Maryland and wanted to attend a college that was in a similar setting. The small liberal arts colleges of the Northeast were thus an ideal fit. Like many other Amherst students, the open curriculum drew Hasegawa to the school. As a
self-described STEM person, he wanted to be able to take the classes he liked and focus on his interests. Furthermore, the freedom to select a major whenever he wanted instead of going into a specialized program immediately was very appealing. This turned out to be a smart choice because Hasegawa originally thought he would be a chemistry major and completed its course requirements through organic chemistry. However, in the fall of his sophomore year, Hasegawa took Principles to Geology, the department’s introductory course, and enjoyed the idea of applying chemistry outside of the laboratory in order to understand how it affects the natural world. He said this wasn’t always emphasized in chemistry classes. “Most of the time you’re synthesizing some molecule that you don’t really have a good idea of how it fits into everyday life,” he said, adding that he considers himself to be more of a geochemist in that he wants to apply chemistry to the natural world.
Geology in the Field In the summer of 2018, following his sophomore year, Hasegawa traveled to Santa Catalina Island off the coast
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of California to participate in a Keck Geology summer program, part of the Keck Geology Consortium, which promotes undergraduate research in geology. The five-week introductory program focused on looking at the mineralogy — the study of the chemical compositions of minerals — of samples from Santa Catalina Island. Going into the summer with little geology experience, the program helped develop Hasegawa’s interest in metamorphic petrology, which examines the ways in which rocks form, and geology research as a whole. That summer, metamorphic rocks were the focus of Hasegawa’s Keck research, which ended up being the subject of his thesis.
Taking the Field into the Classroom In the fall of his junior year, following the experiences he gained from Keck, Hasegawa took a mineralogy class and signed up to take igneous and metamorphic petrology the next semester. Because of this, Cheney, who later became Hasegawa’s thesis advisor, offered him the opportunity to research rock samples from islands on the Greek Cyclades that involved metamorphic petrology, which appealed
Photo courtesy ofEric Hasegawa ‘20
The summer after his sophomore year, Hasegawa traveled to Catalina Island (as pictured) for a five-week geology program. It’s there that he nurtured his specific interests within geology. to Hasegawa since he had a great time doing similar metamorphic research on Catalina Island. This past summer, before his senior year, Hasegawa participated in the Gregory S. Call Undergraduate Research Program at Amherst to research the rocks that he would be analyzing in his senior thesis. He worked very closely with a group of researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and spent 10 days there using equipment to do QuiQ
barometry and ZIR thermometry. The ability to do most of the data collection during the summer helped Hasegawa’s thesis immensely, giving him a head start into his senior year. Ultimately, his thesis analyzed metamorphic rock samples from the Greek island Ios to find the highest temperature and pressure at which these rocks were formed deep underground. This gives insight into the overall tectonic history and motion of the Aegean region. By finding these pressures and
Senior Profile | Eric Hasegawa temperatures, one can then compare them to other known temperatures and figure out certain relationships between different rocks, which can imply how tectonic plates have shifted. Hasegawa was very pleased with his thesis because he and Cheney were able to find a precedent-setting answer, which isn’t always the case in undergraduate theses. He elaborated that “We were able to further constrain the tectonic and pressure temperature of [Ios] in a way that previous researchers hadn’t been able to do before.” He modestly added, “Yeah, it was pretty good.” Reflecting on the thesis as a whole, Cheney remarked, “I have been particularly impressed with Eric’s determination, independence and his ability to finish what he starts.
Although a complicated and difficult spring, Eric’s curiosity and interest in his project resulted in a stellar thesis.” Ultimately, the thesis was an experience that Hasegawa really enjoyed, and it allowed him to also reflect on the greater lessons he learned about his personal research interests. While Hasegawa initially thought metamorphic rock was a research field he wanted to explore more, throughout his thesis project, he “realized he like[s] other things more.” He elaborated that he was interested in geochemistry but perhaps more drawn to sedimentary rocks and expressed interest in exploring these fields more in graduate school.
Discipline Beyond Rocks
Outside the world of geology, Hasegawa has a busy life. He has been dancing since he was six years old and was a member of the Intersections Dance Company at Amherst. Joining his junior year, Eric choreographed a dance, which the troupe performed in a fall show. He really enjoyed the new challenge that choreographing brought because it is something he had little experience doing. Hasegawa shared, “I really enjoy dancing, especially ballet, because it can be a very disciplined activity.” I can see how this hobby outside of academia carries over to his similarly disciplined intellectual pursuits. Another physical activity Hasegawa does is Kendo, which he described as Japanese fencing. Hasegawa has a black belt in Kendo and was able to prac-
tice at a dojo nearby Amherst throughout his time at the college. Hasegawa also values Kendo for its required discipline. He added, “It’s also a culturally significant activity that introduced me to many aspects of Japanese culture that I was unaware of. I’m a fifth-generation Japanese American, so I never really had strong ties to Japanese culture.”
Moving Forward and Holding On Moving forward in this time, pursuing a career in the unknown of the imminent future is challenging. Perhaps a sense of nostalgia for the friendships and relationships made through college is a steadying force. Hasegawa expressed gratitude for the friends he made his first year at Amherst and with whom
Photo courtesy ofEric Hasegawa ‘20
Hasegawa’s thesis required complex technology to assist in data collection. He learned how to use the intricate machines during his summer geology program and worked with researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to do so for his thesis.
he’s been able to spend four years. “Most of my close friends at Amherst lived on my floor freshman year,” he said. The bond made throughout this time becomes all the more important as we move forward in a world changed by the coronavirus. Hasegawa’s friend Juhwan Jeong ’20 reflected on their college experience together and was nostalgic of everything they’ve accomplished at Amherst. He said, “I first met Eric freshman year as a fellow resident of James 3rd. Since then he’s become one of my best friends throughout college. For four years, I’ve seen his lows and highs. For example, I will never forget the one late cramming session at 4 a.m. in Greenway basement where I ordered a whole Domino’s pizza for myself and Eric, and an entire [two liter] coke.” “On the other hand, he’s grown to be excellent at the numerous activities and responsibilities such as Kendo, archery, dance, thesis, academics and interpersonal relationships. I’m very proud of all that Eric’s achieved,” he continued. These memories are important to hold on to as the senior class moves towards future aspirations. When I asked Hasegawa about his future plans, he expressed a notable stoicism in the face of this pandemic’s uncertainty. Instead of focusing on the unknown variables of the future, Hasegawa lays out his plan in a deliberate manner. Hasegawa described how he was planning on taking some more classes during the fall and applying to graduate school the following year so that he can pursue a Ph.D. in geology. In other words, Eric is going to handle what is in his control, and he is going to take his first steps after graduation one at a time. I have no doubt that Hasegawa will find success in his future geological pursuits.
The Amherst Student | May 31, 2020 | 31
VOLUME CXLIX COMMENCEMENT EDITION
SUNDAY, MAY 31, 2020
To Our Seniors,
EDITORS-IN-CHIEF Natalie De Rosa Olivia Gieger EDITORS Scott Brasesco Jack Dove Theo Hamilton Zach Jonas Lauren Kisare Arielle Kirven Henry Newton Rebecca Piccioto Camilo Toruño Ryan Yu DESIGN Julia Shea CONTRIBUTORS Matthew Sparrow
Emma Swislow ’20
Shawna Chen ’20
HEAD PUBLISHERS Mark Nathin Emmy Sohn
The Amherst Student is published weekly except during college vacations. Subscription requests and address changes should be sent to: Subscriptions, The Amherst Student; Box 1912, Amherst College: Amherst, MA 01002-5000. The offices of The Student are located in the basement of Morrow Dormitory, but this issue has been produced remotely from our homes. All contents copyright © 2020 by The Amherst Student, Inc. All rights reserved.
Zehra Madhavan ’20 Design Editor
We will miss you Thank you for everything!
The printing and distribution of this issue has been made possible with the support of the Office of Student Activities. Special thanks to Paul Gallegos and Campus Print and Mail for helping us get this paper to you.