Amherst Life Blog

Welcome to the Amherst Life Blog! Here we will be posting information on activities, events, arts, community concerns, local business, and a variety of other topics related to life in Amherst, Massachusetts. If you are new to the area and looking for housing, please check out our other blog too ------------>> Amherst Housing Blog ::.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Video Shot in South Africa: Racist Acts on the Rise

In the Bluewall Cafeteria at UMass-Amherst several white students laughed when the South Africa story was covered on the wide-screen TV in the eating area:

What motivated the students to laugh? We can't really say. Ignorace, surely. Lack of an ability to place oneself in the shoes of another, surely. But it goes beyond that: the story was framed by CNN as if a little joke was misinterpreted. "The four white students were making a fake reality show! Of course!"

The camera flashed through crowds of protestors (flashed is key -- they didn't want to ask any of the black and brown people offended by the video any questions) as if to say, "look at how this little misunderstanding led to all of these people getting so hot-headed." The protests were muted, framing anger without a voice. "No reason, no thought", the CNN cuts implied, "they just want to be mad at something."

CNN coverage, as we continue to see in mainstream media, looked only at the situation from the perspective of the four white students. Instead of interviewing the women in the video, CNN read the white students' apologies. None of the thousands of South Africans enraged by the video were interviewed. No effort at looking at a continuum of racism was made. They interviewed a few white professors who said they were upset by the images instead. And now they are even questioning Mandela's life-long fight for equality -- "see he didn't really get anything done." That is what is implied: "The riots that broke out in South Africa in protest of racial abuse on Wednesday, almost 16 years to the day that Nelson Mandela walked free from prison, have revealed just how distant the former president's dream of a Rainbow Nation remains from reality." (Yahoo News Writer, Alex Perry)

These incidents are pointing at a dramatic increase in racism on university campuses (U.S. and worldwide), and the poor coverage is a direct relfection on continued, biased reporting that mainstreanm media presents.

And we don't have to go far to see that: look at the way the local papers are covering Jason Vassell's attack -- "'Victim' stabs two" is one title (do they really have the audacity to make a pun here?), and the Boston Globe seemed to go at all costs to avoid the racism inherent in the stabbing incident ( And what about the Collegian?

"With candles in hand, approximately 35 students braved the cold weather last night for a two-minute vigil to show their support for former University of Massachusetts student Jason Vassell, while raising awareness about recent hate crimes on campus.

Excuse us: two minutes? Can you reduce the power of the gathering a little more please? Braving cold weather. How about starting with the powerful ideas and issues that the speakers were adressing? How about framing the story around the ideas and the injustice that motivated the gathering?

The moral in all of this: we need to keep the pressure on ignorant, hateful, racist actions and the way mainstream media is representing/reframing them.

Is UMass providing enough information to students?

Yesterday, someone left a "threatening" note (graffiti?) in a men's room in Bartlett Hall. Classes continued on and people were urged to report "suspicious behaviour."

Today, another "update" was posted on the webpage:

"Alert: This is a follow-up to the campus alert issued Wednesday regarding the threatening message found in Bartlett Hall. UMass Police continue to investigate, but do note that the time frame included in the threat has passed. The university is open for regular business today and classes are being held. While conducting your day-to-day campus business, please be alert and report any unusual activities to the police. If you have any information that may identify anyone involved in this incident, call the police at 545-2121. To provide anonymous information in this case, contact the police at 577-TIPS (577-8477) or go to"

What immediately jumps off the page is reference to a TIME FRAME, offered up by the writer of the men's room note.

Our question: if the author of the violent note implied a time frame for some kind of violent act, shouldn't buildings have been evacuated? Shouldn't people know about this "time frame" so they can choose if they want to be in the building? Further, if there is a "time frame" the university should close: it shows intent and given the context (Virginia Tech, Illinois, and a dramatic increase in violent crime on the UMass campus).

Our message to UMass officials: let us know when there is a threat and give us details. It is your responsibility to inform us. When you have a threatening note with a time frame mentioned, you owe it to the student body to inform and disseminate the information.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Vigil for Jason Vassell Tonight in Southwest (UMASS)

Last post we re-framed the UMass hate crime/attack/stabbing incident from the perspective of Jason Vassell:

two white men kick in Mr. Vassell's window, insult him, verbally threaten him, call him "nigger", and break into his building. They proceed to beat him and break his nose. These are two racist, hateful individuals who have shown that they are not affriad to break a window, break into a building, and beat a man. And there are two racist attackers vs. one student. Two vs. One and they have already broken several laws without any remorse, and they proceed to cause bodily harm with the intent to murder -- just as the words they shouted proove. The victim, Jason Vassell, sees that the beating will not stop unless he defends himself in some way. He uses the only thing he has on him tht might prevent them from killing him. Though he acted in self-defence, he is the first one to be arrested and now Jason Vassell is on trial for attempted murder.

What can you do? Head to the Malcolm X center in Southwest Residential Area, tonight, Wedesday Feb 27th. If someone could post the time of the meeting as a comment that would be helpful.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Perspectives on UMass-Amherst Hate Crimes

Amherst, MA -- We would like to re-frame this public, online discussion around the hate crimes that ocurred at UMass on February 3rd, 2008 and not the names/concepts that legal system uses (they become the default/norm terms that mainstream media uses to report the incident). We want to put YOU, the reader, in Mr. Vassell's shoes, just for a brief moment. When we talk about, write, or work from the idea of Jason Vassell as an "attempted murderer" who stabbed two men with a dangerous weapon ("allegedly" in self-defense), the events quickly transform. The tone automatically points to Mr. Vassell as a culprit and not a victim.

And when we work from Mr. Vassell "allegedy" defending himself against only one attacker and not two (especially when the incident report cites two racist attackers) the events take on a different character (even though they shouldn't). Further, we would like to emphasize the point that agressive, blatant acts of racism and hatred instigated this incident.

According to the Amherst Gazette, "the incident was sparked at 4 a.m. when two women visiting Vassell’s dorm opened a window and found a man’s face pressed against the window staring back at them. When Vassell asked the man (allegedly Bowes) to explain himself, the man went into a ‘loud tirade of racial invectives and violent threats directed at Vassell,’ the report states. Vassell then told him to go away, but instead of leaving, the man allegedly began kicking the window. The women then left the room and the police were called. While waiting for the police to arrive, Vassell called a friend for support, the committee claims. When Vassell opened the door to let his friend inside, Bosse and Bowes also entered the lobby. One of the men then assaulted Vassell, breaking his nose, the report said. Following this, Bosse and Bowes were stabbed."

The re-frame is in order: a man is staring into your window, utters "a loud tirade of racial invectives and violent threats directed at Vassell"/you; starts kicking in your window; you see he is with another individual or maybe you knew there were two racist, angry men together the whole time; you are in the middle of small-town Western Massachusetts surrounded by some towns that still have an active KKK; you are on a campus where police constantly harass you and where you don't have a sizeable community or an in-tact response system if "something goes down" because of the lack of "minority" students on campus...

Continuing... the two men who called you all kinds of names that white people have been calling you and your ancestors for 500 years have now broken into your building; the two white men who told you they wanted you dead are now illegally inside of your home and are breaking your nose. You have been beaten and nobody is able to stop the two white men. It appears you might just die as those two white men hoped. WHAT DO YOU DO? It is 2 crazy white dudes vs. you, a student, whose window and nose were just kicked in. You let them beat you until you die? Or do you fight back, do you use the object you have in your pocket just in case "something goes down" in the middle of nowhere, where cops will arrest you for looking at someone the wrong way or for just being somewhere "at the wrong time"? I think the answer is obvious: you fight back. And what happens? You are the first one to get arrested, you are put on trial for murder, the legal system forgets it was 2 vs. 1, forgets that two ignorant white hicks from kkk-ville New Hampshire, just over the state line, had kicked your window in and beaten you silly.

Now you have to explain why you couldn't have just "taken on" the one white guy without stabbing him. You have to explain that there were two racist hicks and not one. You have to explain why you defended yourself to people who don't understand what it means to be in a school that is 90% or more white, that allows its police force to constantly harass you, that does nothing to make you feel comfortable on a campus with a bizarre geographical position and increasing racial tension (see Haloween costume incident), close to NY and Boston, but still in the middle of nowhere. Meanwhile, you are on trial for murder, and the money to pay for this legal system that put you in this position is running out.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hate Crimes at UMass: What you can do

This was just posted on the website by a group of UMass students and professors. You can sign the petition by going to the site:

"On Sunday, February 3, 2008, Jason Vassell, a twenty-three year old African American student at the University of Massachusetts, was arrested and charged with two counts of assault with intent to murder and two counts of aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. These charges stem from an altercation that Jason had with two white men, who were on campus for no legitimate purpose and provoked the confrontation by smashing Jason's window and repeatedly referring to him as a "nigger." Although Jason never left the dormitory, he was the only one charged at first. While one of the perpetrators, Jonathan Bowes, was recently charged with two hate crimes and disorderly conduct, the other white man, Jonathan Bosse, has not been charged as of yet.

Jason Vassell, who has no prior criminal record and is a widely respected member of the UMass community, is currently being charged with a felony, though he was attacked in his own home by outside intruders, who put Mr. Vassell and fellow UMass students at risk.

We call for the excessive charges against Mr. Vassell to be reconsidered."

Saturday, February 09, 2008

UMass-Amherst Stabbing

Due to the pending trial we have decided to remove all posts regarding the recent stabbing of a UMass student. We will re-post and continue to cover the incident at a later time.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Fun Fundraiser for Local Soup Kitchen (with great food and music!)

We just received this email, originally written by Hwei-ling Greeney (the town's incredibly active selectoboard member!), from one of our readers. A great cause, a great dinner, and they have even organized a concert! A fundraiser at its finest! We plan on attending!

"The question of eat or heat this winter has been such a dilemma in the minds of many guests of Not Bread Alone. I hope you will join me for the 2nd Annual Soup & Song event to raise funds for the new Wednesday meal program that we began last November. The new program, which has been in the works for over a year, fills an essential need in the community.

Until now, there has been NO hot meal served anywhere in the Amherst area
on Wednesday evening. We are glad that we are now able to fill this hole, as well as the stomachs of our hungry Wednesday evening guests. Your presence at the Soup & Song benefit event this Saturday, February 9, 2008 at the First Congregational Church of Amherst will be so cherished.

An All You Can Eat dinner with homemade cornbread and five varieties of
delicious and wholesome soup --- chili,vegetarian chili, clam chowder, spicy blackeye pea soup, and curry lentil soup --will begin at 5:00 PM.

Following dinner, Sarah Pirtle – the Valley’s best
folk singer will begin the benefit concert at 7:00 PM.

The cost of the concert which includes the meal is very reasonable: $5
for children and $10 for adults in advance.

Tickets can be purchased at A. J. Hastings or Food for Thought Bookstore.

Hope to see you this Saturday at 5:00 for dinner and
7:00 for concert at First Congregational Church of Amherst, 165
Main Street, Amherst (next door to the Black Sheep Café).

The snow date is Sunday, February 10."

Not Bread Alone Soup Kitchen

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Multicultural Film Festival in Amherst!

It's back! The multicultural film festival will begin on Feb. 6th. Check the folling link for more details:

And feel free to comment on any of the films that you see!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Cab Fares in Amherst

Last night we called a local taxi company and asked how much it would cost to get a cab from Amherst center to Hadley, MA (specifically to Mi Tierra restaurant -- a great local restaurant!). The resonse: "it won't be more than $50." "No, no, Hadley with an 'H', not 'Bradley' as in the airport," an Amherst Life witer replied. "Yeah, I heard you," the dispatcher said, "no more than $50." Is this an isolated incident??? Are people paying $50 for a 10 minute cab ride to Hadley, MA, only a few miles down route 9? Please let us know!

Wealth Gaps, "Predatory Lending Schemes", and a Housing Crisis (Glen Ford)

The following article by Glen Ford looks deeply at innequality and
offers a dynamic lens on lending schemes that have devasted communities
throughout the country. How do these trends play out in Amherst?

By Glen Ford
Black Agenda Radio
January 24, 2008

The subprime lending debacle should cause massive
rethinking among those who have long proclaimed
that the route to Black equality is through wealth
accumulation. In a report titled, "Foreclosed:
State of the Dream 2008," United for a Fair Economy
details the catastrophic losses inflicted on Blacks
and Latinos in the U.S. at the hands of predatory
lenders - "the greatest loss of wealth to people of
color in modern U.S. history." With more than half
of Blacks in many cities caught in the subprime
trap - and with even these usurious financing
schemes disappearing in the wake of the bubble-
burst - the prospects for Blacks to amass wealth
have grown bleaker than at any time in living
memory. At the current rate, it will take 5,423
years for Blacks to achieve homeowner parity with

"It could take more than 5,000 years before Blacks
achieve homeowner parity with whites!"

The core institutions of American capitalism have
condemned Black and Brown America to further
centuries of wealth disparity. Now standing at
about ten-to-one, the wealth gap between African
American and white median households cannot but
grow bigger in the wake of the subprime lending
catastrophe. The Boston-based United for a Fair
Economy recently released a report, detailing the
carnage wreaked on people of color by predatory
lenders - and it is mind-boggling.

The report, titled "Foreclosed: State of the Dream
2008," shows definitively that banks and other
lending institutions trapped Blacks and Latinos in
predatory lending schemes as a matter of policy.
"Even a surface check of the demographics shows,"
the report says, "that, in city after city, a solid
majority of subprime loan recipients were people of
color." The very scope of the crime proves that the
lending crisis is not the product of Black
"culture," but the result of calculated policies,
near-uniformly carried out by virtually all of the
nation's mortgage lending institutions. This is
institutional racism writ large, and indisputable.

The money-lenders have already sucked the value out
of whole communities, urban and suburban. The
wealth loss is staggering: People of color have
collectively lost between "$164 billion to $213
billion over the past eight years," with Latinos
losing slightly more than African Americans.

Before the crisis hit, it was estimated that it
would take 594 years - more than half a millennium!
- for Blacks to catch up with whites in household
wealth. Now, in the aftermath of the home mortgage
massacre, it could take ten times as long - more
than 5,000 years! - before Blacks achieve homeowner
parity with whites. Looking backward, that
stretches from now to when the great pyramids were

"People of color have collectively lost between
$164 billion to $213 billion over the past eight

If Black wealth creation through home-owning is
central to the drive for equality, then the private
sector cannot be allowed free reign; they have
already proven themselves criminally culpable in
the death of dreams. And the crisis is by no means
over. The rot extends to the non-mortgage practices
of global financial institutions, that bundle
worthless paper and trade it like real money. So
deeply corrupt are the mega-banks, brokerage houses
and finance capitalists of all kinds, the entire
planetary house of cards is in danger of collapse.

Domestically, cities are already feeling the crunch
of diminishing home property taxes - having long
ago given away much of their tax base to attract
many of the same corporations that created the
current crisis. Boarded up houses destroy property
values in the surrounding neighborhood, but there
are at present no reliable private mechanisms to
reverse the devastation. The banks aren't even
taking each other's paper - knowing it is as
worthless as their own.

Forget the sales sloganeering, that owning a home
is the "American Dream." Affordable housing is what
the people need, whether rental or family-owned -
many millions of new units. The private sector
cannot - will not - provide affordable housing,
since it is more concerned with creating
artificially high sale values than with meeting the
public's crying needs. Now that the bubble has
burst, it should never be allowed to be re-
inflated. There is only one alternative, and that
is massive public spending on housing that fits the
actual needs and budgets of the citizens. That's
the very least one can demand from one's

For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Glen Ford.

Scientists create 'no-tears' onions

Apparently, a group of scientists from New Zeland and Japan have deeme it necessary to develop a line on onions that, when sliced, do not make us "cry." One hormonal alteration and books like "Como agua para chocolate" become "dated." (it was the tears that fell into the food that led to the longing and weeping felt by every member of a wedding celebration). Instead of considering what happens when love is impeded by society, future students will consider another theme: why didn't they just use the "tear-less" onion; ho does the decision not to use the "tear-less" onion influence the novel; what would happen if I were to use a "tear-less" onion in a similar context? Those are the questions. But for now, Amherst Life's questions revolve around the ide of "what happens when we start putting DNA into our fruits and vegetables? How is this going to transform the human body, the animal kingdom, the plant kingdm, etc.? And, of course, what does Amherst think about the implications of using DNA injected food?

For more, check out the article on "tear-less" onions: