President Tom Gerety opened the assembly by asking for a moment of silence for what he described as "a shockingly sad day." He was followed by remarks from Professor of American Studies and History Gordon Levin, Professor of Political Science Pavel Machala, Professor of History and Women's and Gender Studies Margaret Hunt, Associate Professor of Religion Jamal Elias and journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, who had come to the College that day to speak to the freshman class.
Students reacted strongly to the speakers, who offered both words of sympathy for the country and political analysis of the terrorist attacks.
"I appreciate that the assembly was convened with the best of intentions to provide support for the Amherst community," said Lincoln Mayer '04. "However, speeches in which the legitimacy of the president was questioned and certain political agendas were promoted only five hours after the Twin Towers fell showed remarkable insensitivity to grieving students."
"I can understand that they didn't feel ready," said President Tom Gerety. "I hope we did a good job of addressing the sense of loss in the vigil and the religious services that followed ... At the same time I would say this is what Amherst does. It is a place of analysis and reflection."
Ethan Katz '02 also thought that the assembly was conceived with the best of intentions. "I thought the calling of the assembly was entirely appropriate and a good kind of 'rapid-response' decision by the administration," he said. "The goals I believe should have been to allow people to voice concerns and emotions and to offer some solace, insight and guidance."
Katz, like many others, objected to what he believed to be a glut of political statements instead of words of sympathy.
"I felt that there was too much focus on the policy implications and causes of the attack and too little on coming together as a community and discussing frankly how we all felt at this moment of absolute horror," he said. "I also felt that Barbara Ehren-reich's comments were not particularly appropriate. To essentially start bashing America and discussing the roots of terrorism is not what we need only hours after the attacks. Such analysis could wait a day or two, and no one would suffer as a result."
Kevin Bush '02, chairman of the Amherst College Republicans, agreed. "While some defend the atmosphere merely as a part of academia, I think the politicization of such an event is a sad sign of how disconnected the Amherst community has become from the rest of the nation," he said.
"Perhaps the only positive thing that comes out of a tragedy is that it unites people," Bush added. "The College assembly in LeFrak on the day of the terrorist attacks pulled off the tremendous achievement of not uniting people in the face of such crisis. Rather, the community was subject to personal political banter by most of those who spoke."
Some students, however, refused to criticize a program without precedent that was put together in hours.
"After some thought, I really don't feel any criticism of the administration's handling of the situation is at all appropriate," said Peter Colarulli '03. "Such an unprecedented atrocity is not an easy thing for anyone to handle, let alone trying to address a couple thousand folks with widely varying opinions and some who may have been personally affected by the attacks. This is a time for our campus to pray, mourn and care for one another."
Brett Farson '03 said that he believed students should have been more supportive to their fellow classmates.
"When President Gerety opened up the [microphone] to students who wanted to express their opinion, half the students decided to leave," Farson said. "It was impossible to hear students who were trying to speak as hundreds of students slowly headed for the exits while talking, rather than slipping out quietly ... If there has ever been a time in our lifetime when we need to come together as friends, as a College and as a nation, it is now."