Dear Students, Staff, Faculty, Alumni, and Families,

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Memorial Day weekend invites us to reflect on the sacrifices that so many people have made in service to our country. It makes me want to emphasize again the many people who have put their lives at risk for the rest of us in this pandemic and the many more who will. And it provides an opportunity to share two projects that memorialize the experience of the pandemic and honor the forms of community that enable us to get through it. One is a project conducted by a faculty member with the support of students; the other is a collection of projects conceived and executed by students with the support of faculty members. I am honored to share them with you. I hope they inspire you as they have me.

Memorial Hill Project

In addition to being a historian of imperial China and East Asian economic history, Assistant Professor of History and Asian Languages and Civilizations George Qiao is an accomplished photographer. In response to the pandemic’s foreclosure of our normal community contacts and activities, he has launched, with the assistance of Haoran Tong ’23 and Kalea Ramsey ’23, a documentary project titled Memorial Hill 2020. The project invites members of the Amherst community to pose, singly or in socially distanced groups, for a portrait against the majestic backdrop of the view from the War Memorial. About the work, George writes:

While the virus and the social distancing measures to fight the virus are threatening to undermine what is inherently human about us, we hope that by recording the words and making portraits of the people in our community, we might reclaim the sense of our humanity and agency facing the dark forces that are upsetting the entire world. The photographs are of our community, but we hope the meaning exceeds far beyond it. 

Most gratifyingly, we observed how participants enjoyed the rare opportunity to get back to campus and socialize with other people in safe and meaningful ways. We also came to learn how deeply participants value their connections to the College and our community, and how much they crave to get reconnected with it. The pandemic, in a strange way, brought into high relief how much this campus and this community mean to us.

BCBP400's COVID Communications Projects

This spring, in recognition of the unusual circumstances in which we all find ourselves, Associate Professor of Chemistry Sheila Jaswal and Professor of Physics William Loinaz challenged students in their molecular and cellular biophysics course (BCBP400) to use the knowledge they had gained in the course to create material that communicated helpful information about coronavirus to those who might not have an advanced understanding of biochemistry and biophysics. Diverse projects resulted: from letter templates to infographics, Zoom events, meme collections, artwork, and animated presentations, all display a rich pairing of human insight with scientific understanding and all speak to the urge to respond in a time of crisis. The work was shared with the campus community on The Amherst STEM Network, an online publication launched earlier this year by Aditi Nayak ’23. I hope you will take some time to read a description of how the project took shape and explore the student work it yielded.

That will be it for this week. Between now and next Friday’s (or Saturday’s) letter, we will continue to make progress toward a plan for how we might safely re-open the campus. Stay well. Have an enjoyable weekend.