Illustration by Ben Wiseman

A post-pandemic fight about racism, the respectful treatment of trans kids, and the role of teachers’ unions has divided Amherst, Massachusetts.

Save this story

Save this story

Save this story

Save this story

Amherst, in western Massachusetts, is the nexus of four liberal-arts colleges and a major public university. It is home to about forty thousand people, including a fluctuating population of undergraduates and grad students. On its woodsy, winding residential streets, Black Lives Matter and “In This House . . .” signs sprout alongside native gardens of holly, bayberry, and mountain laurel. In the 2020 election, more than ninety per cent of the town’s voters went for Joe Biden.

A joke you hear a lot is that, in Amherst, only the “H” is silent. It’s a town known for raucous debate and lefty political infighting. Still, even by these disputatious standards, the arguments that have been carrying on around Amherst Regional Middle School, or ARMS, have been vociferous. How and when they started depends on whom you ask, but they broke into wider public view last May, when Amherst’s high-school newspaper, the Graphic, published a five-thousand-word article headlined “ ‘It’s Life or Death’: Failure to Protect Trans Kids at ARMS a Systemic Problem.” The piece anonymously quoted several trans and gender-nonconforming students, who recounted numerous incidents of bullying and harassment, harmful encounters with guidance counsellors, and fruitless complaints to administrators. Among the article’s striking details was that, at a prayer meeting at school, a guidance counsellor reportedly said, “In the name of Jesus, we bind that LGBTQ gay demon that wants to confuse our children.” (The counsellor later denied making this comment.) That same staffer, the piece alleged, handed out chocolate crucifixes to students.

The article was noticed by the mainstream press—the Boston Globe profiled the students who wrote it—and also by conservative outlets, a few of which implied that Christian educators were being persecuted. Meanwhile, in Amherst, an emergency school-committee meeting was held at the high-school library. By that point, the mother of a trans child at ARMS had formally requested a Title IX investigation into gender-based discrimination at the school, and the two counsellors who featured most prominently in the Graphic article had been placed on leave. But a number of those at the meeting—which attracted an overflow crowd of teachers, parents, and alumni—believed that more needed to be done. They called for an investigation of Michael Morris, the district’s superintendent, and for the resignation of Doreen Cunningham, the assistant superintendent who oversaw human resources for the district and was seen by many as a close ally of the controversial guidance counsellors. Members of the Amherst teachers’ union told the room that they had approved a vote of no confidence against Morris, who had taken an emergency medical leave, and Cunningham.

An uncomfortable fact was that most of the concerned parents were white and the two counsellors under scrutiny were not: one of them, Hector Santos, is Latino, and the other, Delinda Dykes, is Black. Cunningham, who is Black, was the district’s head of diversity, equity, and H.R.; Morris, the superintendent, is white. At the school-committee meeting, which lasted nearly six hours, one of the few people who spoke in Cunningham’s defense was her son, who had worked at ARMS as a student-support specialist. “For a prime example of how women of color get treated in leadership positions,” he told the crowd, “I say look no further than Amherst public schools.” The troubles at ARMS, he insisted, were “not about the L.G.B.T.Q.+ situation,” but, rather, the product of an unusually combative teachers’ union and ordinary racism.

In truth, the crisis was a collision of multiple issues: racial tension, union power, the respectful treatment of queer and trans kids, and the place of religion in schools—not to mention the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and what it has done to the fabric of civic life in the U.S. The public schools in Amherst were slow to return to pre-pandemic normalcy; they reopened for a mix of in-person and remote learning in April, 2021, only after they were forced to by the state of Massachusetts. “We had physicians, psychiatrists, social workers, and parents writing to us in despair about the impact that remote learning was having on the emotional and mental health of the children in our community,” Allison Bleyler McDonald, a former school-committee member, told me. Leaders of the Amherst teachers’ union “refused to even speak to us about the possibility of opening up schools and classrooms,” she said.

Talking to people in town, one gets the sense that the discord of that period has never fully gone away. “Things really ramped up with COVID,” Ben Herrington, who is also a former member of the school committee, told me. “The language changed. People became comfortable with being blatantly hostile. We were no longer having normal conversations.” Several people told me about an incident from the fall of 2021, when the school committee approved a policy that would have allowed some unvaccinated staffers into school provided that they wore masks. In response, McDonald said, the union’s president at the time, Lamikco Magee, “accused us of wanting to inflict genocide on teachers.” (Magee denies invoking genocide.)

The ongoing fight in Amherst seems to press against every bruise that public schools have sustained in recent years, and the continued fallout—multiple investigations, resignations, a persistent leadership vacuum in the schools—doesn’t inspire confidence in our collective capacity to work through the inevitable frictions of a pluralistic society. Even in a liberal and largely affluent district, certain conflicts and tensions have come to feel irresolvable. As one person I spoke to in town told me, “The left is eating its own all over the country—it’s not just Amherst.”

Another joke you hear, albeit less often, is that Amherst has more Black Lives Matter signs than Black people. Just over twelve per cent of the city’s residents are Black or Hispanic; about seventy per cent are white, and roughly thirteen per cent are Asian. But the public-school district is more racially diverse than the wider community—about a quarter of students are Black or Hispanic—in part because of the number of white and Asian families that opt for private or charter schools. Herrington, the former school-committee member, who is Black and has a son at the high school, told me, “Amherst is a town that loves to bill itself as being a woketopia. We have this Berkeley East persona that we put out. We aren’t really like that, though.”

Thirty years ago, the N.A.A.C.P. filed a federal lawsuit against the district over its academic-tracking program, which assigned a disproportionate number of kids of color to the lowest tiers. More recently, the district reached a six-figure settlement with a Black math teacher at the high school who, in 2014, was a target of racist graffiti. In the midst of that controversy, Michael Morris became assistant superintendent under Maria Geryk, a white woman. (During a June, 2014, meeting of the school committee, as the members were formally approving Morris’s appointment, a group of protesters began singing “We Shall Overcome,” forcing the meeting to adjourn.) Later, Geryk issued a stay-away order to a Black mother; this parent had been in frequent contact with staffers about her child, who was having difficulties at school. Geryk was roundly criticized for the decision, and ultimately stepped down. Morris replaced her. It was “a ridiculously volatile situation,” Herrington told me. “So, when Mike came in, it was like he had to do something.”

Morris introduced a new administrative position, assistant superintendent of diversity, equity, and human resources. In recent years, D.E.I. has become a target of right-wing ire, with multiple states, including Texas and Florida, passing legislation to restrict D.E.I. initiatives in public colleges and universities. But, for Morris, improving racial diversity among Amherst faculty was “a civil-rights issue for our kids,” he said in 2017, citing research that showed, for example, that Black students who have Black teachers perform better on standardized tests and are more likely to enroll in college. That year, he selected Cunningham, then an assistant principal in Connecticut, for the job. “There was a lot of racism in the district,” Cunningham told me recently. “And I came, and a lot of people of color started to feel safe, not because they thought that I would not hold them accountable but because they knew that somebody would hopefully understand where they were coming from.”

Under Cunningham, Amherst instituted a two-step hiring process, intended to root out implicit bias: one committee chose candidates and another asked the applicants a uniform set of questions. The interviewers did not see the applicants’ résumés ahead of time and were largely kept from talking to one another about the candidates. Cunningham told me that she “trained everyone—anyone who was going to be part of the committees was trained to look at their bias.” But multiple district employees told me that Cunningham often screened the candidates herself and made final decisions, even overruling principals at times. She denied this: “I’m not the one who hired anyone.”

By 2023, the percentage of staffers of color in the Amherst district had grown from twenty per cent to thirty-four per cent. But many of the new hires were paraprofessionals—low-paid, hourly employees who provide support to certified, full-time faculty. Kerrita K. Mayfield, who leads the science department at ARMS, described the push for diversity as more performance than reality. Mayfield recalled an incident with Dykes, the guidance counsellor, who was perceived as being close with Cunningham: one day, when Mayfield was in the middle of teaching a class, Dykes burst in unannounced and presented her with a wooden plaque honoring her as the first Black science teacher in the district. “It was this weird ceremonial moment,” Mayfield told me. “My students were, like, ‘What’s going on?’ I’m, like, ‘Hell if I know, children.’ ”

Mayfield received other prizes, too: she recalled a “Sister Girl” plaque and a “Black Faculty Award of Excellence.” “I am a prop to support the numbers that Doreen is putting forth that I know are bullshit,” she told me, “because there’s no distinction between faculty and paraprofessionals, some of whom are Doreen and Delinda’s relatives.”

There were other idiosyncrasies in Cunningham’s comportment as assistant superintendent. The reporters at the high-school newspaper revealed that she was the manager or resident agent of multiple L.L.C.s, including an H.R.-consulting firm whose clients included two local private schools. “You can’t have a private H.R. business and run H.R. for the district,” Magee, the former union president, said. “But apparently she could.” Cunningham is also registered as a broker with PFS Investments, the securities division of Primerica, a multilevel-marketing company. Early in her tenure, she approached colleagues about purchasing Primerica insurance, including Mayfield, who said that she was summoned to Cunningham’s office during the workday to discuss such an opportunity. (Cunningham denied the encounter with Mayfield. She also said that her contract permitted her to do certain work outside school hours and that she stopped approaching colleagues about Primerica when Morris asked her to do so.)

Farah Ameen, a parent in the district, said that the staffing problems reflected deeper issues with the diversity efforts in the Amherst schools. “You would think, Oh, yes! We have a D.E.I. person!” she told me. “And then, Oh, but not many people are excited about this D.E.I. person. It was almost, like, O.K., we put this woman in the D.E.I. spot, we’ve ticked off all our boxes.”

Cunningham acknowledged having tough, even uncomfortable conversations with colleagues about race and equity, and recalled an incident in which at least one colleague became upset because Cunningham had recommended that they read the book “White Fragility.” “It became ‘Doreen is a scary Black woman, I’m afraid of Doreen,’ ” Cunningham said, when, in fact, she was the one who felt intimidated. She alleged that she was physically menaced by a staffer who opposed her leadership and told me, “There was a point where someone put urine in my drinking cup.” (She declined to elaborate on either of these incidents.) Cunningham invoked Claudine Gay, the former Harvard president who, in January, resigned under pressure after just six months in the role. “There’s a lot that’s been shared lately about Black women in leadership roles,” Cunningham said. “People don’t want them there.” Cunningham, who now uses the last name Reyes, was placed on leave in May, and her employment was terminated in October. She has filed a discrimination complaint against the district.

Dykes and Santos, the counsellors who were placed on leave, were among the staffers of color hired under Cunningham. (Neither could be reached for comment.) Colleagues often saw the two socializing in Cunningham’s office and elsewhere on campus—the district’s administrative offices are housed at the middle school—but Cunningham disputed the suggestion that she was especially close to either counsellor. “I knew them from work,” she told me. Dykes took her position at ARMS shortly before the 2021-22 school year began. Six weeks later, she sent Cunningham an e-mail from her work account which read, in part, “I believe that the Lord is using you. You are a bold leader, smart and strong. I pray that the Lord gives you a fresh anointing.”

Many people I spoke to alleged that both Dykes and Santos brought religion into the school. Dykes told colleagues and students that she would pray for them or, if they were facing some dilemma, ask if they had prayed on it. According to the Title IX investigation, Santos brought up the Bible and Jesus when speaking with students. The article in the Graphic noted a cartoon that Santos had shared on Facebook, showing a hand with stigmata protecting two children from a downpour of rainbow-colored paint, along with text, in Spanish, that read, “If my 4-year-old son tells me that he wants to dress up as a princess, I will tell him no, because he was born a boy and boys are princes.” Often, the counsellors did not call gender-nonconforming students by their preferred pronouns. (Both Dykes and Santos have said that they previously worked with trans and other L.G.B.T.Q.+ students without issue. Santos said that some of the misgendering could be attributed to his status as a Spanish speaker; Dykes said that she never intentionally misgendered a student. Santos also denied bringing up the Bible, discussing religion, or praying with students.)

In Dykes’s first semester at ARMS, one of the students she oversaw was a trans child in the seventh grade, whom I will call Jo. That year, Jo said, boys would bark at them, make lewd gestures, and use homophobic and transphobic slurs, and adults rarely intervened. Early in the school year, Jo’s mother spoke on the phone with Dykes about some of the bullying and harassment that Jo was experiencing. After the call, Dykes recapped the conversation for colleagues in an e-mail: “I shared with mom that ARMS is a SafeHaven for All. I explained to mom that our teachers address homophobic and racial slurs.” A colleague pointed out that Dykes had repeatedly misgendered Jo in her e-mail, to which Dykes replied, “Note it also please understand that it will take some folks like me a little while to get it right it does not mean that I am trying to disrespect the child or his or her they were them their identity.” She appended three large emoji hearts to the message.

Dykes’s sincerity in trying to “get it right” on behalf of trans kids would ultimately come into serious doubt. But there were other regrettable incidents in which the culprit may have been simple human error and the ordinary bureaucratic disarray of any sizable public school. Jo changed their name twice in middle school, and the district was slow to correct their name in its databases. As a result, Jo’s mother said, Jo “spent most class periods that had substitute teachers in the Student Support Center, because they could not deal with the constant misgendering and deadnaming.” When a substitute teacher mistakenly used the wrong name and pronouns for another nonbinary student, whom I’ll call Casey, the student’s mother wrote to staffers, “I want to make sure they are not exposed to the teacher . . . again in any setting.” The sub was assigned to Casey’s class at least twice more in later months. This, Casey’s mother wrote, “caused frequent panic attacks and missed school time.”

Jo and their mother continued to report incidents of alleged bullying and harassment to various staffers at ARMS. Although one boy received a suspension, Jo and their mother were dismayed that the school did not mete out more consequences. Like many other progressive school districts, Amherst uses restorative-justice practices, which prioritize mediation and reconciliation over punishment, as part of an effort to redress racial disparities in the disciplinary process. “What’s unique about Amherst is that there are racial and class dynamics that layer on top of the gender dynamics, and those have certain demographic tendencies,” a longtime administrator in Amherst told me. Jo and Casey are white; the boys accused of bullying them and other trans students at ARMS were mostly Black and Latino.

The restorative-justice circles were fraught not only with accusations of harm but, often, with significant cultural divides. I spoke with several people who offered sharply differing accounts of a restorative circle involving Casey and a Latino student from a conservative religious family who, during a classroom discussion, told Casey that he believed there are only two genders. Casey also reported that this student, among others, continually bullied and harassed them. Later, Casey’s father wrote to staffers, “At this time, I would state that it is my desire for this student to have ZERO contact with [Casey], period. Change his class, change his school, send him to Mars; I don’t care.” The longtime administrator told me that this mind-set was fairly common among parents: “When anything happens, they immediately say, ‘They must be suspended,’ or ‘I don’t want my kid to ever see that kid again.’ ” This kind of demand, understandable on an emotional level, is not only logistically impossible for a school to meet; it also appears to assume that children who are accused of misconduct do not have the same rights as other kids to education and due process.

“I’m not saying that some of these students don’t cause problems,” an ARMS staff member said, of the kids who were frequently disciplined at the school, “but they are the ones who face the most social ills in society. They’re the ones with a single mom working two jobs. They’re taking care of their younger siblings.” Herrington described a divide between families as, on one side, kids who live in spacious single-family homes, and, on the other, kids who live in apartment complexes, many of whom use Section 8 vouchers. “The kids from the apartments—they’re those kids, whether people will say it that way or not,” Herrington said.

At the same time, it would be unfair to expect temperance from any parent who believes that their kid is being bullied and harassed, especially if the child is queer or trans. In a 2023 survey by the Trevor Project, about half of trans and nonbinary youth said that they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, and L.G.B.T.Q.+ kids who reported being physically threatened or harmed because of their gender identity were three times as likely to attempt suicide.

For Jo’s family, the stakes were terrifyingly high. Jo has sensory-integration challenges and has also been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, all of which were exacerbated by the middle-school environment. The school nurse let Jo use her office during the day whenever they needed to decompress and play Terraria on their phone. Sometimes, Jo visited Letha Gayle-Brissett, the school’s climate-and-culture coördinator, a role that focusses on social-emotional learning and disciplinary interventions. Gayle-Brissett put a beanbag chair in her office just for Jo, and would lower the lights and provide snacks whenever they dropped by. A few months into eighth grade, Jo was hospitalized for depression and suicidal ideation, and later withdrew from ARMS. Eventually, Jo’s mother filed the request for a Title IX investigation.

“This situation has brought me a lot of personal and professional pain, to think about what kids experienced,” Michael Morris, the former Amherst superintendent, told me recently, referring to Jo and other trans students at ARMS. “It’s unfortunate that these situations weren’t reported to me sooner.” In the summer of 2023, Morris returned from medical leave and reached a separation agreement with the school committee, which included severance pay and a statement clarifying that he was not leaving the district because of wrongdoing. He would say little on the record, owing to the terms of that agreement and any pending litigation against the district. His reticence, he said, was also due to the fact that he still lives in Amherst and has two children enrolled in local schools, one of whom has special needs.

The Title IX investigation requested by Jo’s mother was completed in the fall. In November, a redacted version of its findings was made public. According to the investigator, Dykes and Santos “engaged in severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive unwelcome conduct.” Students and staffers told the investigator that Dykes and Santos had made homophobic and transphobic comments. Dykes also allegedly told colleagues that one teacher was “practicing seances and witchcraft right in this school.” (Dykes denied making this charge against her colleague, adding, “If she practices witchcraft, that’s her prerogative.”) The investigation suggested that Cunningham was involved in the creation of a flyer, which circulated at the May school-committee hearing, accusing ARMS teachers of witchery and other transgressions. (Cunningham denied this.) After Martha Toro, a retired Amherst teacher, published an open letter critical of the hiring process instituted under Cunningham, Dykes, according to multiple sources, said that Toro was attempting to start a “race war.” (Dykes denied this.)

According to the investigation, Cunningham frequently accused colleagues of racism and, at least once, engaged in retaliation against an employee who had made a complaint against Dykes. Cunningham insisted to me that this finding was “totally inaccurate,” and that she objected to being implicated at all. “I didn’t work with kids,” she said. “Why am I involved in a Title IX investigation?”

The investigation described a “culture of fear and intimidation” at ARMS. Some staffers were frightened into silence by a “fear of being labeled a racist.” Mayfield agreed with this assessment. “The worst thing you can be called in Amherst is racist, and it keeps people stuck,” she told me. “That is what kept Doreen, Delinda, and Hector in their positions much longer than they should have been.” Almost everyone I spoke to believed that Morris failed to confront the problems at ARMS sooner out of precisely this fear. “The sense I got was that, once Mike realized that he didn’t have the right person”—meaning Cunningham—“he didn’t want to be perceived as being racist for dealing with her or having her removed,” Ben Herrington said, “which, if we’re being honest, is actually kind of a racist viewpoint.” I asked Morris about the impression that he didn’t address concerns about Cunningham because he didn’t want to be seen as racist. “There have been people of all races in the district who have been affected by my decisions as superintendent,” he told me. “That’s probably the best I can say.”

Cunningham and her advocates believe that she lost her job in large part because she is a Black woman; her detractors believe that she kept it as long as she did for the same reason. Both of these things may be true, and neither is fair. Even some of Cunningham’s harshest critics see a double standard between her trajectory and that of her boss, Morris, who quickly got a new job, in H.R., in a nearby district. (“The buck stops with Mike,” Cunningham noted.)

The Amherst district has often lacked consistent leadership, and nowhere was that more evident than at ARMS. Late in 2022, the principal at the time, Diego Sharon, had been in and out on family and medical leaves; Morris appointed Delinda Dykes to fill in, but she lasted less than six weeks, after parents complained that she had summoned a dozen or more students to the principal’s office for being boisterous in the cafeteria. Two finalists for the job eventually withdrew their applications, and Morris slotted the high-school principal, Talib Sadiq, into the role. The middle and high schools sit across the street from each other; Sadiq still oversees both, walking back and forth between them in the course of the school day.

Lamikco Magee, the former union president, who is the dean of students at ARMS, also applied for the position of principal, but did not make it to the finalists’ round, and was not considered after the finalists withdrew. “They didn’t want to hire me because I’m a straight shooter when it comes to what I think is right and not right,” Magee, who is Black, said. “But they were concerned about the optics, so they take the Black guy from the high school and make him principal over both buildings. Who in their right mind gives a principal two buildings?” (Morris said that there was relatively recent precedent for a principal overseeing both schools and that Sadiq had the broad support of staff and families in the role; Sadiq did not respond to requests for an interview.)

“We go through middle-school principals like Spinal Tap drummers,” Peter Demling, a former member of the school committee, told me. Several people in Amherst said that leadership at ARMS is set up to fail, owing to what they describe as a small, antagonistic faction of staffers who reflexively oppose the administration. “They have sabotaged every principal who has come in for many years,” a veteran district employee said.

Many people in the Amherst district describe a community that has become habituated to outrage—addicted to conflict and reprisal. Here, as in so many pockets of America these days, conflict doesn’t seem to be part of a difficult journey toward resolution; rather, conflict often appears to be the entire point. “Town politics have gotten very ugly,” Farah Ameen, the local parent, told me. “People are attacked. Their families are attacked.”

Shortly after Morris left his position, at the end of August, Demling, Herrington, and McDonald resigned from the school committee. All three cited personal attacks, including accusations of racism, homophobia, and transphobia, as reasons for their departures. Demling’s letter of resignation decried “an unchecked atmosphere of bullying, harassment and intimidation” in Amherst public life, fostered in part, in his view, by union leadership. (Magee responded, “I feel that we did everything that we could to try to support the school committee to meet our same goal: meet the needs of students and staff.”) Bullying and insults “leave a mark; marks that sometimes don’t go completely away,” Demling wrote. “Call me overly sensitive if you wish, but it’s the truth and I’m not ashamed to admit it.”

On a drizzly morning in late fall, I visited ARMS, where the hallways are as scuffed up and rowdy as you’d expect in any public middle school. The first classroom door I passed had a sign featuring a vertical rainbow flag. “I am a safe person,” it read. “If you are LGBTQ+ Black Brown Asian Any race Coming out Anything I am always a safe person and will hold space for you.” There were also posters for a club called People Opposed to Sexual Harassment, or POSH, and for Neurodiversity Month. When I lost my way in search of a restroom, two older women, hovering benevolently in the cafeteria doorway, turned me in the right direction, whereupon I passed a rangy para as he high-fived a student.

Even though most of the staffers and students at the center of the Title IX investigation are no longer connected to ARMS, the turbulence at the school has not abated. Recently, the district filed reports of alleged child abuse and neglect with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families against six educators at ARMS, a number that a union member has said was “highly unusual.” All of the reports were determined to be unworthy of further investigation by the D.C.F., but, among the accused teachers, one was fired and another resigned.

Meanwhile, members of POSH, the anti-sexual-harassment club, brought complaints that one of their teachers was commenting inappropriately in class about students’ race, weight, and clothing. A district investigation found that the claims were unsubstantiated; the teacher, who is Black, filed a formal complaint against the club’s faculty adviser, who is white, alleging that she “used her power as the Advisor of POSH to commit racist and sexist attacks on me.” The adviser was briefly placed on paid leave, then moved to a new role at the high school. In January, members of the union filed a grievance asking, among other things, that POSH stop meeting; they also proposed “appropriate consequences and further education for students who have engaged in bullying of staff.”

Letha Gayle-Brissett, the school’s culture-and-climate coördinator, who used to have snacks ready for Jo whenever they stopped by, agreed, at the end of 2023, to serve as the interim principal at ARMS. But, at a school-committee meeting in January, a former ARMS student, who is trans and biracial, and the student’s mother, who is white, spoke in opposition to her appointment. They raised objections to how Gayle-Brissett, who is Black, had addressed incidents of anti-trans bullying and harassment at ARMS through restorative-justice circles that, the student’s mother said, “placed him in rooms with the bullying students.” It also emerged that Casey’s parents had filed a Title IX complaint, which dealt, in part, with an upsetting restorative circle that Gayle-Brissett had facilitated more than two years earlier. Jo’s mother sent a letter to Gayle-Brissett and the school committee, stating that she considered Jo’s participation in restorative justice as one of their “most damaging experiences at ARMS.” (Jo’s mother had participated in restorative-justice circles in the past, and had not lodged complaints with Gayle-Brissett at the time.)

Past and present ARMS staffers told me that they were taken aback by the accusations against Gayle-Brissett, who has a doctorate in education and is widely viewed by her colleagues as efficient, empathetic, and highly engaged with students. In the exhaustive Title IX investigation, her name scarcely came up at all.

At the January school-committee meeting, Gayle-Brissett refuted the allegations about the restorative-justice circles, and suggested that the criticisms of her work were racially motivated. “There have been whispers that some members in the middle-school community are intent on removing people of color, especially Black people, from leadership positions,” she said, adding that, in her view, a “very important social-justice issue for our time—that is, inclusion and justice for our L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community—is being weaponized.” A high-school staffer who spoke in support of Gayle-Brissett was more blunt: “Amherst is racist, the staff is racist, and there’s a target on the back of Black people in the district.” In the end, Gayle-Brissett decided not to take the job after all. ♦