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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Author Colson Whitehead Withdraws as UMass Amherst Commencement Speaker

Acclaimed author Colson Whitehead announced his decision on Thursday to withdraw as the commencement speaker at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, scheduled for May 18. This abrupt change came in response to the administration’s controversial decision to involve law enforcement in handling campus protesters.

Representatives for Whitehead, including Michael Goldsmith, confirmed his decision and indicated that the author would not be providing further comments on the matter. Consequently, the university announced that the commencement ceremony would proceed without a keynote speaker.

The events leading to Whitehead’s withdrawal stemmed from a recent incident where approximately 130 individuals were arrested on Tuesday night at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The arrests occurred after pro-Palestinian demonstrators refused to dismantle their encampments on campus.

Colson Whitehead’s literary accomplishments precede him, with notable works such as “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys,” both of which earned him the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 2020 and 2017, respectively. His versatility as a writer is evident in his ability to traverse various genres, from the coming-of-age narrative of “Sag Harbor” to the post-apocalyptic setting of “Zone One” and the historical fiction of “The Underground Railroad.”

Whitehead’s withdrawal serves as a poignant reminder of the power of individual conscience and the importance of standing up for one’s beliefs, even in the face of institutional pressure. It underscores the broader societal conversations surrounding the use of police force and the rights of peaceful protesters, issues that continue to reverberate across college campuses and beyond.

As the University of Massachusetts Amherst moves forward with its commencement proceedings sans a keynote speaker, Whitehead’s decision prompts reflection on the intersection of literature, activism, and academic discourse. While his absence may be felt at the ceremony, his principled stance amplifies the voices of those advocating for social justice and underscores the ongoing need for dialogue and action in addressing pressing societal issues.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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