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Amherst College suspends men’s lacrosse team, terminates coach in connection with racial incident

Students walked on the campus of Amherst College in January 2015.
Students walked on the campus of Amherst College in January 2015.The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Amherst College has placed its men’s lacrosse team on probation through the 2021 season and terminated coach Jon Thompson following what the school said was a racial incident involving members of the team.

A letter sent Friday to students, faculty, and staff — jointly signed by Amherst College president Biddy Martin, provost and dean of the faculty Catherine Epstein, and director of athletics Don Faulstick — addressed the college’s investigation into an alleged incident “that occurred nearly two weeks ago [that] involved the use by some members of the lacrosse team of racist, harassing speech.”

According to the Amherst Student, the school’s newspaper, the alleged incident happened March 7 outside a player’s dormitory room on campus.

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The letter from the college noted that “a change in leadership for the lacrosse team will be necessary.” Caroline Hanna, director of media communications for Amherst College, confirmed Friday that Thompson is no longer employed by the college. Thompson was in his 10th season as men’s lacrosse head coach.

In the letter, the college also referenced other “deeply troubling cases” in the past involving members of the Amherst men’s lacrosse team.

“Those cases include sharing photos of a teammate with a swastika drawn on his face who had passed out at a party, and GroupMe exchanges denigrating and ridiculing gender-nonconforming and trans staff,” the letter said.

“What makes these matters worse is the failure of those involved to own up to their behavior and the failure of teammates to identify who was at fault. These failures have exacerbated the harm to those directly affected and to our broader community, including those alumni who experienced racism and other indignities while at Amherst.”

The letter continued: “A team culture that repeatedly violates standards of human decency and then protects those who have perpetuated these violations is not a culture acceptable at Amherst. Unfortunately, even these two incidents are not isolated. The team over recent years has been responsible for other violations, including vandalism in the dorms, overtaxing our custodial and facilities staff, and at times creating unsafe conditions.”

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As a result of its investigation into the alleged incident, the school announced it was placing the men’s lacrosse team on probation through June 30, 2021, and banning the team from any potential NCAA tournament play in the 2021 season. Amherst men’s lacrosse players will be required to complete an educational program in the fall, which will be created in consultation with the chief diversity and inclusion officer and the director of athletics; and the team is prohibited from engaging in formal team gatherings before Nov. 1, according to the college.

In addition, the letter said, “If any member of the men’s lacrosse team is found responsible under [the Amherst College] Student Code of Conduct for a violation related to: respect for persons [including, but not limited to, racism]; vandalism; or sexual misconduct, then the team’s entire Spring 2021 season may be canceled.”

The letter also noted that “[f]indings of individual responsibility for violating the Honor Code lie with the disciplinary process in the Office of Student Affairs. That process is underway. Federally mandated student privacy protections mean that those findings will not be shared.”

Amherst College played its final game of the 2020 season on March 10 against Endicott College, the same day the school announced it would be suspending all spring sports in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. A day later, the New England Small College Athletic Conference, of which Amherst College is a member, also canceled all spring sports.

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