Editorial | Takeaways from Amherst sexual assault
Published: Monday, October 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 22, 2012 07:10
Last Wednesday, The Amherst Student ran a firsthand account of former Amherst College student Angie Epifano’s experience with sexual assault. The piece, in which Epifano describes her rape by a male student and the Amherst’s administration’s subsequent failures in dealing with her case, has prompted others, including one Tufts student, to share similar stories.
There are many important takeaways from Epifano’s ordeal, the most important of which the anonymous Tufts student highlighted in her Friday submission to In the ’Cac, website centered on schools in the NESCAC, aptly titled “#ItHappensHere.”
Epifano’s article recounts the ways she feels the Amherst administration mistreated her as a victim of sexual assault. In many instances, Epifano said, the administration actually worked against her when she sought help through the channels they provided. She claims she was denied a change of residency to a different dorm, told not to press charges and was advised to “forgive and forget.” The story goes on to say that after making suicidal remarks during a session at the school’s counseling center, Epifano was sent to a psychiatric ward, from which she was only reluctantly re−admitted to campus. When she did return, she was barred from studying abroad and from participating in certain potentially “traumatizing” programs and studies on− and off−campus. All of this occurred while Amherst allowed the alleged rapist to continue to live on campus and, eventually, to graduate with honors, Epifano said.
According to a letter penned Thursday by Amherst president Carolyn “Biddy” Martin to the Amherst community, others have come forward to share similar stories with Amherst’s administration in the wake of Epifano’s story. And In the ’Cac, ran one anonymous Tufts student’s account of her own sexual assault on Tufts’ campus. Though Tufts’ sexual assault policy has seen changes over the past few years, including a re−interpretation of Title IX to prohibit sexual discrimination in cases of sexual violence and harassment, these measures were not enough to make the student feel safe in reporting her assault. In “#ItHappensHere,” she wrote, “I did not go to the administration because when I asked the counseling center what the process was of reporting an assault, I was told that I would have to go to therapy, maybe leave school for a bit and deal with the judiciary — made up of both students and faculty.”
Survivors of sexual assaults are understandably wary of confronting red tape on college campuses — the numbers are not in their favor. It’s one explanation as to why, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity, 95 percent of rapes on college campus go unreported to an official. Meanwhile, a 2010 Boston Globe investigative report of Massachusetts schools that included Salem State College, MIT, Northeastern, Tufts and Amherst from 2003−2008 revealed Justice Department documents of 240 reported cases of sexual assault. Out of those 240 reported cases, only four students were expelled from their respective institutions, according to the Globe’s report.
Sexual assaults are undeniably widespread on college campuses, and active support and investigation must trump any administration’s concern with its reputation. According to Epifano’s frightening firsthand account, the Amherst administration’s fear of outside perception preceded the school’s concern over helping a student recover. It is our hope that Epifano’s and the anonymous Tufts student’s stories have resonated with Tufts’ community and its administration, and that, going forward, our school will do everything in its power to make victims of sexual assault feel comfortable seeking help and justice.