Content warning: This article contains mentions of rape and sexual assault.
I’m a survivor of sexual assault on this campus and Amherst College has failed me. It will continue to fail others if it does not change.
In 2012, Amherst underwent a self-review of sexual misconduct on campus. In the wake of a former student’s terrifying testimony of her experience of being raped on campus, alongside many similar stories, Amherst was forced to reckon with the reality that their bright and shining institution was infected with rape culture, in both its administration and community. Amherst hired a full time Title IX coordinator, brought on a full time head of sexual respect education, and expanded student resources like the Women’s and Gender Center in a bid to end sexual misconduct on campus and win back the trust of the student body.
The accounts of on-campus sexual violence relayed on @amherstshareyourstory stand as proof that Amherst has not done enough.
In 2022, Amherst is again under review for widespread sexual misconduct. The college has brought in outside investigators to examine why survivors in the Amherst community hesitate to report their experiences. The administration seems to view the Title IX office as the ultimate fix to a campus-wide, systemic issue. But this focus is precisely why, a decade after the initial review, we still find ourselves on a deeply unsafe campus. Amherst’s overreliance on the Title IX process ignores the nuanced needs of survivors and perpetuates the rape culture ever-present in the day-to-day life of every student.
In my first year at Amherst, I was assaulted by someone whom I considered a friend. Amid the trauma of the incident and the uncertainty of being sent home due to the rise of Covid-19, I did not report it. When I revealed to other friends what had happened, the judgemental reaction from people that I trusted caused self-doubt to creep in. After all, who was I to cause drama in the friend group and tarnish my assaulter’s reputation over something that I was being told wasn’t a big deal? I had to cope not only with the physical violence of the incident, but also the following emotional violence of being treated like my experience was worthless. Undergoing months of investigation and hearings with the Title IX office while having to see my assaulter was an impossibility for me. No amount of help from the Title IX office could have helped anyway because it would have been powerless to fix my torn friendships or make me feel safe in Val. Title IX cannot address the real issue survivors face: the school-wide culture that allowed the assault and the victim-blaming that followed to occur.
Unfortunately, my experiences are not unique. The college's administration must do a better job to support the majority of student survivors for whom the Title IX office is not the answer. While Amherst may claim to offer plentiful resources outside of Title IX, there are currently only three on campus resources recommended to survivors: the Health Center, the Counseling Center, and the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. The most important of these for survivors is the Counseling Center; however, due to understaffing, it can take upwards of two weeks to get an appointment. There are emergency appointments available, but the stated criteria of fear of imminent suicide or harm by others as a requisite is highly intimidating.
On campus right now, there are known perpetrators of sexual misconduct in leadership positions, playing on sports teams, and on track to graduate with a spotless record. Meanwhile, survivors are forced to deal with the real social consequences of coming forward with allegations. At Amherst, an institution that has deep cultural divides between legacy and FLI students, between athletes and non-athletes, and across gendered and racial boundaries, perpetrators' sense of superiority and entitlement to the bodies of others in our community is affirmed and perpetuated. This issue could be alleviated with formal sexual respect education, but despite the hard work of our SHEs and PAs, the voluntary nature of workshops almost always means they end up preaching to the choir. Because of this, most students' only time receiving such instruction is during orientation, an event often skipped by first years and long-forgotten by upperclassmen. This is not enough. As a male survivor, it became very apparent to me that many of my peers' limited education focused only on cases with a male perpetrator and female victim. I now realize that the victim blaming I received came not from a place of malice, but from ignorance and a college that does not push students to understand the complexities of sexual violence.
So what can we do to start a cultural change and shape this campus into a place where people feel safe? First of all, the college needs to shift iaway from an exclusive focus on Title IX, which does not represent the needs of many students, and improve the other resources available to survivors, including the Counseling Center. A lack of support fosters a community where survivors are silent and violence continues to reign. Additionally, the college needs to make sexual respect education a core part of its curriculum. However, it would be disingenuous to say that the administration holds all the blame for the current state of affairs. We as a campus community also need to do a better job of supporting survivors and holding perpetrators accountable. A dramatic shift away from a culture that permits sexual violence, engages in victim-blaming, and welcomes assaulters with open arms requires an active effort from all students, not just those who have been involved with such behavior.
A decade of inaction has caused irreversible harm to a countless number of members of our community. We need to do better.