Amherst plans response to sexual assault on campus

In the wake of the publication of a former Amherst student’s account of her rape and the administration’s handling of the case in The Amherst Student on Oct. 17, the Amherst administration, community and campus have continued to respond and address issues of sexual assault on campus (“Account of Amherst sexual assault questions colleges’ reporting policies,” Oct. 24).

The op-ed and its fallout at Amherst have attracted national attention; a piece on the subject ran in The New York Times on Oct. 26.

The administration canceled classes last Friday “to facilitate a discussion between students, faculty, staff and possibly even trustees” on issues of sexual assault on campus, according to an article published in the Oct. 31 issue of The Amherst Student.

Following meetings with students, the Board of Trustees and members of the administration over the past few weeks, President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin announced on Oct. 27 that Amherst would close its offices and suspend classes for the day on Nov. 2. The cancellation of classes came after students urged Martin to create such a space for all-campus discussion on questions of sexual assault within the Amherst community.

According to The Student, Amherst last held such a one-day moratorium in 1968 to discuss racial equality.

Immediately following the publication of the op-ed, members of Amherst’s student body had met with the Amherst Board of Trustees to address how the community would move forward on issues of sexual assault. Last week, Martin, who promised swift change on the Amherst campus in her communications to students earlier in October, allowed for the appointment of students to Amherst’s Title IX committee, which addresses questions of compliance with federal funding legislation that requires any institution that receives such funding not to discriminate on the basis of sex.

Last week, Martin also created the Special Oversight Committee on Sexual Misconduct. According to The Student, the committee will examine and offer suggestions to improve Amherst’s policies surrounding sexual assault and will seek “to improve the College’s efforts to prevent and adjudicate sexual assault on campus.” In January of 2013, the committee will present proposals to Amherst’s Board of Trustees in five general areas that include campus environment and culture, resources for survivors, education about sexual respect and behavior, recent instances of sexual misconduct at Amherst and similar schools and recommendations for Title IX compliance.

Amherst’s administrative response to the publication of the piece bears striking similarity to actions taken at the College following last November’s hate crime. Last fall, the College canceled classes and events for the day on Nov. 14 to reflect on and address issues surrounding racism at the College in light of the hate crime committed in Prospect Hall (“College confronts hate crime, unites in action,” Nov. 16).

While members of the College administration said they were not consulted on Amherst’s response to this particular issue, consistent communication between NESCAC deans and similar campus cultures may have given rise to the similarity in response.

“It’s most likely a recognition that it was time to take a deep breath and to bring these critical conversations together as a community as we did last year, rather than letting them spin in separate corners of campus,” Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass said.

While the response at Amherst is continually evolving, further steps as promised by Martin will include community discussion, action by the newly formed committees and an investigation into the allegations of misconduct made in the op-ed published in The Student.

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