Over Interterm, members of the community learned that a student has been expelled for committing sexual assault, marking the first time in over a decade that Amherst College has expelled a perpetrator of sexual assault. Dean of Students Jim Larimore and Title IX Coordinator Laurie Frankl announced the expulsion in an e-mail that also highlighted recent changes to the College’s sexual misconduct policy.
The notification came a week before President Obama announced the creation of a task force to combat sexual assault on college campuses and drew attention to a White House report that found almost 1 in 5 women in the U.S. have been sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Obama’s announcement caused another flurry of national media attention for the College, which has been in the news ever since former student Angie Epifano accused Amherst of mishandling her report of sexual assault. Epifano and another former student filed a federal complaint against the College in November.
Some student activists have expressed cautious optimism that the expulsion and recent policy changes are signs that the College has become more serious in its efforts to combat sexual assault.
“This is a clear step in the right direction,” said Dana Bolger ‘14E, a prominent advocate of sexual respect during her time at Amherst. Bolger is a co-founder of Know Your IX, an organization that aims to combat sexual misconduct by informing college students about their Title IX rights.
However, Bolger also expressed her disappointment that it had been so long since Amherst had expelled a student who committed sexual assault.
“I can’t help but think of all the perpetrators who will be crossing the stage at graduation this May while their victims do not — literally driven out of the school by the institution’s fundamental failure to remove their rapists from campus,” she said.
The expulsion is the first under a newly revised sexual misconduct policy that was put in place during the spring of 2013. Under the new policy, a sexual misconduct complaint is initiated when the victim fills out a complaint form and submits it to the Dean of Student Conduct, Susie Mitton Shannon. Afterwards, the complainant may choose a college advisor to give support throughout the complaint process. Both the complainant and the alleged perpetrator (known as the respondent) are informed of their rights and of the rules of the process.
Before the hearing, the Dean of Student Conduct will determine whether there is any appropriate action to be taken in the interim, such as a no contact order or even a temporary suspension of the respondent. The case will then be investigated by a person determined by the Dean of Student Conduct. In many cases the complaint will next go before a hearing board made up of three people from the community who are not staff, faculty or students of the College. The complaint that resulted in the recent expulsion went before a hearing board in December.
The revised complaint policy is just one of many measures the College has undertaken to fight sexual assault ever since Epifano’s case gained publicity. The decision to notify the community of the expulsion is another recent change.
“It is now Amherst College’s practice to notify the community when a student has been expelled for committing sexual violence,” Larimore and Frankl said in their e-mail. “In addition to notices concerning expulsion, the Dean of Students Office and the Title IX Coordinator will produce an annual report to provide transparency about the resolution of cases that involve sexual misconduct.”
Frankl said she is still working with the Dean of Students Office to determine what the exact contents of the report will be.
“At a minimum it will contain data on the number of cases reported to the Title IX team and the number of cases that utilized the Student Conduct Process,” Frankl said.
Since May 2013, when the new policy went into place, the College has received 14 reports of sexual misconduct. According to Frankl, the College uses the term sexual misconduct to refer to “a variety of behaviors such as verbal, nonverbal or physical sexual aggression, intimidation, sexual harassment, sexual violence, sexual exploitation, stalking and hostility based on sex or sex-stereotyping.”
Since she became Amherst’s new Title IX Coordinator in December, Frankl has been working on a variety of initiatives to create a culture of sexual respect.
“Right now, I am focused on three primary areas: compliance, education and student engagement,” she said.
Part of Frankl’s work on compliance includes making sure that the College adheres to the terms of the Clery Act and the Violence Against Women Act and holding Title IX trainings for employees. Frankl is also currently attending a training for Title IX Coordinators in New Orleans. Additionally, she and Dean Mitton Shannon are working together to review the hearing process for sexual misconduct.
In terms of education initiatives, Frankl said she is also helping to educate the community by helping to create poster and web pages that provide information about Title IX. Since December, posters with information about sexual misconduct and Title IX have already begun to appear in dorms and bathrooms.
In addition, Frankl complimented the work of Sexual Respect Educator Amanda Collings Vann, who is leading bystander intervention trainings and helping with education initiatives on a variety of sexual respect issues.
In the area of student engagement, Frankl described the efforts of several students who have reached out to her since she began her new job.
“We are working with two seniors on their idea to form a Title IX Review Committee comprised of students, faculty and administrators,” she said. “The group would act as a kind of oversight committee that looks closely at Title IX policy, procedure and implementation on campus, recommends changes and issues reports about the Title IX work on campus. We are also working with another student on her idea to create an information card of Title IX rights to all persons who disclose sexual misconduct to mandatory reporters.”
For her part, Bolger said that she hopes that in the future, Amherst will devote more attention to stalking, same-sex violence, and violence within relationships, issues she said are “too often brushed aside at Amherst.” However, she heralded the College’s recent actions as a positive start.
“This is a modest victory for student advocates who have been demanding basic transparency for so long,” Bolger said. “I hope that the student body does its part to critically assess the information provided and to hold the college accountable for any continued failure to ensure safety and equality on campus.”