Letter to the Editor
Issue   |   Wed, 02/20/2013 - 14:27

I was shocked and deeply offended by Professor Dumm’s article published in The Student last week under the title “Elephant in The Room.” I would like to take this opportunity first to debunk Dumm’s conspiracy theory with regard to the Sexual Misconduct Oversight Committee and then to discuss the effect of his statements about athletes. I will not respond in depth to the claims about athletes’ propensity to believe rape myth and perpetrate rape except to say that while the committee was aware of the studies he cited and was unimpressed by them. Many of them hearken back thirty years and refer primarily to Division I and II universities not Division III colleges like Amherst. Not only are many of them extremely poorly done, more recent studies tend not to replicate those findings. In short, I find that his statistical claims fall far short of the mark in their applicability to our campus.

I am addressing his points first and foremost as an Amherst College student. I write secondarily as a student representative both on the Sexual Misconduct Oversight Committee and on the Sexual Respect Task Force. Finally, I respond to Professor Dumm because I am a friend to many members of the campus community who were hurt by the misinformed theories and misplaced anger displayed in last week’s article.

Professor Dumm says that he does not presume to know the minds of the members of the committee. Yet, he goes on to suggest that we were addled and mesmerized by the big wallets of alumni and uninterested in creating a safer campus if it meant chastising athletics. Not only is this charge incredibly disrespectful to his colleagues and students who worked tirelessly on the report, but it is quite frankly detrimental to open dialogue when any position one disagrees with immediately becomes linked to a broader conspiracy. As a member of the committee, I can attest to the fact that alumni funds never once came up as a possible obstacle to finding the true perpetrators of rape culture nor was pressure of any kind brought to bear on our deliberations. I do not presume to know the mind of Professor Dumm as he wrote this article, but I only hope that he does not treat all policy proposals with that level of cynical abuse because I cannot imagine how that could contribute towards the betterment of our community.

In his article Professor Dumm decries the line in the report that stated our view that it is “counterproductive to indict any one demographic.” In response, he reiterates old claims that athletes, because they embody certain physical and social attributes commonly associated with masculinity, perpetrate rape with more frequency than other demographic groupings. As I know from personal experience, there are certainly athletes who assault and harass. The effect of this sexual disrespect can and often is compounded by the social reinforcement they receive from their friends and teammates. However, for every Jordan Johnson, there’s a Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Assault, unfortunately, is not limited to any one community or performance of masculinity. Instead, it is prevalent throughout many (I might say “all”) subcultures. The effect, therefore, of focusing on one, highly visible, community and using that as our cultural scapegoat is two-fold:

First, accusations like Professor Dumm’s enable us to lose sight of, and therefore deregulate, other communities. Yes, there have been assaults by members of athletic teams. However, there also have been reported cases of assault perpetrated by members of organizations that run the gamut from the debate team, to the theater program, to the a cappella groups, to the organic farming and sexual health communities. Not to mention, of course, the rape and harassment within the queer community. It was on behalf of the survivors of these assaults that I advocated for a broader perspective in my capacity as a member of the committee.

Any one culture (like Amherst) contains many subcultures. In each subculture exists a social hierarchy, with some member on top and others at the bottom. This hierarchical structure alone is conducive to creating environments of entitlement and competitive aggression. However, there is an interesting difference between non-athlete and athlete subcultures at Amherst. Unlike a varsity team, a non-athlete subculture doesn’t currently have access to the resources, education and community support that are probably needed to create intentional and respectful space for sexual interaction. The athletics department has spent much time, particularly in the past few years, examining ways to create holistic education and open dialogue about sexual respect for their coaching staff and members of their team. In contrast, the Marsh Arts House, of which I am a resident, has never once had programming around those issues and has only spoken to staff and faculty about banalities surrounding fire safety, as is true with most upperclassmen dorms. This was one of the major reasons we found it counterproductive to point an enraged finger at athletics and tell them that they are the problem with our community.

There is a second problem with demonizing 40 percent of the student population and treating them as either past or potential rapists. Simply put: when someone calls you a rapist, racist, bigot or general asshole, how interested do you become in working with that person, even if you agree with their cause? I would venture to guess that in solidly alienating an incredibly valuable potential ally, you make this campus angrier and less safe than by any count it need be. Dividing and assigning blame to people based on a set of stereotypes is plainly unhelpful. It’s unclear to me what Professor Dumm hoped to accomplish by taking this stand.

Finally, I would like to step back for a moment and consider Professor Dumm’s responsibilities as an Amherst College professor. I am a junior here, and I am incredibly grateful to all the professors who I have worked with and learned from since coming to Amherst. I respect my professors, both academically and in their dealings with me as a student and a whole person. I was so touched, last semester, when I saw many familiar names on the list of professors who were in favor of changes in the sexual assault policy and who felt moved by the campus’s crisis. When professors, including Dumm, spoke in open forums, I listened attentively. That being said, it was my understanding that part of the role of a professor is to educate us without prejudice. The demonization of athletes not only confused and hurt athletes (and others on campus) because of its inflammatory content, but because it came from the mouth of a professor, someone whose opinions we look towards to guide us as students, and not to blindly cut us down by playing on stereotypes.

80s Alum (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/21/2013 - 14:46

This may be the most interesting and informative of the many articles and commentary I see in the Student right now. Thank you for your even handed analysis, careful thought, and measured articulation of these issue. While I know you were deeply offended, I appreciate the general lack of personal attacks.

I am taking a message away from both your discussion here and the report, which is that your committee did identify a problem "subset", which was the male students near the top of the various hierarchies, whether they be debate team or tennis team, who had opportunities to prey particularly on incoming freshmen women, without regard to the particular hierarchy. Frankly, that sounds like a pretty good analysis to provide a basis for taking action, whether it is sterner enforcement action, additional policing of places where these opporutnities occur, or education (which seems to be the report's emphasis). I am curious as to why the report did not deal more intensively with policing issues, however, and with the issues of investigation and punishment. These are areas where I would like to see more discussion and resources focused in the future.

I think part of the issue, though, that leads people to look to find one "culture" or another to point fingers at, though, is the extent to which the data involved that you are looking at is closed and the extent to which we got the conclusions of the committee's research but not the details of that research. I was deeply concerned when I read on page 18 of the report, for example, that there was a conclusion that there was not a "statistically significant" difference because the 5% rape statistic for Amherst women and other similar satistics varied by "a couple of percent" from the norm - to me, that is a huge and very statistically significant difference. Likewise, that discussion compares the Amherst statistics drawn from the 2012 NCHA report to the "aggregate norm from 2010 of a comparison group of schools similar to Amherst" rather than to the 2012 NCHA Norm (5% is approximately 50% higher than the 2012 NCHA norm). I found the use of statistics sufficiently sloppy here that I very much wanted to peel below the surface, see the raw data and the basis of the research, and test the conclusions. In the absence of the ability to do that, I think there is a very common desire to let prejudices run wild. I do not think it will be hard to debunk Prof. Dumm's focus on athletes in general, but I think the prejudice will remain until there is a strong and careful argument, one that musters concrete facts and statistics, to rebut it. And until that time, I expect some focus and resources to be misplaced. Certainly it appears that over the last week the discussion has gotten completely off track as a result of an invasion of a herd of varied pachydermata.

Parent (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/21/2013 - 19:02

Thank you 80"s alum for your last paragraph. I too have a hard time with the statistics and research described in the SMOC report and in Prof Hunt's letter to editor especially as many rape survivors said they were never contacted by the committee. Let's end the ranting with some actual evidence presented with raw confidential data.