An Account of Sexual Assault at Amherst College
Issue   |   Wed, 10/17/2012 - 00:07

TRIGGER WARNING: This content deals with an account of sexual assault and may be triggering to some people.

When you’re being raped time does not stop. Time does not speed up and jump ahead like it does when you are with friends. Instead, time becomes your nemesis; it slows to such an excruciating pace that every second becomes an hour, every minute a year, and the rape becomes a lifetime.

On May 25, 2011, I was raped by an acquaintance in Crossett Dormitory on Amherst College campus.

Some nights I can still hear the sounds of his roommates on the other side of the door, unknowingly talking and joking as I was held down; it is far from a pleasant wakeup call.

I had always fancied myself a strong, no-nonsense woman, whose intense independence was cultivated by seventeen harrowing years of emotional abuse in my backwoods home. May 25th temporarily shattered that self-image and left me feeling like the broken victim that I had never wanted to be.

Everything I had believed myself to be was gone in 30 minutes.

I did not report the rape after it occurred. Almost immediately after the rape I flew off to California, got lost in the beauty of the redwoods, the phenomenal art, and meeting the most unique people I’d ever beheld.

I blocked the rape from my mind and tried to convince myself that it hadn’t happened; that it couldn’t have happened. But there was no denying the facts.

One week before I was supposed to fly back East, everything rushed over and consumed me. My memory had been restored and I wasn’t sure how I would be able to hold myself together for that year, let alone for the upcoming three years.

When I returned to Amherst for my sophomore year, I designed a simple plan of attack for surviving: Business as usual combined with a new mantra I will NOT cry.

First semester passed relatively well, there were rocky times, but I kept it together. I masked fear with smiles. I mastered the art of avoiding prying questions. I drowned myself in work and extracurricular activities in order to hide my personal pain. I was unnervingly good at playing the role of well-adjusted sophomore.

It was inevitable though that this masquerade would become too overwhelming and that my façade would shatter.

In February twisted fate decided that I had to work with him on a fundraiser. E-mails. Stopping me in the gym and at the dining hall. Smirks. Winks. Pats on my back. It was all too much.

My masquerade was over.

I broke down and for the next several months, he won.

I spent most of my spring semester an emotional wreck. I saw his face everywhere I went. I heard his voice mocking me in my own head. I imagined new rapists hiding behind every shower curtain and potted plant. I bandaged the situation by throwing myself into more work and by resolutely refusing to acknowledge that I was anything but well adjusted.

Eventually I reached a dangerously low point, and, in my despondency, began going to the campus’ sexual assault counselor. In short I was told: No you can’t change dorms, there are too many students right now. Pressing charges would be useless, he’s about to graduate, there’s not much we can do. Are you SURE it was rape? It might have just been a bad hookup…You should forgive and forget.

How are you supposed to forget the worst night of your life?

I didn’t know what to do any more. For four months I continued wandering around campus, distancing from my friends, and going to counseling center. I was continuously told that I had to forgive him, that I was crazy for being scared on campus, and that there was nothing that could be done. They told me: We can report your rape as a statistic, you know for records, but I don’t recommend that you go through a disciplinary hearing. It would be you, a faculty advisor of your choice, him, and a faculty advisor of his choice in a room where you would be trying to prove that he raped you. You have no physical evidence, it wouldn’t get you very far to do this.

Hours locked in a room with him and being called a liar about being raped? No thank you, I could barely handle seeing him from the opposite end of campus; I knew I couldn’t handle that level of negativity.

When May rolled around, everything finally came to a head. My “Anniversary” was coming up and all of the terror that I had intermittently felt that year became one giant ball of horror that filled my life. He was still out there. He could get to me again. If I told anyone he would find out and do it again. No, no, no, no, no.

For my independent studies photography course I produced a series of 20 self-portraits representing myself before, during, and after the rape.

I showed them to my classmates. Their words stung like hornets: You look funny…I don’t get it, why are you so upset?

I went to the counseling center, as they always tell you to do, and spoke about how genuinely sad I was at Amherst, how much I wanted to leave, and how scared I was on a daily basis. “I should just drink darkroom developer or something…”

Twenty minutes later campus police was escorting me into an ambulance. They were even less understanding: There’s something seriously wrong with you; you’re not healthy and normal right now. No, you can’t say no. You HAVE to go, but don’t worry, you won’t have to be there too long. This is for your own good. Amherst cares about you and wants you to get better.

On May 5th I entered Cooley Dickinson Hospital’s Emergency Room. Three hours after sitting curled up and terrified on a hospital bed I was admitted into the Psychiatric Ward for depression and suicidal thoughts. The doctor was skeptical to say the least: I really don’t think that a school like Amherst would allow you to be raped. And why didn’t you tell anybody? That just doesn’t make any sense...Your anger and sadness right now seem unfounded and irrational, someone your age should not be this sad—it’s not normal. We’ll be admitting you in a few minutes, they’ll take good care of you. They’ll get you some drugs and they’ll make you feel happy again…If you don’t willingly enter we’ll have a judge issue a court order legally forcing you to stay there. Trust us, this is for your own good.

So much for not having to stay.

The Psychiatric Ward was a lovely place: the top floor of the hospital, bare white walls, Spartan furnishings, and two stainless steel locked doors at either end of the corridor making sure that anyone who goes in, stays in. Doctors and Nurse Practitioners wondered around the bare hallways checking in on myself and my fellow patients—every fifteen minutes they recorded where we were, what we were doing, and whether we looked happy. In the morning we were given our drugs; if you didn’t take them you would have to be there longer. It was in our best interest to take them, so they told us.

During the day we discussed our thoughts and feelings, our inhibitions, our strengths, but more often than not we did nothing.

When you’re forced to sit and think about yourself for hours on end, you go through four stages of existence.

Stage 1: Hysteria—Characterized by denying that anything is wrong, “I’m perfectly fine” and “I don’t belong here,” are common phrases during this stage.
Stage 2: Numb and Ornery—You have finally realized that something is wrong with you, but you are overwhelmed and confused about how to go about fixing your problem. You therefore decide not to do anything.
Stage 3: Determination—You realize that the only way you’re allowed to leave the Ward is if you “get better” and “solve your problems.” Every fiber of your being thus goes into these two tasks.
Stage 4: Enlightenment—Everything falls into place. Your mind is no longer an oppressive hell and it begins to function again. The outside world no longer seems so daunting.

You are then permitted to leave.

My Enlightenment occurred when I least expected it. Four days into the Ward, I was sitting in on an introductory Substance Abuse and Mental Health Rehabilitation meeting since there was absolutely nothing better to do. To start us off, the meeting leader decided to have everyone go around and talk about why we were on the Ward. We went around the circle: hours in rehab, drug relapses, alcoholism, abusive boyfriends, being an abusive boyfriend, and escapism from the stresses of daily life. The stories weren’t the superficial accounts that you read in a person’s medical file; they were real life. Every problem, every ounce of frustration, every personal tick was laid bare that evening. And everyone was open, not proud, just blunt and sincere; the desire to improve their lives was palpable.

Over the past four days, I had yet to touch upon “what I was in for,” my story was a mystery to everyone around me.

As my fellow patients went around the circle it all suddenly clicked. I realized why I never spoke about the rape, why I had refused to tell my school friends, why I had totally broken down, why I had steadily degenerated over the past few months. I was ashamed, and because of this shame I could not begin healing.

“Silence has the rusty taste of shame,” a fellow survivor once wrote.

I had been far too silent, far too ashamed.

That night I told them everything.

For the first time I told my story and I was not ashamed.

Later that night, as I lay in bed—still in an adrenaline induced state of wakefulness—I heard my roommate whisper my name, and then, a question.

“Are you still awake?”


“Thought so…”

A long pause. She’d been in the meeting.

What was she thinking? What would she say?

“I just wanted to tell you, I…I know how it feels. My uncle raped me when I was 15. The police never arrested him. Rape “wasn’t their top priority.” It still hurts…You’re incredibly brave to talk about it…I rarely do.”

She was 42 years old.

I did not sleep. That night I realized that from then on I could not stay silent—if not for myself, then for my roommate.

I had reached the apex of Stage 4.

I decided that once I was released I would continue with my plans to study abroad that upcoming semester; I would be rejuvenated when I returned to campus in the winter, ready to take on the world and fight for survivor rights.

I would be strong again.

From the moment I woke, this plan hit one pitfall after another; a domino effect of roadblocks that continued for the next three months.

I sat at breakfast in bright spirits, attempting to carry on a conversation with a manic depressive woman who rarely talked. I was so genuinely happy that her lack of responses didn’t even bother me—I just talked at her.

In the middle of my stimulating conversation my harried looking social worker suddenly strode into the dining room and headed purposefully over to me.

She looked grim and angry. “They’re trying to prevent you from going back.”

I was shocked.

She began rattling off the Administration’s policy regarding students released from psychiatric care. In order for students to be allowed back they had to have parental supervision while on campus in order to make sure that the student did not relapse into substance abuse again (the most common reason for student admittance into the Ward). This meant that a parent would stay in a hotel near campus and would then follow their child around for two weeks until the “all clear” period was reached. “And since you don’t have parents…”

She trailed off awkwardly and began to resolutely examine the upper left-hand corner of the dining room.

I must have been speechless for a good minute as a bizarre series of emotions plowed me over.

Shock to incredulity, back to shock, to sadness to anger, back to shock again, then back to sadness, and then an overwhelming amount of shame and embarrassment settled over me. I’m not worthy of even going back; that’s how disgusting I am. I can’t even step foot on campus…

Panic welled up inside of me.

Did this mean I was trapped on the Ward forever? God, no, I couldn’t handle that. I wasn’t crazy!

Claustrophobia and paranoia dropped on top of me and I wildly scanned the room. I met my roommate’s eyes. She was looking at me with worry: What’s wrong?

The room stopped spinning, the walls went back to their normal locations, I could breathe again, and now I was angry. I told her flat out: Let me get this straight. I was raped on their campus. I had an emotional breakdown because I didn’t feel safe and felt harassed on their campus. I went to their counseling center, like they told me to, and I told them how I was feeling. They decided that I should be sent to the hospital. And now they won’t allow me back on their campus? They allow rapists back on campus, but they won’t allow the girl who was raped back? The girl who did nothing wrong.

She told me: Well, when you put it that way…

The maniacal grin on my social worker’s face as she walked off was wonderful.

Needless to say, Amherst let me back on campus later that evening. Five days after being admitted, I was finally released from the Ward.

The car ride back to campus with my dean was, also needless to say, the most awkward car ride of my life. I looked at her: You know, I’m really glad that y’all let me back on campus, for a while there I was pretty worried and I was actually preparing an argument for why I should be allowed back…

Her response: No, no, no! That’s not what happened, you must have just misunderstood the situation! We’re so happy to have you back! Amherst is just such a wonderful place, we know you’ll be happy to be back!

A big misunderstanding, I was skeptical.

In the following days I decided that my best policy when dealing with Amherst at the moment would be “let’s let bygones be bygones.” I quickly forgave the Administration and focused on just being happy to be out. On the inside though I was still dripping with anger, shame, and embarrassment.

Several days after my release I had to defend my chance to study abroad. My chance to leave campus for the first time in 8 months, my chance to relax and heal in a new environment, my biggest chance to revive my love of Amherst, and my chance to move on in life by studying what I truly love. The prospect had gotten me through the most frigid hours on the Ward and I was convinced that it would be the perfect way to continue my healing process.

I half-heartedly murmured, Your actions were understandable. I understand your policy when dealing with depression and students coming out of the Psychiatric Ward…during the meeting that included my dean and several of the campus counselors. Relief instantly flashed across all of their faces and the atmosphere rose in friendliness.

Then: The Ward was the best thing that could have happened to me. I have re-found my love of life and my desire to heal. I will never be 100% better, but I no longer feel like a victim. I’m a survivor, I’m strong, and I think that studying abroad will help me continue healing. When I return in the winter I’ll have a greater understanding of myself and a greater appreciation of Amherst.

They responded with enthusiasm: Of course! Very coherent explanation. You seem much happier, which is wonderful! We agree that going abroad and getting off campus will do you good.

Study abroad here I come!

I felt genuinely happy for the first time in a year, and I could not wait to head out.

At Amherst though, things are never that easy.

A few weeks after my release from the Ward I had a routine check-in with my dean to make sure that I was still doing well. I was excited to be leaving soon, and I must have looked quite content, sitting in her office with a million watt smile and bright eyes. I began to rattle on about how nice the warm weather was, how beautiful commencement had been, how great life was, on and on. She seemed distracted: Nod, nod…Mhmmm…Well, excellent! I’m so glad to hear that you’re excited about the upcoming summer here. I know how much you wanted to study abroad and how much work you must’ve put into it, but really, it’s for the best. Africa is quite traumatizing, what with those horrible third-world conditions: disease…huts…lions! You’ll be much better off here at Amherst where we can watch over you. It will give you some time to think about…you know…that…unfortunate incident…

My face was blank. “I’m supposed to go to Cape Town, South Africa…” Her response broke me down: Yes dear, I know. You were supposed to study in Africa. It’s all for the best that you aren’t though.

No one ever told me flat out that I would no longer be studying abroad. Not even the study abroad dean told me. I scheduled a meeting with her for two days after the meeting with my dean.

A few minutes after exchanging pleasantries she asked: What are your plans for the summer now that you’re on campus?

For the month of June I was decrepit, nothing could perk me up. I returned to feeling the embarrassment and shame that had consumed me before going onto the Ward. If I hadn’t told anyone about what happened I’d be abroad…If I had been stronger…If I wasn’t such a failure…This is all my fault, I really am just a broken, polluted piece of shit…

Living was difficult. Each day I woke up and wandered around in a daze. At night I stared blank faced at a wall and curled up in my chair in a fetal position. I couldn’t talk with people. If I talk with them they might become infected with my dirtiness.

I stopped eating. I stopped sleeping. I secretly hoped that one day on a run my heart would just stop and no one would have to see me again. I wasn’t worth anything anyway.
I continued having to meet with my dean; she blamed my sadness on not being allowed to study abroad, but I knew that it wasn’t that simple. I could live with not being allowed to go to South Africa at the moment, the country would be there for a while, but being forced to stay on campus in a dorm populated with men I did not know, that was the real psychological issue. Every time I told my dean that I didn’t feel safe on campus, that I wanted to be allowed to leave , or at least be put in a different dorm, I received the same unhelpful responses that I had received in February. They told me: You were lucky to be given a room here this summer in the first place, housing is tight right now and you really shouldn’t complain. All of your fear is ungrounded, Amherst is one of the safest places imaginable…If we let you leave campus we won’t know what mental and emotional place you’ll exist in when you return in September; you could become completely unstable! At Amherst we can monitor you, and, if need be, strongly suggest time off when the school year rolls around…

I felt like a prisoner, or, more accurately, like a harem girl. My jail was luxurious and openair, I was free to move about, the ruling power judged my worth on a weekly basis, and I was constantly reminded how lucky I was to be there.

One night, after a particularly rough meeting with my dean (I just don’t understand why you’ve been so angry throughout all of this. You have no reason to be angry about anything.), I was curled up on my floor—I wasn’t thinking, I didn’t feel anything.

I went over to the mirror on the back of my door and stared. What had happened to the girl who had come off of the Ward so empowered and strong; the girl who decided to no longer be silent and feel shamed? Where had she gone?

I went over to my desk and picked up a brochure I had been given about a survivor center at UMass Amherst. I gave an exaggerated sigh. Might as well…I called the number and made an appointment for the next day.

I went back to the mirror and stared at myself again.

For the next 15 minutes I repeated: “Silence has the rusty taste of shame.”

I walked over to my computer, typed up an email, hesitated for a second, and then pressed send.

I had just sent my entire sports team an email-rant about my rape and subsequent breakdown at the end of spring.

It was about time people began to realize that Amherst wasn’t just majestic dorms and world-class professors.

It was about time I resumed the silent pact that I had made to my roommate on the Ward.

I will not be quiet.

The next few weeks were a blur of unending days spent resolutely working to feel better (A friend told me: You can’t help other people if you feel like shit).

I was able to sleep again. I ate more. I went to free therapy sessions. I wrote and mindlessly colored in order to ground myself. I obsessively made lists of all the things imaginable. I joined a survivor group. I cried less and smiled a bit more.

I started healing.

It took a month of hard work until I was noticeably doing better. My friends, my therapist, my coworkers, and my fellow survivor group members all started commenting on how much healthier and happier I looked. I still felt uncomfortable and oppressed while surrounded by men on campus, but I was no longer afraid to leave my room after 7 p.m. I was determined to love Amherst again.

Life was tolerable.

Early July and I had another meeting with my dean: You look like you’re doing better today. Well done, I’m so glad to see this kind of improvement! I think it’s safe to assume that you can come back next semester, and in that regard I think that it’s time that we talk about your time at Amherst over the next two years…I know you want to do African Studies through the Five Colleges, but I don’t think I can support that decision. Africa is very traumatizing and I think that studying Africa is just a way for you to relive your real-life traumas; it’s just not a good place to be studying.

Over the next thirty minutes several more restrictions were laid out: no Five College classes this upcoming year, no study abroad in the spring, definitely no senior year thesis, I would have to meet with a counselor twice a week, and friends off campus would have to be pushed to the wayside. She told me: Amherst is the only place that matters, and, really, you don’t have a family, so where else would you go? Amherst is the only place that you can be.

At the end of our conversation I grunted out a vapid response and headed straight to my room. I sat on my bed, million-mile-gazed at the wall, and thought.

What was the point of staying at Amherst? I had been stuck on campus for eleven months straight; each day had been more challenging and emotionally draining than the previous one. I had been feeling better recently, but each time I met with my dean I felt more emotionally distraught than I had beforehand. Her comments reminded me that in the Administration’s eyes I was the most base individual: a poor and parentless humanities major who was the school’s token-Deep-Southerner. I was sullied, blameworthy, and possibly insane.

I made a Pros and Cons of Amherst List.

The Pro List had seven items.

The Con List had twenty-three items.

On July 14th I made one of the hardest decisions of my life.

I was going to withdraw from Amherst.

That next week I threw myself into finding a way out. Plans were made, plans were broken, Plan B was made, and finally Plan B was successful!

I did not tell the Administration for fear that they would somehow sabotage me. It was probably paranoid, but after being prevented from leaving campus multiple times I was not going to take any chances. The conversation went similarly to this:

“I’m withdrawing from Amherst.”

That was my greeting to my dean when I met with her in late July.

The look of complete shock on her face was priceless. When she recovered: So you’re taking a semester off? That’s perfectly ok, many survivors do, I think it’s best that you do what you…

No, I’m withdrawing, permanently. I ain’t planning on ever coming back. I’m going to transfer to another school after taking a semester off to travel around.

You can’t…You…Nobody withdraws. Where are you going to go? You don’t have parents. What are you going to do?

I’m working on a Dude Ranch in Wyoming.

…I didn’t think you’d be able to figure out a plan…Well, we technically won’t withdraw you from the school until three years have passed. After three years we’ll double-check to make sure that you really want to withdraw and then we’ll remove you from our current-students system.

No, I just want you to withdraw me. I don’t want to come back, I don’t want to be affiliated with your school anymore. I’m sick of this place.

I think you need to meet with our sexual assault counselor again, you’re way too angry right now and not thinking clearly. I have a feeling you’ll change your mind and come back. Amherst is one of the best schools out there, it will be a transfer down unless you go to an Ivy…

You know, I have I feeling that I won’t want to come back, but that’s just a hunch.

As my dean suggested, I met with our sexual assault counselor a few days later. The meeting was uncharacterizeable by one word, but bizarre might be the closest description: This is a bad idea, you’re not thinking straight.

I didn’t understand this. I’d been thinking about this for quite a while; I was unhappy at Amherst and I didn’t understand why I should stay at a place where I was absolutely miserable. There are other places in the world.

The next two hours was a hodgepodge of topics: Your lack of parental support makes you emotionally volatile and prevents you from following through with decisions that you make.

Apparently I had decided not to study abroad. Then there was bizarre ‘concern:’You don’t look very healthy. Have you been eating? I think you might have an eating disorder. You know there’s a great clinic in Northhampton where we can send you for in-patient eating disorder treatment.

I don’t have an eating disorder; I used to have one, I know what they’re like. I don’t eat a lot because I can’t afford to buy food.

Then the ranch came up: Do you realize how difficult working on a Dude Ranch will be? The people in Wyoming are different from the people at Amherst, they won’t be well-educated, and they won’t understand you. You’re going to a backwards place. Do you realize how bad it will be?

Yes, because the rest of the US is filled with ignorant savages who haven’t been saved by the light of Amherst. How would I ever survive?

To the counselor’s great surprise, these stellar arguments did not convince me to stay at Amherst. I became even more resolute about my decision to leave, and decided to talk with the Victim Rights Law Center, a pro-bono law firm based in Boston that my survivor group had recommended to me several weeks earlier. My preliminary intake with the VRLC was quite eye-opening: Oh Amherst? Yeah, unfortunately I know Amherst all too well. I’ve been down there many times to deal with the administration and their constant mistreatment of survivors. Our law firm keeps trying to force them to change but they just don’t seem to understand, they keep doing the same old thing.

Amherst has almost 1800 students; last year alone there were a minimum of 10 sexual assaults on campus. In the past 15 years there have been multiple serial rapists, men who raped more than five girls, according to the sexual assault counselor. Rapists are given less punishment than students caught stealing. Survivors are often forced to take time off, while rapists are allowed to stay on campus. If a rapist is about to graduate, their punishment is often that they receive their diploma two years late.

I eventually reported my rapist.

He graduated with honors.

I will not graduate from Amherst.

The stories and statistics are miles long in regards to sexual assault on campus. My story is far from unique, and, compared to some of the stories I have heard, is tame.
The more that I learn about Amherst’s policy toward sexual assault and survivors in general, the more relief I feel in deciding to transfer. How could I stay at a school who had made my healing process not just difficult, but impossible? How could I stand knowing that the Administration promotes silence? How could I spend the next two years made to feel dirty and at fault?

I could not.

At one point I hated Amherst with an indescribable amount of fury, but I do not hate the school anymore. Amherst took a lot from me, but they gave me some of the greatest gifts imaginable: self-confidence, my closest friends, intellectual curiosity, and endless personal strength. For these things I am forever grateful. For everything else, I stand back and behold the college with a feeling of melancholia.

The fact that such a prestigious institution could have such a noxious interior fills me with intense remorse mixed with sour distaste. I am sickened by the Administration’s attempts to cover up survivors’ stories, cook their books to discount rapes, pretend that withdrawals never occur, quell attempts at change, and sweep sexual assaults under a rug. When politicians cover up affairs or scandals the masses often rise up in angry protestations and call for a more transparent government. What is the difference between a government and the Amherst College campus? Why can’t we know what is really happening on campus? Why should we be quiet about sexual assault?

“Silence has the rusty taste of shame.”

There is no reason shame should be a school’s policy.

UPDATE: President Carolyn "Biddy" Martin has released a statement concerning this article and the follow-up steps being taken by the administration regarding sexual assault:

MRB (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/17/2012 - 23:35

Thank you for writing your story. Thank you to the newspaper for printing it. To many schools treat survivors like rocks in their shoes to be discarded and forgotten as quickly as possible.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/17/2012 - 23:44

Thank you for this. I dont go to amherst but unfortunately I think the administration's way of dealing with sexual assault is not as singular as one might hope. I know that my college has had significant, and public, issues with sweeping rape under the rug as well. As a survivor of sexual abuse, I know how hard it is to talk about it and unfortunately no matter how much time has passed, the shame always manages to edge its way back in to my heart. All I can say is that you are not alone Angie.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/17/2012 - 23:48

This is so beautifully written and so heart wrenching. As a student at another 5 college school, I know at least TWO girls who have been locked in rooms by Amherst boys (and I'm only two months into my first year). To know what could have happened and how the school would have handled it, is heartbreaking. I truly hope many people outside of amherst see this, because this is story that needs to be told. I hope maybe this is a wake up call for Amherst, because how they treated you and other victims is wrong. I hope you are having a wonderful time at the Ranch, and have a successful career at another school where you can truly be happy.

Yalie (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/17/2012 - 23:54

You made me feel like I'm not alone and I'm not crazy.

Thank you for giving us a voice.

Haverford&BrynMawr (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/17/2012 - 23:57

Your story is currently being circulated around Haverford & Bryn Mawr colleges, and we support you. Thank you for breaking the silence.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:00

You are wonderful.

Recent Alumni (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:13

Sexual assault is a very difficult issue, one that requires an extreme amount of courage to confront (as noted by many other comments). However, from an administrative perspective, it is an especially difficult issue on a college campus where alcohol is typically added to the mix. And it becomes near-impossible to address when so much time has passed since the incident occurred. For that reason, administrators really have no choice but to deal separately with the emotional healing process (through counseling, etc.) while leaving the perpetrator out of it (unless the victim is willing to brave a very difficult and likely fruitless disciplinary hearing process--which I want to reiterate would likely be fruitless not because of the administration and not because the allegations are necessarily untrue, but because of the inherent difficulties of proving what happened/consent). Now add to that mix a fear on behalf of the administration that the victim might hurt herself.

I read this tragic story, and I feel great sadness for what transpired. But hurt and tragedy should not equate to nonconstructive blame. Is this representative of administrative failure? In part, yes. But could it possibly represent a good faith attempt by administrators to protect a victim of rape from what they saw as potential for even worse harm? I, for one, am not ready to grab my pitchfork without hearing what the thought process was on both sides of the table.

Amherst is being unfairly demonized by a self-selecting group of commentators without giving any real weight to how hard the College works to foster a safe, community environment. There is ample room for improvement, that much is clear. This Opinion piece is a success inasmuch as it generates dialogue, but let's not smear a college that may in fact be one of the better examples out there of a small community-based learning experience.

Sonya (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 03:13

"But could it possibly represent a good faith attempt by administrators to protect a victim of rape from what they saw as potential for even worse harm?"

Who gives a fuck? It doesn't matter how much "good faith" the administration may or may not have tried to display. Their actions are indefensible, and clearly the programs for supporting victims of sexual assault need a massive overhaul.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 04:01

Others have reported issues with the administration in attempting to report rape. Do you truly believe that, in the case of every one of these rape survivors, the situation was indeed "hopeless?"

Silence is not protection. It allows these violations to continue while the school maintains its ideal image.

Contrary to your opinion, this is *constructive blame*-- it has promoted the serious discussion of rape and sexual assault on the Amherst College campus. 15 forcible sex offenses were reported in 2011 (three higher than UMass Amherst... which is much larger). Regardless of what you think of the administration, you can hardly call this a "safe, community environment."

I hope that the administration does respond. And if there are indeed problems with its handling of sexual assault, I hope that the response (which I'm assuming will likely deny or make light of the claims) provokes more survivors to speak out. I have yet to read a survivor's story that mentions how supportive the administration is.

I also hope that this will encourage more dialogue on other area campuses.

MG23 (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 04:16

This is hardly a case of unfair demonization. The highly reactive decisions made that never acknowledged trauma from rape as a likely source (yet were happy to point to nonexistent drug abuse when citing the need for parental supervision on campus), the lack of transparency with regards to studying abroad, the restrictions on experiences crucial to academic growth, the restrictions on leaving campus justified by concern for safety without acknowledging the safety issue presented by the presence of her rapist (and doubt as to the guilt of her rapist is not an acceptable excuse for claiming that the campus is a safe environment, since by experiencing concern for her health and referring back to a traumatic experience, they are relying upon some acknowledgement that the rape DID happen as justification for restricting her time abroad), all of these things are such extreme decisions that revealing the thought process of the college would not really justify the choices made.

Plus, when administration is this intricately involved in a student's personal life, the thought process on the administration's part should have been made clear to Angie. This is another failure on their part.

Middlebury Coll... (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 04:45

You betray any pretense of neutrality with the thoughtless, damaging language that you use. To call the readers and commentators of Angie's story (it's not an opinion piece, learn the difference before you write something, particularly when it's your own misguided opinion), some of whom have shared that they are victims of sexual assault themselves, self-selecting is to suggest that somehow those individuals chose to be assaulted or raped. Your choice of language, while subtle on the surface perhaps, is a disgusting example of the way in which people blame the victims of rape and sexual assault. Before you ask people to look at both sides of the story, make sure you can see beyond your own muddled version of reality.

Another Alumni (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 06:48

I completely understand the sentiment, and a good faith desire for a balanced approach. While what you suggest does seem at first reasonable--waiting to hear from the administration about THIS particular case--it isn't anything new that women who experience sexual assault, of ANY degree, has very little recourse on campus. I do think that this is an example of the administration's failure, and of a cultural failure, that female students have so few options.

To illustrate my point, below are some options I have seen materialize.
1) Not say anything--who knows how many women don't bother to do anything?
2) Say something in counseling. Forgo any administrative procedure.
3) Pursue disciplinary procedure, and then endure severe attack on character, past experience, etc.
4) Endure those attacks and still have the attacker walk away without consequence.

Who would want to go through this? The whole experience really is like extending a nightmare you desperately wish never happened in the first place.

I worry that implicit in your concession that these incidents carry "inherent difficulties of proving what happened" you sacrifice the well being of women on campus. Perhaps we should think more about defining proof, or think of constructive punishments, in order to provide women with the same sense of personal safety in campus.

According to some stats, Amherst had 36 reports of "forcible sex offenses," but almost no repercussions for the offenders. This to me seems like a trend. You can't possibly claim that all 36 reports are false. Hard to prove, sure. But false? That would be a bold claim to make. And if these claims are true, and I believe they are, then the College should be ashamed for this huge injustice they perpetuate against Amherst women.

*36 is from sources: "

Gerry (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 06:54

Even if only half of what Angie said is true, what the administration did is utterly shameful. Even if you want to believe that the administration was motivated by wanting to keep survivors safe, isn't it abundantly clear by now that their system for doing so ISN'T WORKING? That change is sorely needed? Amherst definitely deserves to be smeared for this. If they're not, change won't happen. Just one state over, a certain Mr. Sandusky was sexually assaulting dozens of prepubescent boys, and it wasn't until the university was publicly shamed over it that the system that had allowed it to happen was finally brought down. If this problem is as widespread as the dozens of people on this comment page are suggesting it is, Amherst not only deserves, but needs, similar treatment.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 08:02

with respect the the good faith response of administrators it is important that school like amherst ( and my alma mater williams) invest more substantially in well articulated public education, well informed staff and fairer systems achieving just outcomes for victims. liberal colleges send their students out in the world to champion every cause under the sun but would rather build a fancy student centre that have a well funded mental health/specialized mental health response. the high incidence of sexual assault would justify special staffing to deal with these needs. the high incidence of depression/anxiety/suicidal ideation amongst high achievers demands a far better mental health response mechanism than is currently the norm in these "idyllic" new england settings. we have the best academics in the world but the same cannot always be said of the support staff. academic deans with no specialized training should not be the first point of contact for a sexual assault victim.
until these things change, these colleges are enacting the worst kind of bad faith and unlike "traumatic" spaces in the global south, these institutions have the resources to address these problems. my alma mater's endowment is 1000x the budget of the entire police force in my home country.
in short, those of us who have had to navigate similar situations are far to common and those of us who have the privilege (you cannot read this story without being bashed over the head with the enforcement of traditional privilege) should use these relatively infinitesimal resources to try harder to do better.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 08:48

If you are not yet willing to grab your pitchfork, read through the comments posted in response to this article. In mere hours, there are multiple students who have echoed not just the sentiments, but the reality painted in this piece. One victim isn't enough for you? How about two? Three? Four? Five? More. Hard to swallow? Tough.

As a reader, I am willing to stand by this young lady's account until not just one - but every last - detail is disproved. Why? Because clearly no one else was willing to support her in this incredibly difficult journey. Instead of giving the administration the benefit of the doubt, I am going to give this one young woman the benefit of the doubt. And since some of the details may come down to a she-said, they-said, guess what? I will stand by her account again. Doesn't seem fair? Tough.

If you sincerely believe that the efforts made by the administration were in good faith, I encourage you to consider the impact on the student. I believe that they said EXACTLY what Angie has indicated here. But if they did not, in part or in sum, know that their efforts were interpreted this way by a victim of a traumatic assault. So let that bear weight for you as well.

The institution should be investigated and ultimately prosecuted. And if that occurs, let's count how many people support the victim versus how many back the college. I believe her story....and I'm confident a handful of other people might feel the same.

Mary (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 09:31

I'll post this link again for you because it seems like you didn't look at the other comments: AC has one of the highest forcible sex crime rates. If the administration was trying to help they should have heard what the student wanted and helped to accommodate her- not to send her to a psych ward, remove her study abroad privileges, and discourage any attempts to leave/grow. No one wants to grab pitchforks and torch the campus, but the administration should be held accountable for discouraging real healing or justice for so long, and for suggesting her emotional stress was from anything other than the rape.

Women (and men) who are sexually abused need to know their voice will be heard, and schools across the country need to encourage the truth, not what is most convenient for their reputation.

Colgate Alumna (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 10:14

Being a "better example" than most of an institution of higher learning does NOT, under any circumstances, give the Administration of Amherst College a free pass for mishandling this woman's situation. It is clear from Angie's story that there was a severe failure on the part of the college to deal appropriately and sensitively with this woman's rape, and the rapes and assaults of other people as is evidenced by the comments here. Of COURSE rape is difficult to deal with on both sides - it takes courage from BOTH sides to address sexual violence. However, I would argue against so many of those who have said that "rape is complicated." One CANNOT legally give consent if one is under high levels of intoxication. If there is no consent between the parties involved and someone in that equation feels victimized, it is rape, no matter if alcohol was involved or not.

Colleges and Universities love to play the blame game with alcohol to escape bad publicity, but that is absolutely no excuse (not to mention that they should take responsibility for unhealthy alcohol use on their campuses). Educate your students, your faculty, your staff, on how to deal with sexual violence in an appropriate manner that does not shame or blame the victim! Spread the message (not through empty words, but through concrete actions) that rape and assault are absolutely not ok, and adopt a zero-tolerance policy. Let rapists know that the difficulty of proving rape will not stop the administration from giving full support to victims and helping them to pursue legal/disciplinary action if they wish - they more cases are heard, the easier it will be to prosecute rapists. Too many times have I heard stories from women discouraged from getting rape kits or pressing charges if they wanted to do so. This is absolutely unacceptable, and our colleges and universities have a responsibility to their students - past, present, and future - to take action.

And, Angie, if you read this, thank you for having the courage to put yourself out there like this. You are a brave, strong woman and Amherst should be f*ing proud to have had you as a student.

Amherst alum (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 15:18

If alcohol-related cases are so simple then answer me this: Two students are both equally drunk and have sex. The next week, one of them regrets it and believes he/she has been violated and files a complaint. (Yes this happens.) What would you do as an administrator?

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 10:20

I disagree with you completely. There a literally dozens of administrative errors here. This college needs to be held responsible and made an example of.

recent alum (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 10:58

False - there are ALLEGATIONS of administrative errors. Quite a big difference.

Another recent alum (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 10:41

I wish more of the comments I've read on FB and here show the kind of reasoning and critical thought that you display here. Sexual misconduct on campuses is a very tricky issue, and it doesn't serve anyone's interests in the long term when people jump straight from hearing an emotionally compelling complaint to broad generalizations and getting out the pitchfork.

Nicole (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 10:44

This comment is absolutely disgusting. What is wrong is wrong, and the victim should be allowed, and supported administration to pursue her case to the greatest extent possible.

Liz (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:13

It cannot be said enough: Thank you for being so brave and giving voice to the experiences of far too many women in the Five Colleges.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:14

I get it, it's really difficult to prove acquaintance rape, it's really difficult to clear up the fuzzy lines. Women are from mars, men are from venus, right? Communication is not always clear. All I know is that I felt it, I felt it for awhile. My body felt it. I only cried once. And I felt like I was reassured that the two resources, the two of which I was taught were THE ones to go to for help, wouldn't make it worth my tears again. Amherst DID provide the self-defense class over interterm, which is probably the best thing that Amherst, albeit passively, did to help me.

YCY (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:22

Two acquaintances sent this to me within minutes of eachother. I am shocked, and cannot find the adequate words to condemn what happened. As a prospective student in the middle of the college admissions process, I feel betrayed, and sanitized by the the cycle of information sessions and campus tours that now seem at best cold and at words, dishonest. When I visited Amherst College this summer, I found it relatively pleasant and interesting, but now I can no longer find it within myself to even consider applying when such atrocities happen. I cannot believe that a college so prestigious as to congratulate itself for graduating many well known alumni could be so abhorrent as to leave people as honorable and earnest as Angie to fall through the cracks. Rather than worrying about "damage control" and attempting to weaken her strength and her story, they should be deeply humiliated. It seems that a lasting policy and social change is in order.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/31/2012 - 21:01

It happens at many colleges. It happened to my son at Colgate. The rape was one thing... The administrations handling was worse... And the rapist is a security guard. My son is mad at the world... Hates everyone. Fights therapy. Do something great and make these beauracracies accountable.. Make them change...

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:24

I too have been raped at Amherst College and all I can say is that there needs to be CHANGE.

In my experience, the administration meant well but were truly ineffective.

I hated going outside. I was stared at and was continuously harassed by my rapist's family and friends. How DARE I report my rapist. How DARE I stand up for myself. After my hearing, I tried to keep in contact with the sexual health counselor. This was only because she was the only person I could talk to and because my mother would repeatedly call me a slut and tell me I "deserved" everything that happened to me. After several times of being put down by my mother and feeling helpless, I emailed the sexual health counselor. The response was essentially "Oh, I'm sorry you're in this situation. Here's the Suicide Hotline number." I stopped speaking to her at this point.

All the administration and sexual health counselor did was make me feel isolated and powerless.

Angie, thank you for writing this. I feel that it reflects my experience, although I described it vaguely, very well. No one should feel this way or experience this. Ever. You are truly an inspiration to everyone.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:28

I wish you the best. I hope your pain is relieved even slightly by the overwhelming responses of love and support.

I want to say thank you for giving me a voice. I was let down by Amherst, too. As an employee of the college, trained in supporting the health of fellow students, I thought I would know what to do when I was raped. I used to date this boy, and during a conversation about our relationship, it happened. I said no several times, and then I just stayed silent and still until it was over. I contacted a counselor at 10PM and met with her. She let me tell my story and let me tell her how confused i was because this boy was my best friend. I wanted to get back together with him, but how could i? I could never let him touch me again. I felt like throwing up. He is my best friend-- how could I get him in trouble?
Per her advice, I had him go to the counseling center so he could get help, and ask if we could do a couples session and discuss how to get over this. I was told that 1) the male counselor assured him that he did NOT rape me, 2) that i was overreacting and had "control issues" and 3) that couples counseling was unprecedented and he recommended that we go separately or find someone in town. NO way I was seeking more help about this-- I was already ashamed and felt as though I was being dramatic. We got back together and sex was never the same... but as I felt was my only choice... I moved on and let it go.

I get it, it's really difficult to prove acquaintance rape, it's really difficult to clear up the fuzzy lines. Women are from mars, men are from venus, right? Communication is not always clear. All I know is that I felt it, I felt it for awhile. My body felt it. I only cried once. And I felt like I was reassured that the two resources, the two of which I was taught were THE ones to go to for help, wouldn't make it worth my tears again. Amherst DID provide the self-defense class over interterm, which is probably the best thing that Amherst, albeit passively, did to help me.

Amanda (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:28

Thank you for sharing your story. You may not be angry at Amherst, but I am!
Our university has a center for Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse, and I know it has caused improvements in things like this. I really hope administration in universities across the country considers your story and how it applies in their world.
You're strong, and brave, and wonderful.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:29

I wish you the best. I hope your pain is relieved even slightly by the overwhelming responses of love and support.

I want to say thank you for giving me a voice. I was let down by Amherst, too. As an employee of the college, trained in supporting the health of fellow students, I thought I would know what to do when I was raped. I used to date this boy, and during a conversation about our relationship, it happened. I said no several times, and then I just stayed silent and still until it was over. I contacted a counselor at 10PM and met with her. She let me tell my story and let me tell her how confused i was because this boy was my best friend. I wanted to get back together with him, but how could i? I could never let him touch me again. I felt like throwing up. He is my best friend-- how could I get him in trouble?
Per her advice, I had him go to the counseling center so he could get help, and ask if we could do a couples session and discuss how to get over this. I was told that 1) the male counselor assured him that he did NOT rape me, 2) that i was overreacting and had "control issues" and 3) that couples counseling was unprecedented and he recommended that we go separately or find someone in town. NO way I was seeking more help about this-- I was already ashamed and felt as though I was being dramatic. We got back together and sex was never the same... but as I felt was my only choice... I moved on and let it go.

I get it, it's really difficult to prove acquaintance rape, it's really difficult to clear up the fuzzy lines. Women are from mars, men are from venus, right? Communication is not always clear. All I know is that I felt it, I felt it for awhile. My body felt it. I only cried once. And I felt like I was reassured that the two resources, the two of which I was taught were THE ones to go to for help, wouldn't make it worth my tears again. Amherst DID provide the self-defense class over interterm, which is probably the best thing that Amherst, albeit passively, did to help me.

Katherine (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:32

I have never been so disgusted with an institution. What an embarrassment.

Angie, your courage to speak out is an inspiration. I can't applaud you enough. Stories like yours call attention to so many tragedies that go unnoticed in favor of maintaining image and status. If Amherst truly valued either, this would not have happened on campus in the first place.

Take a tip, Amherst. Fix things now or watch your applications plummet. Sickening rape apologists.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:33

I get it, it's really difficult to prove acquaintance rape, it's really difficult to clear up the fuzzy lines. Women are from mars, men are from venus, right? Communication is not always clear. All I know is that I felt it, I felt it for awhile. My body felt it. I only cried once. And I felt like I was reassured that the two resources, the two of which I was taught were THE ones to go to for help, wouldn't make it worth my tears again. Amherst DID provide the self-defense class over interterm, which is probably the best thing that Amherst, albeit passively, did to help me.

Eph'14 (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:36

Thank you so much for sharing your story, and thanks to the Amherst paper for publishing it.
Angie, your strength and courage amazes and inspires me. Good luck in all that you strive to achieve.

Former 5-Colleg... (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:37

Thank you for sharing this story. As a recent/former 5-College Student (I transferred from Mount Holyoke to an Ivy fairly quickly), I know both an Amherst woman who was raped, and women from Mount Holyoke who were assaulted by Amherst men - and that's after spending only a handful of semesters in the Pioneer Valley. All of these went unreported, or were quickly dropped, due to a similar attitude among the administration.

To hear that Amherst staff/faculty asked Angie, "Are you sure you were raped?" makes me sick to my stomach - what utter ignorance on the behalf of grown adults who should know much better than that.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:38

A girl I know from high school who now goes to Amherst posted this on Facebook, and I was captivated by this entire article. I am so sorry you had to go through all of that, and do know that sexual assault cases are more common than colleges like to admit. Just know that your story is getting around, and I genuinely hope that it can shed some light on the corruptness of Amherst's administration as well as other schools. The fact that this all happened to you and Amherst responded in that way is appalling to me, and I wish you the best of luck as you continue to recover.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:42

You are so incredibly brave. I am so sorry for what has happened to you.

Vassar Student (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:43

Thank you for your honesty and bravery. Although it is far from perfect, you have made me appreciate my own school's attitude toward sexual assault all the more. Solidarity from Vassar.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:44

I get it, it's really difficult to prove acquaintance rape, it's really difficult to clear up the fuzzy lines. Women are from mars, men are from venus, right? Communication is not always clear. All I know is that I felt it, I felt it for awhile. My body felt it. I only cried once. And I felt like I was reassured that the two resources, the two of which I was taught were THE ones to go to for help, wouldn't make it worth my tears again. Amherst DID provide the self-defense class over interterm, which is probably the best thing that Amherst, albeit passively, did to help me.

Allison (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:46

Thank you for writing this. I hope you can continue to be as brave and inspiring as you are now.

Heather (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 00:56

People who deny survivors: did you know that most sexual assault cases are NOT reported? People have NO reason to make this stuff up: there is a HUGE social stigma against survivors. Those who try to pass themselves off as "analytical thinkers" can take a few moments to think some more and realize that there is more to it than those who have not experience the intense shame of being a survivor. Please.

Angie- you are amazing! Down with Amherst's stupid policies- you are doing good in this world.

Sam Pemberton (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 01:06

Thank You for sharing this story. As a male who is just about to apply to college, I am crossing Amherst College off of my list. I am disgusted something like this could happen to you and at the apathy from the college. Don't stop fighting and just let things go. Report the bastard again and again cause there are men like him who get away with it once and won't stop. You should never let things go quiet for they'll fade away. Make your cause known with this article and find justice that you deserve.

Y (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 01:07

No words can describe how brave I think you are. As a survivor of sexual assault, and witness to several other survivors' struggles on my own college campus, we support you. Thank you.

Harvey (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 01:12

You have an ally in Cambridge. Thank you for doing what I and so many others will never be able to

Frank Pinto (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 01:12

Yeah, this is appalling. I did a lot of work around Sexual Violence prevention at Columbia and the characters in this retelling would be severely disciplined (read: fired) if this was happening at such a large scale at CU. I'd like to thank you for writing about this and creating awareness around the way Amherst handles these cases (its spread like wildfire through New York City). I'll be bringing this to the attention of the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Program at Columbia and hopefully people/schools around the country can start putting pressure on Amherst to fix whats broken.

Sooner (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 01:13

Thank you for sharing from an Oklahoma student. I admire your strength and bravery in telling this touching story. Much love.

KB (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 01:16

What an amazing piece and powerful story. Unfortunately, sexual assault and mental health problems are often poorly addressed in college campuses across the country. I go to Northwestern and was very, very frustrated with how they handle students that seek help for mental health issues. Thank you, for speaking out and taking a stand. Best of luck to you and your future plans.

Lots of love from a Northwestern University student.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 01:16

you are such a strong, wonderful person for being able to get through all of this and tell yr story. victim-blaming and oppressive institutions are no joke, and you took both issues head-on. much love and support coming yr way & i wish you the best of luck in the future.

Sooner (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 01:19

Thank you for sharing from an Oklahoma student. I admire your strength and bravery in telling this touching story. Much love.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 01:20

It's stunning and scary to see how similar your story is to my own. Although they lack the same details with the school and hospitals, I can really relate. I was raped when I was 16 (almost four years ago) and never reported it. Thank you for doing what so many people don't have the courage to do. I admire you. I only wish I had the strength you do. I really do.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 01:24

Thank you for your bravery, Angie. You will always have support here and a student body who will stand behind you. . Although everybody's tearing us apart tonight, hopefully you haven't given up on some good memories of Amherst. The soul of Amherst is in the professors and the students, including you, not some joke of a dean.