An Open Letter from President Martin
Issue   |   Tue, 11/06/2012 - 17:05

An open letter to the Amherst Community:

I write to you today with an enormous sense of sorrow. Yesterday, a website for the Good Men Project posted a suicide note written by a former Amherst student, Trey Malone, who took his own life in June 2012. Trey's death is a tragedy. My deepest sympathies are with his family members and friends, who have suffered the most painful imaginable loss.

Suicide could not be more heart-wrenching. It leaves those who remain not only with incomprehensible loss, but also with painful questions—about what more could have been done, what any or all of us may have missed, what could have caused such a sense of isolation and despair.

Out of respect for Trey's privacy and the privacy of his family, the College has not been public about what he experienced at Amherst. Trey's note, parts of which we read in the summer, causes us to pause and reflect on the insights and perspective he wished to offer. The lessons in his words have informed the on-going changes we are making at the College directly. When I learned of Trey's suicide this summer and after consultation with the Board of Trustees, I sought a review of the College's response, and, for the purpose of informing our community, I share the following from that review:

Trey was a first-year student at Amherst in the fall of 2009, and again in the fall of 2011. In September of 2011, Trey reported a sexual assault involving another student. The College responded immediately to the report, provided Trey with access to support and resources, and in October of 2011 the College resolved the report through our disciplinary system, resulting in a finding of responsibility for the respondent. Through the remainder of the Fall semester, the College provided on-going outreach and support to Trey. In December of 2011, Trey requested, and the College granted, an academic withdrawal. In the Spring of 2012, Trey was discussing academic options with the Office of Dean of Students for what he hoped would be a return to Amherst.

Since learning of his death early this summer, I have often thought about Trey. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to meet or get to know him. In our brief conversation in December 2011, related to an appeal process, I offered him my sympathy for what had happened to him, asked whether he was getting adequate help, and sought to confirm his views on sanctions for the student who was found responsible for sexual misconduct. I recall being struck by the kindness in Trey's voice.

While these facts can seem meaningless in the face of the loss of life, I am sharing information about our response, because I believe it relevant to our community's understanding of this tragedy and to the dialogue we have been engaged in this semester. In recent days, this campus has come together to have frank and candid conversations about the community and culture we want and the many barriers to realizing our goals at Amherst, as elsewhere. I expect that we will face this news with the same courage, open dialogue, and care for one another that has marked our best responses to what we already knew.

The pain and finality of Trey’s suicide eclipse all other concerns, yet I call on us all to reflect on what we knew, accept that we cannot know everything, and learn from this horrible loss. The literature on suicide tells us that talking about suicidal thoughts or feelings helps to alleviate those feelings and, yet, the majority of students who contemplate suicide never tell anyone. Please make sure that you and those around you have the support you need. Pay close attention to your own feelings and behaviors as well as those of your friends and fellow students. I urge you to seek our help and ask you to encourage others to do the same.

As always, my door is open.



Julie Fitzgerald (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 11:42

This seems to be a heartfelt and genuine letter.
Suicide leaves us with painful questions, as you point out, which may be unanswerable given its finality. Obviously, support for people at risk for suicide is critical, but not always successful.
Here's a question you may be able to answer: I'm wondering why this "open letter" was apparently emailed to faculty but not to staff or students.
Julie (biology dept)

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 16:06

What does "resulting in a finding of responsibility for the respondent" mean?

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/08/2012 - 00:55

Great question

Kat (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/08/2012 - 14:00

I also didn't understand that. Can we have a clarification?

Lou (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 22:48

Court records show Malone was arrested on Friday on charges of hosting an open house party, resisting and officer, and battery on a law enforcement officer, a felony.

Sonum (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/08/2012 - 13:14

just more victim discrediting at work here. he's dead now, so why are making presumptions about his character? this information shouldn't serve to absolve anyone from guilt at the way this was handled OR to push this matter aside.

Sonum Dixit '13 (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/08/2012 - 01:32

I wish that our administration would get to the root of the problem, rather than engaging us in superficial lip service- i.e. the Day of Dialogue not addressing "grey rape," not covering myths about sexual assault, not making the connection between privilege and sexual assault NOR engaging students in an actual Q&A at the end as promised. People have resigned who can easily get jobs elsewhere without learning from the mistakes (perhaps an understatement) they made at the College and will just ruin more lives. Instead of conducting open investigations of the staff members in question, they are quietly leaving so that we will never know the extent to which they have wronged students. I appreciate that steps are being taken, but I feel that they are just scratching the surface, rather than getting to the root of the problem. This brings to mind the similar wave of sexual assault outrage that occurred in the 1990s but somehow died down, probably as a result of the similar "hand-washing" I am starting to see here.

For example, "I offered him my sympathy for what had happened to him, asked whether he was getting adequate help, and sought to confirm his views on sanctions for the student who was found responsible for sexual misconduct. I recall being struck by the kindness in Trey's voice."

The last sentence seems like a clear deflection from the actual questions that many students are asking about the school's handling of Trey's case.

Kat (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/08/2012 - 14:05

Repeating the question: What does "resulting in a finding of responsibility for the respondent" mean?

I found this letter frustratingly unclear.

anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/08/2012 - 14:13

Why didn't Biddy Martin make an effort to personally meet Trey? I found this paragraph really frustrating:

"Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to meet or get to know him. In our brief conversation in December 2011, related to an appeal process, I offered him my sympathy for what had happened to him, asked whether he was getting adequate help, and sought to confirm his views on sanctions for the student who was found responsible for sexual misconduct. I recall being struck by the kindness in Trey's voice."

That is the outreach of the person who leads the Amherst community in a very serious case? You talked to him for a few minutes on the phone? You share your impression on his tone of voice, as a way to convey that you thought for more than a few minutes about his case?

What exactly is the role of the president, if it not to be personally involved in cases like this?

David Seth Mich... (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/08/2012 - 20:31

The phrase "resulting in a finding of responsibility for the respondent" means that the College disciplinary process resulted in a determination that the student charged with the sexual assault had committed the assault. The President says that she asked Trey Malone for his views on punishment. It's not ambiguous. It's just legalistic.

Peter Kelley (not verified) says:
Sun, 11/18/2012 - 18:01

Actually, if you read the letter carefully, you find that the charge was sexual assault, yet the disciplinary determination was for sexual misconduct, certainly a more amorphous violation. Your statement that 'the process resulted in a determination that the student charged with the sexual assault had committed the assault' does not follow from the letter and is really a projection.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/08/2012 - 23:14

This letter sounds defensive rather than heartfelt. Do you really think you did all you could? Why are you purposefully avoiding talking about the fact that Trey said you had engaged in victim-blaming when he mentions the first thing you told him was “Have you handled your drinking problem?”. I'm just trying to figure out what your role is here, are you with the students or are you more concerned with maintaining Amherst's status as an elite private institution? That distinction is real and I think as our President it is your duty to choose which side you're going to be on. Don't demonstrate this with pretty words, or cheap metaphors, but with real actions and effective policy change. I was very disappointed with the recent Day of Dialogue as it came off as nothing more than a chance to talk down to students without giving them a real voice. I saw a self-congratulatory spectacle capable of letting the campus and the press know "look how willing we are to enact real change, look how great we are for being at the forefront of these issues". When in reality what change really occurred through the morning speeches? Despite the productivity of the small group discussions that should not be the final step. One thing I would like to see is an honest examination of how both privileged students and the school benefit from Amherst's culture of silence. Though this may have happened in the past it can no longer be a path followed by Amherst if its students are to truly "bring light to the world" because what light can we spread if we continue to wrap victims in shadows through a systematic silencing and victim-blaming. Similarly, victims like Trey should not be ignored and left out of the dialogue because of a society that sees suicide as a selfish act or a student body who sees this subject as too sensitive to be engaged in active, productive discussion. Let's learn from Trey's words and continue to question not only Amherst's direction but society as a whole.

I give praise to all the students who are continuing the demands for change amongst the student body and the administration, but already there's a rise in apathetic feelings towards the subject and towards putting an end to Amherst's rape culture. There's been a life lost already, because we've avoided changing this culture for so long and now that there's been an opening all I see is an administration seeking to create the facade of action without striking at the root of Amherst's rape culture and fully engaging to put an end to it. Forgive me for being skeptical but I invite you to prove me wrong.

Saddened student (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/08/2012 - 23:27

The extent to which the administration of this College refuses to take responsibility for its affect on the lives of students disgusts me. Trey Malone clearly states in his suicide note that he did not receive the support he needed from the College. His mother also wrote a public note stating that the administration failed to help her son. It was the administration's failures that led to the suicide of Trey Malone, and yet the president's sole response is to insist that the College did all it was supposed to do. Clearly, Biddy would like us to believe that Trey's suicide was unrelated to this administration's incompetency, and in so doing, makes Trey's last words a lie, and his suicide meaningless (or perhaps, as our some members of our society like to believe, a selfish act). This horrifying hand-washing makes obvious that the administration has no real plans to make long-term change to the existing (flawed) sexual assault policies, (lack of) mental health resources, and rape culture on campus. A student commits suicide, a handful of students drop out or transfer out, and countless others suffer in oppressed silence, but this administration will never admit that they are wrong as long as the College maintains its elite reputation and receives hefty alumni donations. This letter has confirmed my suspicion that the Day of Dialogue was nothing but a PR event created by the administration to allow for self-congratulation (let us not forget Gina Smith's meaningless, and frankly pathetic, speech). Biddy pretends to take action by hiring all sorts of external consultants who know nothing about the specific culture and student body here at Amherst. She initiates a few discussions with a handful of students and passively listens to our demands, then turns and continues on her own bureaucratic agenda that is completely divorced from the well-being of the students. I have never been more ashamed to be an Amherst College student.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/09/2012 - 03:13

Ok, according to wikipedia: "A respondent is a person who is called upon to issue a response to a communication made by another. In legal usage, this specifically refers to the defendant in a legal proceeding commenced by a petition, or to an appellee, or the opposing party, in an appeal of a decision by an initial fact-finder. "

Thus, Biddy seems to be saying that the rapist was found guilty. Nonetheless, further clarification would be still be nice.

Asher Lovy (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/09/2012 - 07:30

The president of the college states that the matter went through the disciplinary system and resulted in a finding of responsibility for the respondent. And that's it. Colleges are notorious for sweeping sexual crimes under the rug to protect their own images and keep applications up. I see no mention of police involvement, nor any clarification on what that "finding of responsibility" entailed. Sexual assault is a criminal offense, this isn't just some frat prank gone wrong. How are they getting away with this?!

Karen Schultz (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/09/2012 - 13:03

Colleges should not be allowed to handle rape cases. They should always go to the real police departments. Of course the colleges want the issues to go away. This is a lot like the chicken guarding the hen house. Hope the President loses her job over this one. Why do students lose their rights to real justice just because they are enrolled in a university?

Brenda (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/09/2012 - 13:47

If you read the other stories about Amherest and there response is always the same. The letters look very similar on there respone, looks like they just substitute the names. Too, all who are wondering about the letter, its just basically saying they took the proper measures on helping out Malone and they are not accountable for his actions. On the rape they are saying they took the steps required by law and they took there disciplinary actions on the person who raped him (hense a slap on the wrist). You did not see anything about an arrest or cops being called because that would mean them filling a report which means that would be public knowledge and bad for the school. Overall, Malone was correct nothing was really done for him. Sad to say but too many schools do not report to the cops because it reflects bad on the school, so assumed. Parents would love to see more action taken. When I see there are not too many reports I realize there is too much hush hush in the school and do not recommend it anymore.

DM (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/09/2012 - 16:07

I just read the dreadful letter issued by Amherst's president ~! President Martin ducks responsibility at every juncture in attempt to bury the college's culpability with an empty letter of condolence. If I were Trey Malone's family, I would be horrified but not surprised. I pray that somewhere high up in the college hierarchy there is someone who will insist on telling the truth in order to set things right. Trey deserves so much more than this awful letter. Those of us who know a young person who has been raped or attacked in some way sexually know that the ripples from such an event are great with respect to the potential for self doubt/self-loathing, rage, and an indelible sense of having been abandoned when the event is passed over in an effort to avoid bad press or the loss of a major funder. There is an award-winning film made as a result of the gang rape of a woman whose reputation as a drunk with a questionable reputation-based on a real life story--resulted in a precedent-setting verdict to remind us and the courts that rape is rape, regardless of the reputation of the victim. Needless to add, an individual who has had too much to drink is vulnerable and an easy mark for a sexual predator. Trey was the victim of a humiliating attack. One that he could not overcome without enormous support--the kind that is affirming and resolute. There is something terribly wrong when the victim is left struggling with and anguishing endlessly over what happened in ways that Trey shouldn't have. I hope Amherst rethinks its poor response to Trey's demise by taking this on in order to shed a bright light on the circumstances surrounding Trey's assault for the sake of Trey's friends, family, his credibility, and reputation.

CKWJr (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/09/2012 - 23:17

It baffles me how President Martin can look at herself in the mirror knowing how responsible she is for the tragic suicide of this boy who was raped on the Amherst campus. Shame on you, Biddy Martin.

anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 11/12/2012 - 21:23

I am trying to understand this statement:
"I offered him my sympathy for what had happened to him, asked whether he was getting adequate help, and sought to confirm his views on sanctions for the student who was found responsible for sexual misconduct. I recall being struck by the kindness in Trey's voice."

It appears that President Martin was asking Trey what he thought about the sanctions for the perpetrator of the crime committed against him. So, what were the sanctions? Was this criminal allowed to return to school? Did he graduate? Was the president asking whether Trey thought this criminal should be allowed to return to school while his own return was still apparently in question? I would like to know whether donations to the school and such ultimately affect decisions regarding sanctions.

There was kindness in Trey's voice. What were Trey's views on the sanctions? How would Trey have felt about returning to the place where he was assaulted. How does it affect a victim to know that their attacker is still nearby? I can only imagine.

The words "sexual misconduct" only serve to diminish the violent crime of rape.

I believe there is much to read between the lines.

'12 Alumnus (not verified) says:
Tue, 11/13/2012 - 01:15

This is a shockingly inadequate response to such a tragic event, one where President Martin needs to admit her own responsibility in a deeper capacity. She makes her knowledge of the incident and her proximity to Trey during his time of need crystal clear, but treads quickly through a paragraph that vaguely alludes to her "brief" talk with Trey and her fleeting "sympathy." And I echo the above poster who asks the primary question that paragraph raises: why did she never meet him? Why did she not do more here? This is incredibly troubling and showcases President Martin's lack of sincerity.
I think this kind of insincerity characterizes President Martin. I remember sitting at a table in Valentine Dining Hall last fall as she walked through the room "chatting" with students and asking questions about technology on campus, along with other questions about social life, etc.. In a room of white students, I saw her excitedly notice our table full of ethnic minorities and say to the woman who accompanied her "THAT table!" She asked us questions about social cohesion on campus and feigned a strong interest in issues of diversity. Her interest would have been welcome if she hadn't shown it to be entirely insincere when she wrote down each of our email addresses and invited us to a dinner, but then NEVER followed up as she so excitedly promised. She is another insincere face of Amherst College, and if issues of sexual violence on campus are going to be solved, we need someone who's going to lead the administration in a more genuine and visionary way.

Anon (not verified) says:
Tue, 11/13/2012 - 14:31

There's a reason why the police are not involved in these cases. The legal standards for "rape" are much higher than "rape" as it is interpreted on college campuses. In most college "rapes" the parties are known to each other. There is often alcohol involved. The victim has often intentionally place him/herself alone in a room with a bed with his "rapist" and has sometimes consented up to a certain point. Often the victim does not realize that or report that a rape has taken place for weeks or months afterward. The victim often has pre-existing substance abuse or mental health problems. Any one of these factors would preclude obtaining a conviction in the real legal system. Calling the police in such cases would result in less (no) punishment vs. the college disciplinary systems where at least some nominal punishment can be exacted.

Perhaps what is needed here is some middle ground - giving the perpetrators a slap on the wrist via the college disciplinary system seems like too little, but branding a drunken freshman as a rapist, sending him to jail to do hard time and ruining his entire life seems like too much.

Howard (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/14/2012 - 21:15

Biddy has worked her way up from Provost at Cornell to now President of Amherst via U of Wisc where she was very unpopular. Maybe it is time for a new President of Amherst and perhaps Biddy should go back to teaching German.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/15/2012 - 00:08

One cannot prosecute a rape under the criminal justice system without the victim's testimony. There are some outlier cases that rely on physical evidence alone, but there is little physical evidence in most cases anyway. The school and the police cannot prosecute a case without the victim, so the police will not be involved unless the victim CHOOSES for them to be involved (and there are a multitude of a reasons why a person wouldn't want this).

dkkauwe (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/14/2013 - 17:17

"In our brief conversation in December 2011, related to an appeal process, I offered him my sympathy for what had happened to him, asked whether he was getting adequate help, and sought to confirm his views on sanctions for the student who was found responsible for sexual misconduct. I recall being struck by the kindness in Trey's voice."

At present we do not recall what we saw that gave us this emotional response but we strongly feel that you were callous and indifferent to what happened, and we cannot but say,

"These kinds of events that are occurring aren't accidents or just something someone did to someone else...

No this is a matter of power that is used against a powerless person just for the sake of relishing that persons agony and misery and suffering."

How could Trey have been raped when he was also arguably of physiological equivalence to his assaulter, presumably?

Was he drugged?

Was he tied down?

Was he beaten into submission?

How did this occur?

There is something very, very wrong and if it is not addressed and dealt with then all that we have labored to create, it will be lost in self-destructive behaviors."

And so I must then ask,

"Do you care? Or is this all just a long calculation about the survival of...who? Men? Women? Both?"

Amherst has an unbelievable responsibility as possibly one of the only institutions that controls such a thing as our repository of archival materials in the Bunker.

If the world ended today and Amherst was a point of renewal, what legacy did we leave behind?