Open Letter from Mount Holyoke Student
Issue   |   Wed, 10/24/2012 - 09:30

Dear President Martin,

I'm sure you've received plenty of backlash, both in public and in private, in regards to the culture of sexual violence that has been so prevalent at Amherst College throughout its history. I, a Mount Holyoke student, write to you to tell you I am truly beyond appalled at your administration's lack of an appropriate response to this issue. In fact, more than your lack of appropriateness, I am appalled at the events brought to light in an op-ed by Angie Epifano that was published in The Amherst Student on Oct. 17, 2012.

For your administration to not only ship this survivor of sexual assault off to a psych ward, but to absolutely destroy her time at Amherst, is incredible. Epifano details being disallowed to study abroad, being told not to complain about her circumstances at Amherst and being treated both like a prisoner and someone who had completely lost touch with reality. On the contrary, Ms. Epifano has more sanity than members of your staff who dealt with her. Really? Punishing a student for being raped? As a sexual assault survivor and a sexual assault crisis counselor, I thought I had heard it all, but this story truly shocked me. How can we live in a world where other women are fundamentally misunderstanding and mistreating other women this way? How can you allow men on your campus to run amuck with absolutely no punishment? How can you let your administration treat survivors with such disrespect? I find your administration's dealings with sexual assault more repugnant than Ms. Epifano's rapist himself. That should mean something to you.

You, as a woman charged with protecting a student body and making sure those students take care of and respect each other, should be ashamed. I will never return to Amherst's campus again, and I can say the same of many other Mount Holyoke women. Your administration has some serious work to do, and I recommend you stop sweeping this issue under the rug for good.

- Ali Safran

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 10:32

I didn't realize these questions and accusations weren't already made. Thanks holyoke for bringing them to light...

Clarity (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 10:40

While the sentiment in this letter is common and right, two things have to be kept clear.

1. No college or university can "ship" someone to a psych ward. No college or university or president has the authority to force someone to be institutionalized. This is not a question of believing someone. This is a fundamental legal question. It could not and did not happen in the way you portray. That is not a case of "punishing" the student because it could not have happened that way.

2. It would be irresponsible for any college or university to allow study abroad for someone reintegrating into college life after serious psychiatric care. It would be irresponsible to the student for obvious reasons (s/he needs to transition back under the care and concern of the educational institution - something overseas institutions do not provide help or cover for) and for the students, faculty, and administration of the overseas institution, who very possibly would have to deal with suicide, extreme depression, and related behavior one could rightly anticipate as part of transitioning back to college life. Study abroad is very stressful for students. Recommendation forms from faculty address just this, which means it is something people expect as part of the experience. It is not only the reasonable thing, but the responsible thing to have done: no student returning from medical leave goes abroad right away. It is not the case of "punishing" a student, but of doing the responsible thing.

Note that none of this has to do with whether or not the sexual assault happened or whether or not the process of prosecuting the case was handled poorly or insanely badly.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 12:12

"I'm sure you've received plenty of backlash, both in public and in private..."
...but i'm going to give you just A LITTLE MORE.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 12:23

there is absolutely nothing constructive about this article -- it is a totally misguided expression of anger and rage that seeks to continue the trend of Amherst-bashing that emerged late last week. i'm all for accountability in our administration -- i think we desperately need to change, but I don't see how speaking to the president of my college (a woman I am willing to bet you have never met in person) like she's a petulant, misbehaving child is going to affect any such change.
further, your comment faulting president martin for "letting men run amok" is problematic: it smacks of the flip-side to the "boys will be boys" logic, as if men are these uncivilized creatures who are incapable of polite behavior or lack any capacity for civilization. president martin's job, as president of amherst college, isn't to corral rowdy little boys in a pen and keep them there until they calm down. it's to protect the safety and well-being of ALL STUDENTS, INCLUDING MEN.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 12:25

Just so you know, it wasn't President Martin's administration that did this. She wasn't even here (as in, working at the college) at the time of Angie's assault.

I also don't think it's fair to say that she, as a woman, should be ashamed. The men and women who dealt with this should be ashamed, but women should not necessarily be more ashamed just because they are women. President Martin had nothing to do with this and she has been extremely responsive about trying to implement change. Many policy changes had already occurred through her initiative before Angie's article came out in The Student.

2014 (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 14:27

I'm a (woman) student at Amherst, and I can assure you that no one cares if you, or your friends return to the Amherst campus.

And I'm not proud of what has happened here either, but not only is your anger misdirected, you're just an idiot. President Martin's administration had nothing to do with this. She has done a fantastic job in addressing the issues here. Change does not happen over night.

And speaking of change, how in the hell would you know what changes have been made, considering you don't even go here (coming here every weekend for parties in the Hockey suite does not count)?

How about you let the women who actually attend this college deal with what has happened? Because trust me, what you just posted above was not needed, not wanted, and factually incorrect. Return to Mount Holyoke were everything is sunshine and rainbows, right? Leave it me, and those of us like me, who call Amherst home.

2014 (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 15:15

I would also like to point out something about your adamant declaration that you will never return to Amherst. The difference between you and I is that you CHOOSE to come here. If you didn't want to, you would never have to navigate the minefields of misogyny. You went to an all-women school for a reason, did you not?

Yes, I did choose to attend Amherst, but my interactions with misogyny & rape culture on this campus are far less voluntary that yours. So, as you can probably tell, I'm a little offended that you think your opinion & anger is as valid and relevant as my own. It's not.

Do yourself, and the rest of us a favor, and stay at Mount Holyoke. Amherst is in a time of emotional rebuilding, and the last thing we need is nonconstructive and unfounded criticism like you have posted here. Good day.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 15:31

The incidents at Amherst don't only affect women going to Amherst, since Amherst is part of the Five-College System. As a fellow student attending Mount Holyoke I really hate the assumptions being made here. I hate that obnoxious bitches like you at Amherst automatically assume that the only reason any student might have, to come to Amherst, is to go to parties. Honestly letting one group of people define an entire student body population is pretty callous and ignorant. Are you really blind to the fact just as many Mount Holyoke women or Smith women or even UMASS women have probably experienced what Angie did? People aren't walking around calling you a rapist because of this incident so I really think you shouldn't stereotype Mount Holyoke women. It's degrading and disrespectful.

2014 (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 16:18

Please explain to me how the author of this article feels so qualified to speak on our rape culture/misogyny at parties if she only attends Amherst to take some challenging classes? Well? Oh wait, because we both know that's not true.

I'm not trying to discount you or anyone else's experiences. In fact, I believe you.

But my point was, writing a scathing letter to the President of a school you DON'T attend is foolish, because at the end of the day, you choose to come to this campus. (Please note: I am not victim-blaming, or suggesting that any woman who does not go to Amherst "got what she deserved", I promise). As I said above, you would never have to step foot on Amherst's campus if you didn't want to. Yet, you do.

If Mount Holyoke & others wants to work with us, that's great. But don't insult our President and act like she's solely responsible for your experience at Amherst, a campus you likely spend limited amounts of time on, and therefore said experience is limited.

And yes, people are walking around stereotyping the men at Amherst. People from YOUR school. I have read your newspaper, the comments on Reddit, etc.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 10/26/2012 - 08:23

If you are coming to Amhest to attend classes, then this really DOES NOT affect you, since during class it is impossible to rape someone in front of a professor and fellow students. Please keep your innapropiate language to yourself and stay away from Amherst, if you think that it is so evil. You don't attend Amherst for a reason, right?

2013 (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 15:14

...before you send in letters like this. You only make yourself seem ignorant and repugnant.

As several other posters have commented:
1) President Martin had not even been announced as a replacement for President Marx when the rape occurred. To blame her for a prior administration's response would be tantamount to blaming President Obama for causing the financial crisis.
2) The school did not simply ship Angie off to a psych ward. That is a decision that is solely left to the counselor evaluating the student: if the counselor believes the student is suicidal, has a plan, and is an imminent threat to themselves, the administration is legally obliged to take action. At the hospital, she would have been evaluated again before being committed. Why don't you ask the mental health resources at your school if this is not the same policy that they are obligated to follow? What would you be saying if the counselor had blown her suicidal thoughts off and Angie had killed herself? Without approving of anything else the administration did, this is how the system is supposed to function: professionals evaluate and the administration acts on that evaluation.
3) Before Angie's article was written or published, President Martin had already undertaken several actions to bring the college up to Title IX standards and reform the disciplinary process. Yes, things are slow to change and our college has an old boy's legacy, but most of us have confidence in President Martin's genuine efforts to reform the system.

Please, if you think men run amok in this campus raping women without conscience, maybe you should go back to your single-sex bubble and keep pretending everything is perfect. Or maybe at some point you will actually learn that you need to treat men as human beings as much as those you deride need to treat women as human beings. Let female students like myself work in our community to create an inclusive environment through open dialogue without running around with pitchforks screaming unproductively.

As a woman, I am ashamed of your totally unproductive and inaccurate accusations.

Anon2014 (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 16:20

True, Biddy was not president when Angie's rape occurred. But Biddy WAS president during last year's now-infamous "Roasting Women since 1847" t-shirt, during the subsequent horrendous lack of disciplinary action to that shirt, and has surely been privy to accounts of sexual assault that occurred at Amherst since she became president. Has she done anything publicly about the culture until now? No. Should she have? Yes.

Mhc (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 16:33

To all the Amherst students commenting that this girl should "go back to Mount Holyoke": did you tell all the non-amherst students to leave the rally, too? I don't understand why you wouldn't want more support on this. Your criticism is unwarranted and you just look catty.

2014 (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 18:08

I'm going to assume that you didn't read what either I or 2013 said.

Because I'm pretty sure I said, VERBATIM, that I have no problem working with Mount Holyoke students.

But the fact is, the student who wrote this article is making some, frankly, insulting comments towards our President, who if we are going to play the blame game, had nothing to do with this. And these comments are not just insulting, but they are incorrect, as 2013 pointed out.

We have a problem with someone who clearly has not been following the lengthy battle Amherst students have waged against sexual assault (contrary to popular belief, it did not start with Angie's op ed), writing a letter to our President, in our newspaper, that is so uninformed.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 18:12

The non-Amherst students at the rally: a) came to our campus, and b) did not make perpetuate unfounded assumptions.

While some areas of Angie's recollection can be disputed (though they should not be--and Biddy, in her own words, thinks that disputing the specifics her account is beside the point), if you trust professional assessments, Angie should have been committed. Plain and simple. That's one of the (few) parts of the system that actually worked: a professional counselor assessed that she presented a clear danger to herself, an assessment that was affirmed by the professional staff at the hospital. For someone to claim that they know better than trained medical professionals from reading a student's account is ludicrous.

I attended the rally and I was very happy to see many 5-college students there. I welcome a diversity of perspective. However, few of them were making blanket statements like, "How can you allow men on your campus to run amuck with absolutely no punishment?" or pretended that Biddy Martin was the president of the College when Angie's rape occurred--or even blamed Biddy personally and tried to shame her for being a female president. None of them were declaring that they would never return to our campus--they in fact came to help us change our community and I for one was grateful to hear all of their stories.

This letter, however, is completely unproductive and built upon blatantly false and arrogant assumptions. This letter is unwarranted and catty, and (as a male alumnus) insulting to the men of the College who have stood up time and time again for sexual respect. If the author is only capable of contributing such drivel to the dialogue that Amherst students, alumni, and 5 college students are engaging in, then perhaps she should keep to herself and stay away from our campus. None of us are denying the administration and our campus' failings. But at the least, we are standing up and trying to be productive instead of simply grabbing torches and pitchforks and pointing fingers.

Ali Safran (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 19:01

By no means did I intend to say that President Martin is the only one at fault here; in fact, I know she was not even president during the time of Angie Epifano's experience. However, she was president during the "Roasting Fat Ones" t-shirt incident, she was president during the subsequent period in which no disciplinary action or cultural education was done amongst Amherst students, etc. It is not the president's fault alone if something is going seriously awry at a school, but it doesn't absolve her of responsibility just because she was not there during the period in which the main sexual assault account that has circulated took place.

In addition, I'm pretty disgusted by the comments -- from fellow female students, no less -- that tell Mount Holyoke women to "go back to Mount Holyoke." Yes, we may "choose" to visit Amherst while you all "have to" go there and experience that culture, but that does not mean we don't experience the misogyny even off-campus. This is not a problem limited to Amherst, and it's also not a problem limited to men; I'm sorry if my letter suggested that it was. We are all responsible for the culture we perpetuate, and when that culture involves silencing survivors and creating a hostile environment for women/any students in general, you can bet someone will speak out on it. Whether or not that person is directly a member of your community isn't too relevant.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 10/26/2012 - 08:29

So the college should play stasi and curtail all forms of freedom of speech. I HATE the shirt. It is horrendous, but the college cannot and should not just go about telling students WHAT to think! Please make good on your offer and stay away from Amherst and your news.

Alumnae (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 19:01

I am shocked and confused about the outrage this letter caused among the Amherst women. Even though, Mount Holyoke girls are not students at Amherst, they do have a right to speak about the rape and the culture of misogyny prevalent at Amherst, as a part of the five college community. Excluding other raped women from this dialogue is cruel, unjust, and just... misogynistic. This is what needs to be addressed by the Amherst community as a whole -- the attitude towards women. Not all women come to Amherst to party, a lot come to Amherst to take classes. And what is really sad to observe in these classes, is that women who do speak in class and who are actively participating in discussion tend to be 5 college students, not Amherst girls.

Amherst Alumna 12 (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 19:39

Ali- I can understand your anger and bitterness after reading about Angie's account. I can assure you that you are not alone in this sentiment. However, I do feel that your anger is not directed appropriately here in your letter. President Martin was not yet on campus during that time, and she has been extremely passionate about making positive changes and working towards breaking silence and improving sexual respect on campus. She is not alone; both current and former students are banding together, many with the same anger and rage that you feel. However, change, as one commented here, does not happen over night, but as an Amherst alumna, I am proud of President Martin's reactions for moving forward. She isn't trying to bury the issue; she genuinely wants change. Personally attacking her and stating that she should be ashamed of herself is not productive and just not right. Attacking her as a woman, is also not right.

As you mention in your article, you are a sexual assault survivor and sexual assault crisis counselor. I admire your strength in using your negative experience to help others. Yet, I am surprised that you had "heard it all, that this story truly shocked" you. Unfortunately, rape happens in many (dare I say all?) colleges and universities across the country. It is a sad fact. Silencing victims is not something that occurs only at Amherst College. I say this not to say I think it is right; I say this because this type of victim silencing and rape culture exists, well, everywhere.

I ask that you not add to the blame game and finger pointing and fuel your anger in a constructive manner, towards positive and real changes to help shape a better, safer, and healthier culture. And you should want to strive for that whether or not you ever come back to Amherst (Don't you?)

misrepresented (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 20:36

I dislike this letter for so many reasons.

First, I feel like it is wrongly speaking for all Mount Holyoke students, incorrectly sending a message of how students at other (women's) colleges feel, and misrepresenting Five College students as a whole. "I will never return to Amherst's campus again, and I can say the same of many other Mount Holyoke women." Really? What other Mount Holyoke women were you speaking to, or for? Some Mount Holyoke students have friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, and family at Amherst. Some of us have positive experiences there and like interacting with other students in the Five College system, including those at Amherst. Some of us are not so blind as to characterize a whole group of people, in this case the Amherst student body, based on one incident. I know of the stereotypes that Five College students place on each other; not surprisingly, I don't want to fall into that limited view and I doubt that Amherst College students want to either.

Secondly, I don't think this letter is productive. I don't think it is appropriate for any non-Amherst student to be writing to President Martin about this. It is being addressed by the Amherst student population and alumni, and is getting national attention on major websites like Huffington Post. I don't see why this letter is helpful. Really, I think it's distracting. It is strongly misguided and I do not like that it is coming from my school and misrepresenting the way that Mount Holyoke women handle things.

I think the letter also has misguided ideas of what Five College students apart from Amherst should be doing in response to recent events. We should educate ourselves to know what happens at other colleges simply because we are college students. We should be aware of what is happening at Amherst simply because we are Five College students. (I hope that we would be equally invested and interested if this story was coming from UMASS, Hampshire, MHC, or Smith.) Angie Epifano's story should be shared and her bravery should be commended. Five College students should support her and know of her story as sexual assault survivors, as women, as men, as fellow college students, as fellow human beings. There is no reason NOT to share her story. We should all have conversations about sexual assault, rape culture, misogyny, and the horrific prevalence of situations like Angie's. However, we must stand back and trust Amherst College and give them time to handle this. I do not see it as productive to write letters to the Amherst administration as a non-Amherst student.

I was hoping this letter would not lead to labeling of Mount Holyoke students, but I see that it is already too late for that. I feel like I was unfairly spoken for, which is why I responded.

The greater Five College community should see this as an opportunity to engage in thoughtful dialogue and examine our own school communities, our own experiences, and our larger society. However, we do not need to muddle in the affairs of Amherst's administration.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 10/26/2012 - 08:33

Thanks for your letter.

Stephanie (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 23:50

Most of these comments have a very nasty "Leave us alone, this isn't your place" vibe... Guys, it's the Five College Consortium, however much many of our students want to feel above it. We have shared classes AND social events. An Amherst College problem, just like any Smith, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, or UMass problem with public safety, is all of our problem. Get over yourselves.

MHC student (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 00:17

Although I think this letter is not productive at all this is an issue that effects Mount Holyoke women. I know way too many girls that have been raped by Amherst men. Girls that have been gang raped by Amherst guys and girls that have been raped by serial rapists who never get punished for their criminal actions. So yes, from our opinion there are rapists running around your campus. If anything it is worse for Mount Holyoke girls because Amherst guys take advantage of the fact that we go back to Mount Holyoke and it leaves there campus and just gets talked about on our confessional.

MHC STUDENT 2013 (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 00:22

I find this letter completely irrelevant to the situation at hand. If you attend Mount Holyoke, like myself, then please stop making unnecessary and inappropriate remarks about what has occurred on a campus that you do not attend. I find it difficult to understand why writing this letter would benefit anyone. It is full of negativity... rather than talking about how students of Amherst College and the 5 College Community have begun to raise awareness and actually MAKE a change, your focus in this letter is directed towards the wrong people.
Please stop giving Mount Holyoke a bad name, and furthermore, there are those of us who very much enjoy Amherst College and will step foot on campus happily to take classes and such.
I'm appalled at this letter, and am sorry to the Amherst community on her behalf... I am also disgusted at how Mount Holyoke as a whole is being represented, especially since many of us care deeply about Amherst College and its students.

Another MHC Student (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 01:00

I respect that Ms. Safran has some very negative feelings about this incident - I do, too, as do most people I see on and off campus. However, this letter seems misguided and somewhat slanderous. Pres. Martin was not there when this occurred and she did release a very respectable (in my opinion) statement very shortly after the account was brought to light. She is a new president and this is a very difficult issue. In a couple of years, if absolutely no changes have been made, you'll be more justified in writing something angry addressed to her. I guess this letter just feels like "fluff" to me that we've already heard. And please don't forget all Amherst men aren't like that. Anyone who thinks that is crazy.

2012 (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 07:59

I think a more constructive approach would have been to reach out to the administration at Amherst regarding opportunities for 5-College students to join forces with Ahmerst students and admin, to bring about real change. President Martin mentioned several groups that have recently made an attempt to involve student input and participation in decisions regarding the Sexual Assault policy at the school. Why not ask about having 5-College representation there? Or maybe work towards creating a larger 5-College group of faculty and students to address these issues in the Valley? I'm just not sure what this letter is intended to do. We have seen enough backlash, and as the previous posters suggested, the current President was not at Amherst during the incident.

And regardless, the personal attacks on the President are immature, unnecessary and not at all constructive.

2011 (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 12:15

But not from the people defending Amherst--no, I'm talking about the commenters calling Amherst women "obnoxious bitches" or saying "women who do speak in class and who are actively participating in discussion tend to be 5 college students, not Amherst girls." Yeah, that's so progressive and forward thinking. That said, I wanted to thank the MoHos on here who don't feel like they're represented by Ms. Safran's comments. I know that these actions aren't representative of your community. In the spirit of good will, I apologize to you for the times I might have said or acted in a disrespectful way towards your great school

Ali Safran (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 13:28

Without intending to further expand negative dialogue that has conspired here, there are 2 points I feel I need to make:

1. Nowhere in this letter did I say I intended to speak for ALL Mount Holyoke students. I certainly don't intend to. I do know, however, of a few others who agree with me in the decision to not return to Amherst until we feel it's safer for EVERYONE, not just Amherst students. I apologize if anyone (Amherst student or not) felt I was trying to generalize my views as applicable to all MHC students -- certainly, we all have our own views, our own approaches, and our own reasons for why this may or may not upset us.

2. I wrote this letter a week ago, before President Martin had ever released any kind of statement on the matter. Perhaps, now, after all that has happened (the rally, Pres. Martin's letters to the community, etc.), you view my anger as less valid; it should be noted that I applaud President Martin for her promises to scrutinize Amherst's policies and to make Amherst a leader around this issue. I wrote this letter right after the article about the t-shirt and the article of Angie's story had come out -- at which point, President Martin had not done anything or spoken publicly or to the community about her plans of action regarding those matters. My letter was not intended to provide ideas for policy changes or culture changes, but that doesn't mean it isn't constructive. At the point I had written this, no one else had publicly responded to Angie's story.

3. All of that said, I'm concerned for and confused by those here who write that this doesn't affect Mount Holyoke or Smith or Hampshire or UMass women/students/faculty/etc. We are, as some commenters have noted, a community. That means when issues like this come to light, especially given that this isn't a problem limited to Amherst, it is well within the right of a 5-college student to do or say something about it.

Amelia (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 14:22

Not once in that article did I read that the author was speaking for the whole of the MHC population. I think her point was well articulated and eloquently written. She does a beautiful job of presenting her thoughts and feelings and frankly it is the best letter I have read. Also she describes her choices for the future, not those of anyone else's. Take this situation regarding sexual assault personally, regardless of who you are or where you are from, but do not direct your shame, embarrassment and humiliation at the author.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 21:48

Wow the Amherst people posting on here truly play into the "pretentious" stereotype that has been portrayed. Everyone in the 5-college COMMUNITY should want to not only interact with each other, but also SUPPORT each other! Ms. Safran voiced her opinion to help the 5-college community.

If you Amherst students really want Mount Holyoke students to "stay on their campus" if they feel they are unsafe on your campus, maybe you shouldn't have gone to a school that is part of a community? Perhaps Williams College would've been a better choice?

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