In an op-ed published in the Amherst Student on Wednesday, “An Account of Sexual Assault at Amherst College,” Angie Epifano, a former member of the Amherst Class of 2014, bravely recounts how she was raped by a classmate as a first year. Since it was released, her account has sparked an outpouring of sympathy and outrage at the administration’s response, and has inspired others to come forward with similar stories.
Epifano writes that she felt unsafe on the small campus and did not tell anyone about the assault. When she did seek help from the college’s sexual assault counselor, she was asked whether the rape might have been just “a bad hook up” and was dissuaded from pressing charges or initiating disciplinary proceedings. Months after the assault, Epifano confessed suicidal thoughts and was transported to emergency care. When she returned to school, she was blocked from studying abroad or writing a senior thesis in light of her “unstable” condition. Epifano withdrew from Amherst after her sophomore year, one year after the assault.
One of the most disturbing aspects of Epifano’s testimony is her characterization of how administrators tried to whitewash her assault and subsequent withdrawal from the college. “Silence has the rusty taste of shame,” she writes, condemning the school’s attempt to “sweep sexual assaults under a rug,” and noting how administrators failed to provide her with a support system and instead insisted that “Amherst is a safe place.”
Since Wednesday, numerous NESCAC students and alumni have come forward with their own accounts of sexual assault on their respective campuses. Online discussion has highlighted a handful of similar incidents at Bowdoin, including the 2009 Suite 101 account of Megan Wyman ’06 and a 2010 Center for Public Integrity article about a sexual assault at Bowdoin in December 2007.
Released last week, Bowdoin’s 2012 Clery Report recorded seven forcible sexual assaults on campus last year, compared to 11 at Amherst, seven at Williams, six at Bates and eight at Wesleyan. Assault often goes unreported; the Clery numbers are not an absolute indicator of the incidence of sexual assault, but they do underscore one important fact: sexual assault happens at Amherst, at schools like Amherst, and at Bowdoin—and more often than these numbers show.
Bowdoin is a uniquely vocal and active campus when it comes to this issue. Thanks in large part to the efforts of Meadow Davis and the sexual misconduct resource team—made up of V-Space, Safe Space, and BMASV—a wide variety of resources are readily available to survivors. Last year, Safe Space found that about half of the group’s sixty-odd active members had helped a survivor on campus. This shows that while many incidents go officially unreported, these resources provide real support to students.
Yesterday, Amherst President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin responded in a statement saying that “No student should be discouraged from reporting offenses or seeking redress.” She promised that Amherst would investigate the case and revise college policy. It took the courage of one individual to speak up and force Amherst to respond. But though administrative intervention may help the healing process for Epifano and other students, it will not eradicate sexual misconduct. Improving safety at Amherst, and at all NESCAC campuses, requires the effort of the entire community.
This Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., VDay will host the annual Take Back the Night event on Bowdon’s Art Museum steps, a vigil occurring on college campuses around the nation to raise awareness for sexual violence. Noteworthy on its own, this event merits special consideration in light of these recent events.