Amherst College, still reeling from former student Angie Epifano’s account of her sexual assault and subsequent mistreatment by Amherst administration, was dealt another blow last week, with the release of former Amherst student Trey Malone’s June 2012 suicide note, which revealed yet another account of a student who felt his assault was mishandled by the Amherst administration.
Malone wrote about his struggles dealing with the alleged sexual assault, and said that “what began as an earnest effort to help on the part of Amherst, became an emotionless hand washing. In those places I should’ve received help, I saw none.”
Malone’s story, published last Thursday in the Huffington Post, echoed that of Epifano, who published an op-ed in The Amherst Student on October 17.
Epifano wrote of her initial refusal to admit that she was not okay following the assault, and her eventual departure from Amherst.
In her op-ed, Epifano said that she did not receive any of the help or support that she needed from the campus sexual assault counselor.
“In short I was told: No you can’t change dorms, there are too many students right now,” she wrote. “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.”
Epifano and Malone’s stories—as well as those of countless others who have come forward to share their own experiences—have sparked both institutional and national conversations about sexual assault policies on college campuses.
Dana Bolger, a current senior and rape survivor at Amherst, put together a collection of photos showing students holding posters of things said to them by community members after their assaults. The signs held statements such as “Are you sure it was rape?” from a college administrator, and “You never took your case to trial, so you don’t actually count as a rape survivor,” from an Amherst dean.
Bolger wrote an accompanying letter in the AC Voice, a blog run by Amherst students, on October 23, saying that she hoped the photos and stories would help to catalyze conversation and change within the Amherst community.
“Let these stories be a portal for self-examination and growth,” she wrote.
As a result of the words of Epifano, Malone and others, Amherst is working to revamp its sexual assault policies. The day after Epifano’s op-ed was published, Amherst President Carolyn Martin responded with a letter to the community outlining the current sexual assault policy at Amherst as well as a checklist of steps that the college would be taking to address its problems.
“Every student should feel that the College will treat sexual misconduct and violence with the utmost seriousness,” she wrote.
While the stories from Amherst have prompted scrutiny of sexual assault policies at private colleges, Bowdoin will not be making any changes or reviews to its procedures.
“Bowdoin wrote a whole new policy in 2006,” said Advisor to the Student Sexual Misconduct Board Meadow Davis, “and two springs ago, we did another major review. We also review our policies every summer.”
But sexual assault does happen at Bowdoin; the annual Clery Report, released in October, documented seven forcible sexual offenses in 2011.
Matt Frongillo ’13, a member of Safe Space, echoed Davis with regard to Bowdoin’s sexual assault policies.
“Bowdoin revamped its policies a few years ago, and they did it without being prompted by anything,” he said.
Frongillo said that he did not think that Bowdoin had any reason to make any more changes to its sexual assault policy in light of events at Amherst.
“I would like to think that Bowdoin’s a lot more progressive about these policies,” he said. “A lot of people work to support survivors.”
Davis said that Bowdoin’s system works to make sure that every student feels that they are being heard.
Students going through the process of dealing with sexual assault have a supporter—a member of the faculty or staff whose role is only to be their for them.
“That goes a long way to making people feel like there is someone there for them,” said Davis. “It’s so people don’t feel like no one is listening to them, even if they are frustrated.”
Davis also highlighted the wide variety of programs that the College has for both prevention and awareness of sexual assault, specifically the student groups on campus.
Safe Space, V-Space, Bowdon Men Against Sexual Assault (BMASV), Residential Life, sports teams, and other student groups all go through training and have conversations about Bowdoin’s sexual assault policies and processes.
Staff members also receive the same training.
“The hope is that any staff person would understand the proper things to say to support people,” said Davis. “We want to focus on the staff having those skills.”
Bowdoin has a number of outlets for students to report and take action regarding sexual assault. Within the policy, survivors are referred to as “complainants” and those accused of sexual assault are referred to as “respondents.”
Students can submit anonymous reports to the College, are not required to identify anyone, and can initiate no-contact orders towards their assailant.
The administration also puts interim measures into place, which are more detailed protective measures for the victim that can involve changes in living, academic and work arrangements.
Students also have the option of participating in an informal resolution, which allows complainants to confront the respondent, either in person or otherwise, without a formal hearing. Informal resolutions generally result in either no-contact orders or interim measures.
“Informal resolutions focus on the safety of the complainant, and aren’t about proving anything,” said Davis.
Finally, students can participate in a formal process. When a student chooses to make a formal charge of sexual assault, the accusation is first sent to a private investigator in Portland.
“[The investigator] compiles a report, and says if there is substantial basis for a hearing,” said Davis.
If she does not find enough evidence for a hearing, the student still has the option of an informal resolution.
However, if there is evidence, the accused attacker will attend a hearing in front of the sexual misconduct board.
Davis said that, although Bowdoin attempts to do everything possible to support those who have gone through sexual assault, there is still the potential for students to be unsatisfied with the process.
“These processes are sad, hard and challenging,” she said. “People would probably be able to find things that made them frustrated because of the nature of those cases.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Epifano's op-ed had been published in both The Amherst Student and the Huffington Post. While Malone's suicide note was published in the Huffington Post, Epifano's op-ed was not. The online version of the article has been updated to correct this inaccuracy.