SMOC Report: Toward a Culture of Respect

Toward a Culture of Respect: The Problem of Sexual Misconduct at Amherst College



Letter from President Biddy Martin

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

This past October, in response to reports of sexual assault, Amherst College formed the Special Oversight Committee on Sexual Misconduct. The committee, chaired by Professor Margaret Hunt and composed of students, faculty, staff, and trustees, was charged with providing a report that reviewed policies and made specific recommendations aimed at improving our capacity to prevent and address incidents of sexual misconduct. Given the urgency of the matter, the committee was asked to prepare the report for presentation to me and then to the Board of Trustees at the January meeting that just concluded.

This past Friday and Saturday, Professor Hunt presented the report to the Board. The report is detailed, candid, and thoughtful. It holds Amherst accountable for putting in place the policies and systems that are necessary for addressing and preventing sexual misconduct.

I would like to thank the members of the committee—and, in particular, its chair, Professor Hunt—for their service. The report is now available to the community here.

I urge all of you to read the report of the Special Oversight Committee. A number of its recommendations have already been addressed—in particular, those related to the spirit and letter of Title IX. Under the leadership of Suzanne Coffey, the Title IX Committee has, over recent months, redrafted our policies, procedures, and protocols.  The College now has and follows an integrated response to sexual misconduct and assault that addresses the immediate needs of our students. The College also provides support, resources, and informed communications about reporting options. The Office of the Dean of Students has taken steps to improve its protocols and enhance coordination. Other recommendations await campus discussion, and some will also become part of our larger strategic planning initiative. The Board of Trustees has asked that we make meaningful progress before its April meeting, and we intend to act with dispatch. (A statement about the report from the Board of Trustees.)

In addition, Gina M. Smith of Ballard Spahr LLP in Philadelphia has completed her evaluation of the College’s response to Angie Epifano’s report of rape in spring 2012. Ms. Smith, a nationally recognized expert in the area of sexual misconduct in higher education, presented her findings and recommendations to me last week and to the Board this past weekend. In her presentation, Ms. Smith reported that Ms. Epifano provided a credible account of her experience. The focus in Smith’s assessment was whether the application of policy and process to Ms. Epifano’s report constituted an effective response by the College. It did not. Based on her careful review, Ms. Smith concludes that, in this case, the College failed to follow policy and procedure in a way that would have provided a prompt and integrated response to Ms. Epifano’s report. The failure of responsible parties to communicate promptly and effectively with Ms. Epifano and with one another precluded a successful response. Ms. Smith cited failures of protocol, coordination, communication, and effective supervisory relationships among staff. The result was an inadequate, even if well-intentioned, set of efforts to respond to and support Ms. Epifano.

The resulting recommendations that Ms. Smith presented to me and to the Board are consistent with the recommendations in the report of the Special Oversight Committee. Many have already been implemented or are in the process of being put in place.

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 7:30 p.m., we will hold an open meeting in Johnson Chapel, where Professor Hunt and other members of the Special Oversight Committee will be available to respond to questions about the committee’s work and where my colleagues and I will be available to hear your ideas about how best to proceed.  At that time we will also provide an outline proposing the sequence and timeline for consideration of key recommendations. In the meantime, I urge you to send responses and suggestions via the Suggestions and Stories link on the Sexual Respect website.

The report makes clear that sexual assault is a national issue and concludes that Amherst is not different from its peer institutions in the incidence of sexual misconduct; it also argues—correctly, in my view—that we at Amherst have an obligation to live up to the College’s values by holding ourselves accountable for efforts to prevent it and to respond effectively when it occurs. We are responsible for working together to make change.

We have started this work together; many of the recommendations in the committee’s report will sound familiar, because they echo the views expressed by many of you in public meetings, on the Day of Dialogue, and in other venues. I look forward to working with the entire community to change what must be changed in policy, procedure, and protocols; in the organization and coordination of student life functions across the College; and, over time, in our cultural and social fabric. 

Sincerely,

Biddy Martin

Toward a Culture of Respect The Problem of Sexual Misconduct at Amherst College.pdf

Statement from the Board of Trustees

January 30, 2013

In October 2012, President Biddy Martin, with the support of the Board of Trustees, empaneled a special committee to make recommendations for improvements in the College’s efforts to prevent and address sexual assault and sexual misconduct at Amherst College. This action was taken following the emergence of disturbing accounts of cases of sexual assault and misconduct. At its meeting in October, the Board heard firsthand from many members of the Amherst community, including a delegation of students. The urgency of the issue was plain.

The Special Oversight Committee on Sexual Misconduct was composed of members of all parts of the Amherst community. Its mandate was broad: to look at both the present and the past; to explore the experience of other institutions; to examine the specifics of policy and practice at Amherst; to consider wider issues of campus life and culture; and to offer a comprehensive set of recommendations. The committee was instructed to deliver its report to the President and the Board within a matter of months. The report would be shared with the Amherst community and the public.

At its January 2013 meeting, this past weekend, the Board of Trustees received the Report of the Special Oversight Committee on Sexual Misconduct. It is the unanimous expectation of the Board that the recommendations will be considered immediately by the administration and by the appropriate bodies at the College. Of central importance are the reorganization of the dean of students’ office; increasing staffing where necessary; and ensuring coordination of administrative functions across the College. The President, with the full support of the Board, will make these matters a priority. In cases where Board action is needed or sought, the Board will act swiftly. The Board supports the strong leadership that has been shown from the outset by President Martin, who has already instituted significant changes and has engaged in intensive conversations with students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, and expert advisors from around the country.

We are grateful to the members of the committee for their prompt and thorough review, and to all members of the campus community who assisted in the committee’s work. Issues of sexual assault and misconduct are a reality at every college and university. In going forward, Amherst must take all possible steps to prevent cases of sexual misconduct and to address them immediately if they occur. We deeply regret the pain caused to any member of the community. The College must hold itself accountable, but it must and will do more: Amherst will strive to make itself a model among institutions of higher learning in our policies and our procedures, and in our conduct as a community.

Letter from President Biddy Martin

Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013

Dear Members of the Amherst Community,

This past October, in response to reports of sexual assault, Amherst College formed the Special Oversight Committee on Sexual Misconduct. The committee, chaired by Professor Margaret Hunt and composed of students, faculty, staff, and trustees, was charged with providing a report that reviewed policies and made specific recommendations aimed at improving our capacity to prevent and address incidents of sexual misconduct. Given the urgency of the matter, the committee was asked to prepare the report for presentation to me and then to the Board of Trustees at the January meeting that just concluded.

This past Friday and Saturday, Professor Hunt presented the report to the Board. The report is detailed, candid, and thoughtful. It holds Amherst accountable for putting in place the policies and systems that are necessary for addressing and preventing sexual misconduct.

I would like to thank the members of the committee—and, in particular, its chair, Professor Hunt—for their service. The report is now available to the community here.

I urge all of you to read the report of the Special Oversight Committee. A number of its recommendations have already been addressed—in particular, those related to the spirit and letter of Title IX. Under the leadership of Suzanne Coffey, the Title IX Committee has, over recent months, redrafted our policies, procedures, and protocols.  The College now has and follows an integrated response to sexual misconduct and assault that addresses the immediate needs of our students. The College also provides support, resources, and informed communications about reporting options. The Office of the Dean of Students has taken steps to improve its protocols and enhance coordination. Other recommendations await campus discussion, and some will also become part of our larger strategic planning initiative. The Board of Trustees has asked that we make meaningful progress before its April meeting, and we intend to act with dispatch. (A statement about the report from the Board of Trustees is viewable here).

In addition, Gina M. Smith of Ballard Spahr LLP in Philadelphia has completed her evaluation of the College’s response to Angie Epifano’s report of rape in spring 2012. Ms. Smith, a nationally recognized expert in the area of sexual misconduct in higher education, presented her findings and recommendations to me last week and to the Board this past weekend. In her presentation, Ms. Smith reported that Ms. Epifano provided a credible account of her experience. The focus in Smith’s assessment was whether the application of policy and process to Ms. Epifano’s report constituted an effective response by the College. It did not. Based on her careful review, Ms. Smith concludes that, in this case, the College failed to follow policy and procedure in a way that would have provided a prompt and integrated response to Ms. Epifano’s report. The failure of responsible parties to communicate promptly and effectively with Ms. Epifano and with one another precluded a successful response. Ms. Smith cited failures of protocol, coordination, communication, and effective supervisory relationships among staff. The result was an inadequate, even if well-intentioned, set of efforts to respond to and support Ms. Epifano.

The resulting recommendations that Ms. Smith presented to me and to the Board are consistent with the recommendations in the report of the Special Oversight Committee. Many have already been implemented or are in the process of being put in place.

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 7:30 p.m., we will hold an open meeting in Johnson Chapel, where Professor Hunt and other members of the Special Oversight Committee will be available to respond to questions about the committee’s work and where my colleagues and I will be available to hear your ideas about how best to proceed.  At that time we will also provide an outline proposing the sequence and timeline for consideration of key recommendations. In the meantime, I urge you to send responses and suggestions via the Suggestions and Stories link on the Sexual Respect website.

The report makes clear that sexual assault is a national issue and concludes that Amherst is not different from its peer institutions in the incidence of sexual misconduct; it also argues—correctly, in my view—that we at Amherst have an obligation to live up to the College’s values by holding ourselves accountable for efforts to prevent it and to respond effectively when it occurs. We are responsible for working together to make change.

We have started this work together; many of the recommendations in the committee’s report will sound familiar, because they echo the views expressed by many of you in public meetings, on the Day of Dialogue, and in other venues. I look forward to working with the entire community to change what must be changed in policy, procedure, and protocols; in the organization and coordination of student life functions across the College; and, over time, in our cultural and social fabric. 

Sincerely,

Biddy Martin