Board of Trustees' Statement on Sexual Misconduct and Assault

October 20, 2012

To the Members of the Amherst College Community:

Amherst College is confronting one of the most serious challenges facing colleges and universities across the country—sexual misconduct and assault.  In the way that it responds to these issues, the College is committed to holding itself accountable to the highest possible standard.

In recent statements and in important recent actions, including an open meeting with students and an invitation to students to meet with the Board of Trustees, President Martin has called attention to—and sought to understand—the challenges that clearly exist at Amherst. A particular focus has been on the way allegations of sexual misconduct and assault have been handled by the College. A broader focus is on causes, on prevention, and on community culture. President Martin has made it clear that the issue of sexual misconduct and assault is of the highest priority. The Board of Trustees gives the President its full support for all necessary actions. The actions will be backed by all necessary resources. Those actions will be swift.

Some steps have already been taken. Most importantly, after the conclusion of the 2011-2012 academic year, and in the context of discussions with the Board, President Martin engaged an independent and nationally recognized expert, Gina Maisto Smith, a partner at Ballard Spahr LLP, to review the College’s Title IX and sexual-misconduct policies and practices. This ongoing outside review will provide specific recommendations about what the College can do, not simply to address acknowledged concerns, but to set a new high standard. Next week President Martin will empanel a special committee to consider these recommendations, together with other ideas proposed by faculty, students, administration, staff, and trustees. The committee will be composed of representatives of all parts of the Amherst community. And it will work fast—its report, which will be public, will be delivered to President Martin and the Board in time for the Board’s next meeting, in January.

In the meantime, with the full support of the Board, President Martin will take further immediate steps.

** The administration will add student support in critical areas.

** The administration will continue to enlist independent outside help from experts in the fields of sexual misconduct and assault policy and counseling.

** In its ongoing efforts to be more responsive to our students, and to enhance the disciplinary process for sexual misconduct and assault, the administration will solicit help from faculty, staff, and students in open meetings and in gatherings of specific constituencies.

** The administration will draw on the advice and support of the many alumni and parents who have written with offers of assistance.

** The administration will accelerate efforts to ensure that the entire College community is educated about law, policy, and appropriate responses to survivors of incidents of sexual misconduct and assault; and to ensure that staff, faculty, and students are aware of how to protect survivors of sexual assault from experiences that trigger post-traumatic reactions.

** The administration will continue to make necessary changes in organizational structure and personnel.

Amherst College has faced challenges in the past. It has faced them successfully when it has done so in the following way: honest in our assessments, transparent in our processes, confident in our values, forceful in our decisions, and united in our commitment. The Board is grateful to President Martin for her leadership. It is grateful to the many who have come forward to call attention to an urgent issue. The Board is determined to face it squarely, and to create a model for education, prevention, policy, procedure, and practice.