Feb. 3, 2022: Sexual Misconduct at Amherst College – Letter from President Martin
Content Warning—Message contains content about sexual assault.
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
As we start the spring semester, I am hoping that the steep descent of omicron continues so we can enjoy in-person interactions and gatherings, promote individual and collective well-being, and benefit from a strong sense of community. There is no question that we all need relief, renewal, and (re)connection. In a separate message, I will share some of the plans we have for this semester that we hope will help with that effort.
Today, however, I am writing about the very serious problem of sexual misconduct at the College.
The Campus Safety Advisory Committee is a group of students, faculty, staff, and outside consultants that was charged with considering what constitutes safety and how best to ensure it on campus. I have been made aware that their final report will include, among other things, serious concerns about sexual misconduct. The committee will provide an update to the community next week.
Many of you are likely aware of recent anonymized descriptions on social media of sexual harassment and assault at Amherst. The posts include narratives of dating violence, stalking, rape, and other forms of abuse of our students by other students at the College. The stories are heartbreaking and infuriating—heartbreaking because of the trauma suffered by our students, infuriating to think that members of our community are the source of that harm.
I encourage every survivor of sexual misconduct to seek support from the College, whether you choose to report your experience or not. At the bottom of this message, I have included links to opportunities for support that will be available and which I hope you will use.
The gravity of the narratives we have read and the concerns that we have heard require concerted action. In 2012, I commissioned a report on sexual misconduct at Amherst in response to numerous student accounts of similarly awful experiences on campus. At that time, students described significant problems in the College’s response to their reports. Since then, we have implemented major changes in staffing, policies, procedures, practices, and the availability of resources. Still, the perpetration of harassment and sexual assault persists. We have to continue not only the proactive work of prevention, education, and self-assessment, but also amplify those efforts, holding ourselves accountable, as individuals and as a community, for a culture rooted in respect and responsibility.
It is time to reassess our approach and progress. We are launching a new, comprehensive review of the issue of sexual misconduct and assault on campus, including an analysis of the underlying causes, all of the ways that it affects our community, and the reasons that survivors may be reluctant to come forward.
In 2012, I engaged the help of Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie Gomez, leaders of a national practice dedicated to improving institutional responses to sexual misconduct. They bring a nuanced understanding to the issues by integrating the legal framework with the unique dynamics of trauma in the context of a campus culture and setting. In 2012, I also formed a committee of faculty, staff, students, and trustees, chaired by then-Professor of History and Women’s and Gender Studies Margaret Hunt. In 2013, the committee submitted a report entitled Toward a Culture of Respect: The Problem of Sexual Misconduct at Amherst College, better known on campus as the “SMOC” report. We implemented all of the recommendations from that report.
Today, I have enlisted Smith and Gomez for a new review of College policies and practices relating to sexual misconduct and Title IX. They will review our prevention and education strategies, programs, and materials, as well as our data related to sexual misconduct. In order to best understand this complicated issue, they will invite community feedback and engagement in the form of listening sessions and interviews with students, staff, and faculty. They will also create an online platform for sharing concerns anonymously.
Succeeding in this work requires ongoing and intentional culture change, which is the hardest work any institution can undertake, made even harder when the world around us is plagued by a wide range of converging ills. But the Amherst community is up to the task. We have been engaged in this effort for years at Amherst, and we know that we cannot be the inclusive, welcoming community we aspire to be unless each of us is fully committed to the well-being of others. While it is the responsibility of the leaders of the College to set goals, gather information and perspectives, and put plans into action, achieving the important goals requires that everyone in our community contribute.
We will follow up soon with more information about the review. In the meantime, our Title IX and health education teams will be increasing and communicating their efforts, as well. I would also like to draw your attention to some upcoming opportunities for support:
Confidential Weekly Drop-in Survivor Support Group — Health Education sponsors a weekly, confidential drop-in Survivor Support Group on Wednesdays from 7-9 p.m. in Pemberton Lounge (Chapin Hall) or on Zoom for survivors of sexual violence. Spring semester sessions will start Wednesday, February 23. More Info.
Creating A Culture of Sexual Respect: Training for Faculty & Staff — Sexual Respect Education will host monthly trainings for all Amherst College faculty and staff on sexual respect promotion and sexual violence prevention, open to all College employees. The next session will be Friday, February 11, 9-10 a.m. on Zoom. Register.
Support & Solidarity: Restorative Impact Circle — Health Education and the Center for Restorative Practices will host a Restorative Impact Circle for Amherst students facilitated by Fabio Ayala, Assistant Director for the Center for Restorative Practices, and Lauren Kelly, Sexual Respect Educator, on Wednesday, February 16, 4-6 p.m. in Pemberton Lounge (Chapin Hall) Register.