IN A photo essay in the Amherst Voice titled “It Happens Here,” Amherst students stand against fall foliage, holding signs with words said to them by administrators, coaches and peers in the aftermath of being sexually assaulted on campus. The quotations are difficult to read, because for so many of us, they are painfully familiar:
“Are you sure it was rape? He seems to think it was a little more complicated.”
—An Amherst College administrator
“Why don’t you take a year off, get a job at Starbucks and come back after he’s graduated?”
—Amherst College Dean
“If you didn’t want to have sex with him, why were you sitting on his bed two weeks before?”
—Student on the Amherst College disciplinary committee
Sexual violence at Amherst College—and at college campuses around the U.S.—isn’t an exception to the norm of sexual respect and consent. It’s an epidemic.
The photo essay came in response to an October 17 article in the Amherst Student by former Amherst student Angie Epifano titled “An Experience of Sexual Assault at Amherst College.” The piece speaks volumes about the way college administrations actively perpetuate a culture of silencing and victim-blaming of sexual assault survivors. Epifano writes:
I was continuously told that I had to forgive him, that I was crazy for being scared on campus…They told me: We can report your rape as a statistic…but I don’t recommend that you go through a disciplinary hearing. It would be you, a faculty adviser of your choice, him, and a faculty adviser of his choice in a room where you would be trying to prove that he raped you. You have no physical evidence—it wouldn’t get you very far to do this.
After telling a counselor how unsafe she felt at Amherst, Epifano was forcibly escorted off campus by campus police and checked into a psychiatric ward for depression and suicidal thoughts, where doctors continued the victim-blaming. “I really don’t think a school like Amherst would allow you to be raped,” she says they told her. “And why didn’t you tell anybody? That just doesn’t make any sense.”
Epifano then learned that Amherst would not allow her back on campus without parental supervision. Because Epifano does not have parents, she would not be permitted to return to school. She and her social worker fought back, but her struggle didn’t end there: Epifano was prevented from studying abroad the following year in South Africa.
According to the racist logic of her dean, African Studies would be bad for her mental health: “Africa is quite traumatizing…You’ll be much better off here at Amherst where we can watch over you.”
Compare Epifano’s treatment as a rape survivor to that of her rapist: Epifano was forcibly institutionalized against her will in a psychiatric ward, had to fight be re-admitted to the campus, and was restricted academically, all because she came forward and sought help in the wake of her rape.
The student who raped Epifano graduated last spring with honors.