Earlier this year, an off-campus Amherst College fraternity designed this t-shirt in honor of their annual pig roast:
Amherst administration never punished anyone individually, but held a closed-door discussion with a handful of students and fraternity members instead, according to student Dana Bolger, who recently brought the issue to light in a story for the Amherst College Voice. She wrote:
According to a friend of mine who was present, the boys-will-be-boys type comments made prior to the meeting (“We were just a bunch of drunk guys sitting around on a Friday night designing the shirt”) were replaced by apology (“We didn’t mean to offend anyone”)—and then some confusion and discussion over the real impact of the offensive “joke.”
And that was that. The incident was never publicly discussed or even acknowledged in a school-wide email. Some people on campus still don’t know about it. If you Google “Amherst fraternity t-shirt,” an image of the shirt won’t pop up.
Google “Amherst fraternity t-shirt” today, however, and the image certainly will. Now, the incident is being publicly discussed.
Following Bolger’s article, former Amherst student Angie Epifano published an op-ed in The Amherst Student called “An Account of Sexual Assault at Amherst College.” She wrote, “On May 25, 2011, I was raped by an acquaintance in Crossett Dormitory on Amherst College campus,” and bravely shared her story that’s now gone viral on college campuses across the country.
Epifano says she didn’t report the rape after it happened, admitting she flew off to California instead. After returning to campus for the new school year, however, she was eventually stuck working with the student who assaulted her and she couldn’t take it anymore. Epifano tried to ask for help from Amherst’s sexual assault counselor, yet she writes:
In short I was told: No you can’t change dorms, there are too many students right now. 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.
How are you supposed to forget the worst night of your life?
I didn’t know what to do any more. For four months I continued wandering around campus, distancing from my friends, and going to counseling center. I was continuously told that I had to forgive him, that I was crazy for being scared on campus, and that there was nothing that could be done. They told me: We can report your rape as a statistic, you know for records, but I don’t recommend that you go through a disciplinary hearing. It would be you, a faculty advisor of your choice, him, and a faculty advisor 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.
Epifano’s 5,000-word story details her breakdown. After she made suicidal comments, the school decided to admit her into a psychiatric ward. Epifano later returned to Amherst, but still faced with unsympathetic faculty, decided to transfer.
Amherst President Biddy Martin released a statement following Epifano’s op-ed. Martin admitted she’s received several other accounts of unreported sexual violence, writing:
Clearly, the administration’s responses to reports have left survivors feeling that they were badly served. That must change, and change immediately. I am investigating the handling of the incident that was recounted in “The Student.” There will be consequences for any problems we identify, either with procedures or personnel.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Martin said:
I not only want students here to feel safe coming forward about any forms of violence, assault, disrespect … but I want them to know that if they experience any negative repercussions, I want them to come forward too.
Any administrators who take cases of sexual violence lightly will now be facing “serious consequences.” In Martin’s statement, she details the steps Amherst is taking moving forward.
Epifano’s first-person account has spawned dozens of comments, largely saying, “thank you.” One friend writes:
Angie, I think I speak for all of your friends when I saw that we love you so very, very much. It took an incredible amount of courage to share this story, and I hope two major things will come of it: 1. That Amherst will begin to take the very serious issue of sexual assault more seriously, and 2. That sharing, as hard as it is, will be cathartic and help you heal. For now, have an incredible time in Europe, and remember that your friends are always here for you.
Hopefully, now, the Amherst College community will be there, as well.