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Amherst Sexual Assault leads to policy changes

By web

Section: News

October 26, 2012

An article published in Amherst College’s student newspaper, The Amherst Student, on Oct. 17 published former student, Angie Epifano’s account of her experience at the school after being raped in May 2011 at the end of her first year.

During her sophomore year, after experiencing a breakdown and going to her school’s counseling center, as her article reminds readers she was encouraged to do, she ended up in the Psychiatric Ward of the local hospital. She then encountered problems returning to the school. Amherst policy required parental supervision for a period of two weeks before full readmission would occur.

Without her parents here, she still managed to return to Amherst. After working on her recovery, including a continuation of her plans to study in Africa during her junior year, she found herself extremely limited by restrictions enforced by the administration, including the cancellation of her study abroad plans. After making a pros and cons list regarding Amherst, in which the cons outnumbered the pros by more than three to one, she withdrew from the college.

In preparing to leave, she learned through the Boston-based Victims Rights Law Center that Amherst was known for problematic policies regarding victims of crimes. As might be expected, Amherst leadership made numerous attempts to convince her to stay. She did not. As she put it in her article, “He [her rapist] graduated with honors. I will not graduate from Amherst.”

Administrators tried to convince her that she should take some time off and then return to Amherst later. Epifano made detailed plans to work at a dude ranch in Wyoming. That too was criticized with arguments that Wyoming was not like Amherst; that Wyomingites, at least the people at the ranch, would not be well educated and wouldn’t understand her.

Last Thursday, the day after the article was published, Amherst College President Biddy Martin released a statement regarding the university’s policies and response to the article. In the statement, she announced that she was investigating the handling of Epifano’s case. Additionally, Martin assured students that there “will be consequences for any problems we identify, either with procedures or personnel.”

Reminding students that issues such as sexual misconduct and assault are some of the most difficult and consequential problems on campuses and not unique to Amherst, she stated that Amherst’s “commitment to community, and its size” should lead it to becoming a model for other schools.

After releasing the statement, Martin hosted a meeting open to students as an opportunity for students to share their experiences. From that meeting, steps announced include adding student membership to the school’s Title IX committee, improving campus support resources and various other changes. Additionally, with the help of nationally recognized legal and policy expert Gina Smith, new policy recommendations will be considered.

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