Surviving at Amherst

Amherst student debunks all the rape myths in the school’s “sexual misconduct” report

Surviving at Amherst

Via AC Voice

In response to former student Angie Epifano’s account of Amherst’s shockingly cruel and inept response to her sexual assault, the school called together a Special Oversight Committee on Sexual Misconduct to conduct an investigation of campus policy and practice.  Last week the Committee released its 55-page report.

While the document does criticize Amherst’s approach to sexual violence, it simultaneously absolves both the school and rapists of blame by characterizing assault as an unfortunate accident: “Something goes wrong and a sexual assault does occur,” the report reads.

It Happens Here, an Amherst blog dedicated to discussion of campus sexual violence, has published a response to the report by student activist Dana Bolger. The whole piece is worth a read for its well-researched, systematic deconstruction of rape myths perpetuated by the Committee. I was particularly struck by Bolger’s take on the report’s depoliticization of sexual violence:

To make real progress, we need to radically transform the ways in which we relate to each other and to ourselves. To do that, we need to start by understanding sexual violence… within the larger context of sexism and patriarchy… That means instituting bystander training that not only informs individuals of their potential to prevent individual instances of sexual violence, but also encourages them to critically examine their own complicity in upholding rape culture and patriarchy. That means calling out sexist, racist cultures on our campus… That means being honest and ethical in the words we use: it’s ‘sexual violence’, not ‘sexual disrespect’; ‘racism’, not absence or disregard of ‘diversity’; ‘sexism’, not ‘unhealthy mentorship’ or ‘bad citizenship’.

An approach to sexual violence that ignores the complex systems that promote rape is empty and ineffective. Unfortunately, this philosophy, which treats rape like a “natural disaster,” as Bolger writes, is terribly convenient for administrations unwilling to examine their own culpability.

Something tells me, though, that Amherst activists aren’t going to let the school get away without a closer look.

New Haven, CT

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX, a national legal education campaign against campus gender-based violence. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NPR. Through Know Your IX, she has organized with students across the country to build campuses free from discrimination and violence, developed federal policy on Title IX enforcement, and has testified at the Senate. At Yale Law, Alexandra focuses on antidiscrimination law and is a member of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic. Alexandra is committed to developing and strengthening responses to gender-based violence outside the criminal justice system through writing, organizing, and the law. Keep an eye out for The Feminist Utopia Project, co-edited by Alexandra and forthcoming from the Feminist Press (2015).

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX.

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