Amherst College canceled classes and closed all offices Friday for a campus-wide “day of dialogue” to address issues of sexual violence and misconduct. The event was held in response to ongoing concerns over sexual violence on campus, and the college administration’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints.
Amherst dedicated the entire day to presentations by sexual assault policy experts, and small-group discussions. President Biddy Martin began addressing sexual misconduct on campus last spring, establishing a committee on sexual discrimination, and hiring sexual assault policy consultant Gina Smith. But this fall, an account of an alleged rape on campus written by former student Angie Epifano and published in the school’s newspaper, drew national attention, and sparked calls for more immediate cultural and institutional reform.
Freshman Ben Walker says he thinks the day of dialogue is warranted.
“When you have a problem as widespread, as serious, and as impactful as sexual harassment, it’s definitely well within the college’s bounds to have a day devoted to talking about it, and it’s gone undiscussed for so long.”
Fellow freshman Rachel Abernethy feels Amherst is relatively safe, but says sexual violence is an issue on all college campuses.
“It happens everywhere, but sometimes it’s more obvious in certain places because we’re strong enough to be able to talk about it and have these conversations. So I think Amherst is just trying to do their part right now, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Professor of English and Black Studies, Rhonda Cobham-Sander, presented at the event, and says discussing sexual respect is just the first step for the college community.
“Now we’re going to have to work really hard to sort of come up to a standard that we feel happy with.”
Amherst was an all-male college until 1976. The last time it closed to address a social issue on campus was in 1968 to discuss racial inequality.