Amherst College will hold a meeting for students, faculty and staff today to discuss a report released last week reviewing the school’s policies for responding to sexual assault. The report comes after an article by a former student, published in Amherst’s newspaper last fall, alleging she was raped on campus. It brought to light administrative and cultural issues at the school around sexual assault. Other colleges in Massachusetts have also grappled with their own response procedures.
Before last October’s article brought national attention to Amherst’s response to sexual assault, the college had already begun assessing policies and procedures around sexual misconduct. Last spring the school hired attorney Gina Smith to provide recommendations for implementing more effective ways of responding to and preventing sexual assault.
Smith says the number of sexual assaults and the college’s procedures for dealing with them are not unusual for a school of its size. But she says she was impressed by the Amherst’s proactive response to allegations that it has mishandled sexual assault cases.
“I would claim that the response of Amherst College has been unusual – the openness, the transparency, the engagement, and the action.”
Other Massachusetts colleges have had incidents of gang rape on their campuses, but have not immediately made them public, in one case waiting longer than a week. Smith says college officials can’t always notify a campus immediately.
“They are often coordinating with local law enforcement, and so there are other aspects of the coordination that may take time.”
Smith says college officials also must comply with a complainant’s wishes, federal regulations, and safety issues when responding to a sexual assault.