Amherst College Overhauls Its Sexual Assault Policy On Campus After Outcry Against Administration

Amherst College has come under fire over the past month for its lackluster response to issues of sexual assault and rape culture on campus — particularly after one student published an article chronicling her own sexual assault, and her subsequent experience with an Amherst sexual assault counselor who urged her to just “forgive and forget” rather than report her rapist to the police, that went viral. The small liberal arts institution was accused of creating a hostile environment for survivors of sexual assault in the interest of “keeping up appearances” at the elite college.

Setting a precedent for the colleges across the country that have struggled with allocating the correct resources for addressing rape culture on their campuses, Amherst officials responded to the backlash by pledging that things “must change, and change immediately.” As Bloomberg News reports, the administration is now taking several important steps to address student concerns, including amending their current policies and increasing resources on campus:

“We need to do everything in our power to become a leader in encouraging victims to report sexual assault,” [Amherst College President Carolyn Martin] said in a telephone interview. […]

The president had already identified shortcomings at Amherst. In the past, the school relied on accusers to prove their cases; now, investigators will gather evidence, she said. Amherst also included students in panels considering complaints — a practice that might discourage classmates from reporting, she said.

The new “sexual respect” website asks victims to seek support and report offenses to campus police. The college also brought in counselors affiliated with Harvard University who are experts in addressing sexual misconduct. Martin said she will form a special committee, including students, to consider other steps.

Bloomberg also notes that Amherst — one of the wealthiest liberal arts colleges in the country, which remains extremely selective with a student body of around 1,800 — was initially founded as a men’s school in 1821. The college only started admitting women in 1975, and Martin is its first female president.

Other higher education institutions have also made strides in this area after making headlines for failing to adequately address issues of sexual assault. After the University of Montana underwent a Department of Justice investigation last year to look into the multiple allegations of sexual assault on campus, administrators now require all students to complete an online training and quiz on sexual violence. And just this week, Boston University announced the opening of its new sexual assault resource center following a panel review of allegations of rape on campus last spring.