Instagram Account ‘Amherst Share Your Story’ Confronts Sexual Misconduct

The Instagram account @amherstshareyourstory has posted over 40 anonymous accounts of sexual misconduct at the college since its first post on Dec. 10. The account has garnered much attention from students, alumni, and the administration.

Instagram Account ‘Amherst Share Your Story’ Confronts Sexual Misconduct
The campus community gathers for a "day of dialogue" on Nov. 2, 2012, prompted by Angie Epifano's '14 op-ed on her experience of sexual assault at Amherst. Almost 10 years later, sexual misconduct remains a serious problem at the college. Photo courtesy of Amherst College.

Content warning: This article contains mentions of rape and sexual assault.

An Instagram account with the handle @amherstshareyourstory emerged over the winter break, posting anonymous accounts of sexual misconduct at the college. After making its first post on Dec. 10, the account quickly gained attention from students, alumni, and members of the Five College community, amassing a large number of followers and re-posts across social media.

The account’s first post described itself as “a student run account with the intent to be a safe and empowering platform for all students, faculty, staff, and alumni survivors to anonymously and confidentially share their stories of sexual misconduct and or violence at Amherst College.”

Since then, the account has regularly posted anonymous narratives submitted by members of the community, detailing various forms of sexual violence and misconduct, such as coercion, intoxication, slut-shaming, stalking, and manipulation. Several stories also describe the mental and emotional challenges survivors experience due to the lack of support and validation from close friends and other community members. Posts expressed frustration at the lack of material response from the administration, including inadequate resources at the Counseling Center.

In an anonymous interview with The Student, the creators of @amherstshareyourstory spoke about their intentions in creating the account: “We are survivors within this community. Our experiences have made us painfully aware of the persisting rape culture at Amherst College. We knew we weren’t alone. We knew we deserved a strong, anonymous space for survivors that helps empower and heal members of the Amherst community.”

Providing a platform to share these experiences, they continued, “​​gives agency to survivors that is otherwise stolen and diminished by rape culture.”

Across campus, the account has been a topic of discussion and reflection for many. “It helps facilitate conversation,” said Adrian Friedman ’24, a member of the men’s track and field team. “I have had multiple conversations with my friends and teammates about the stories shared on the account, which is a good thing as it spreads awareness.”

Brooke Alexander ’24 affirmed a need for a space like @amherstshareyourstory, “where [survivors] can tell others about their experiences to both raise awareness about the issues facing Amherst students and also to have a space where they are able to begin to process.”

The creators of the account emphasized that the platform they provide is intended to do more than spread awareness. “Awareness is insubstantial without action, and we want to inspire palpable impact,” they said. “We have already seen a growth of awareness among our student body, administrators, faculty, alumni, and members of the Five College community. With this level of support, we believe the ripple of change will be significant.”

On Feb. 3, President Biddy Martin sent an email to students, faculty, and staff in which she acknowledged the “recent anonymized descriptions on social media of sexual harassment and assault at Amherst,” calling the stories “heartbreaking and infuriating.”

In the email, Martin announced the launch of a comprehensive review of the issue of sexual assault on campus, to follow up on a 2012 report she commissioned on the same topic. The college will enlist the help of Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie Gomez, whom the college employed for the 2012 report as well. The report will assess the state of sexual misconduct at the college and review the college’s policies and practices in addressing it.

“I believe that the review Biddy announced will help us to better understand what is happening for students and what we can do collectively to address it,” said Title IX Coordinator Laurie Frankl to The Student. In the meantime, Frankl highlighted that the Title IX office provides support services to survivors of sexual assault and expressed her support for any student who needs it.

In response to Martin’s email, @amherstshareyourstory made a post expressing disappointment with the administration’s message, asking, “If significant change has been made since the 2012 investigation, why are the same conversations around sexual misconduct still happening?”

“How can survivors possibly feel safe going to the school’s resources when there are so many stories about how they are not reliable?” they added on the following slide. “How could that issue be ignored in a statement calling for change?”

Other students interviewed also felt that the approaches outlined in the email are insufficient. Conner Glynn ’24 remarked, “I can’t quite wrap my head around why Biddy chose to hire the exact same people for the exact same job 10 years later. If they weren’t able to reduce sexual assault on campus in 2012, why do we have confidence that they'll be able to do so now? Why are we making the exact same decisions and expecting a different outcome?”

Friedman agreed with Glynn, stating that “the email sort of underlined the fact that the administration hasn’t been stepping up during the past decade. It is almost as if the college is addressing these stories now only because of the recent large media presence, not when the abuse and misconduct occurred. … If they knew it was a problem all along (via students filing the reports), why didn’t they do it sooner?”

The creators of the account intend to bring light to long-standing history of sexual violence at the college and put pressure on the administration to enact tangible change, stating that “as this platform progresses, we aim to inform the community of the aspects of Amherst College’s buried history in regards to sexual misconduct, and to create demands that promote an Amherst College that supports survivors and condemns rape culture.”

So far, about five of the account’s posts share information about the history of sexual assault at the college, although regular submissions also include experiences recounted by alumni. In a post on Feb. 6, the account posted excerpts from a 2012 ACVoice article written by Dana Bolger ’13, in which she recounted that “according to a Title IX committee meeting I attended last spring, Amherst has expelled only one student for rape in its entire history — and only after a criminal court sentenced him to time in jail.”

The account has frequently posted that they “will be demanding justice soon.” On Jan. 21, the account asked for input from the Amherst community to make a list of demands to release to the administration. They told The Student that they are “currently reviewing them and creating a concise list to release to the community.” They aim for a “thoroughly researched set of demands with long-term goals to support survivors and condemn rape culture.” In addition to these goals, @amherstshareyourstory “aim[s] to have more substantial resources from the Counseling Center, Title IX Office, Case Management, etc.” The account will release its short-term demands in the next couple of weeks, the creators said.

Reflecting on the work of running the account thus far, the creators said: “We have received so much love, support, and graciousness from the community. It is evident that we were not the only ones who needed this space to exist. People have thanked and applauded us for our work. It warms our hearts to watch this space be formed and to see so many people feel affirmed and safe.”

Running the account has not come without its challenges, however. “We were sometimes overwhelmed by the submissions we received. Many were heartbreaking and familiar, appalling and violent, and angering and emotional. It is painful to learn about the atrocities that happened on this campus,” the creators said. “We make sure to take time from the account during the day, especially when the content becomes triggering. We presumed it would be difficult, but it was a lot harder than we thought. We were in shock by the sheer number of submissions within one month. Although managing the account can be stressful, the impact of our platform gives our work purpose.”