Steve Kramer ’75 writes concerning the debate surrounding sexual assault at Amherst College.
The entire Amherst College community, including Alumni, is saddened by the experiences of the two students who experienced sexual assaults on campus, resulting in a transfer by one and the tragic demise of the other. The story, related in The Boston Globe on November 18, 2012, warrants the intervention recently provided by President Biddy Martin who has focused on the systemic problems at Amherst which resemble those experienced by students at other schools. The discussion, however, regarding intrusive behaviors, should not have become the centerpiece of an institutional indictment of the College which it has become over the past couple of weeks.
On one hand, there are those who procured and displayed despicable t-shirts portraying women partially clad roasting like a pig. Less graphic, but equally offensive are t-shirts worn by current students which allege that the College has essentially ignored sexual assaults since 1821. These shirts suggest that for nearly 200 years, Amherst has perpetuated a culture of disrespect for women. These shirts demonstrate, through opposite extremes, a wholesale, hyperbolic and unreasonable portrayal of the historical Amherst community, including administrators, faculty and students. They resemble the prototypical FoxNews/MSNBC political clashes, devoid of common sense, preoccupied with character assassination of any opposing viewpoint.
Typically, political science majors study the philosophical approaches to conflict resolution of Mill, Hobbes, de Toqueville, Hume and Aristotle. Aristotle adhered to the concept of reason and said “to achieve a virtuous and politically happy character requires a first stage of having the fortune to be habituated by teachers and experience, heading to a later stage in which one consciously chooses to do the best things…”
The invocation of the above quotation and the intent of this letter are not to minimize or diminish the importance of policies that appropriately admonish sexual assault on campus. The Amherst student population could play a significant role, however, if those with the despicable t-shirts depicting women and those with t-shirts labeling the institution as condoning sexual assaults since 1821 both took their shirts and burned them in a “Bonfire of the Vanities,” then perhaps met together at the Student Center for some constructive Aristotelian discussions towards solving the current problem rather than continuing to throw gasoline on the fire.