Keturah Williams, a senior at Smith writes with the support of Smith College Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA) concerning sexual violence.
As students of the Five College community, we are writing to express our rage, grief, sorrow and sympathy for Angie Epifano and all students who have been sexually assaulted or raped at Amherst College. We are appalled, but not surprised, by the response of the Amherst administration to Angie Epifano’s assault and those of other students who have been subject to sexual crime and abuse. Amherst College sets the standard for many institutions of higher learning, and in light of that fact, we express deep disappointment at the ongoing displays of sexual violence on campus.
To the students, and especially to survivors of rape and assault, we understand your grief and anger, and we want to stand in solidarity with you as you recover and rebuild your community. For some time, Smith students have been aware of a frat culture at Amherst that accepts and encourages violence against others, especially women. We now appeal not just to principles of individual autonomy, but to human compassion. We expect members of our community to hold themselves accountable and display exceptional respect for others. Smithies wish to cultivate such an attitude in our community, and we believe the principle of respect is absolutely essential for protecting survivors of sexual violence. Though it is not often acknowledged, sexual violence has happened on our campus too, and we are actively working to eradicate it. We have to encourage the development of a survivor-supportive, trauma-aware culture among the Five Colleges, a culture that supports and protects students.
To the administration, we expect Amherst College, as a leading liberal arts institution, to immediately reform its policies and practices concerning rape and sexual assault. No community should allow sexual violence and victim blaming, yet these actions have been condoned by Amherst authorities, who seem to see grey areas around the definition of rape. Let us be very clear: lack of resistance does not equal consent nor does a previous relationship with the perpetrator. We as Smithies highly value sexual agency, and we will be aggressive in protecting this basic human right.
We know the problem of rape and sexual assault did not begin with Amherst, and we know it will not end there. Sexual violence is everywhere. We believe, however, that we can change the culture around us, and we are committed to supporting the efforts of all colleges and universities towards building communities free of sexual violence. We as students have a right to be safe in our communities, and security is possible only when students and administrators cooperate in cultivating appropriate resources for survivors as well as a healthy campus environment.
It is our hope that the publication of this letter, set at the start of a new semester, will prevent further silence about sexual assault and rape on college campuses. The semester of Angie Epifano may be over, but the struggle against sexual violence is only beginning.