These past few days have been the moment of student journalism and expression at Amherst. Students published their accounts and expressed their points in various publications and columns. From The Student, The Indicator, AC Voice and student blogs of all kinds, the voice of students rang out for calls to action — and action came to campus in force. After Angie Epifano’s account (“An Account of Sexual Assault at Amherst College”) went viral, President Martin reached out to the Amherst community within less than 24 hours of our publication. The Trustees who had just arrived on campus received word of the shifting winds and started calls for an investigation. Student groups issued statements and began organizing, student leaders from the Five Colleges led a rally on campus while forming an organic delegation to meet with the trustees.
Within days of students reaching out through campus publications, campus discourse changed, sexual-assault interest groups made an example of Amherst College, and international news organizations looked into the inner workings of our campus. Because of students reaching out and breaking stories, the image of the College had completely changed across the world — ask any prospective college student what Amherst now means to them.
Student journalism and expression is both important, and it’s a self reinforcing cycle. For days, social media networks reblogged, retweeted and reported not only Epifano’s account, but all the related stories reported in the Amherst news grapevine, including the TDX story and the student photo project about sexual disrespect. One student’s writing about misogyny, bolstered more students to discuss their experience sexual assaults, which prompted others to come out about their own encounters with survivors or the culture at Amherst, sometimes reaching out to online national news blogs.
As we’ve noted before, The Student and other publications exist in an environment somewhat unfavorable for campus journalism — publications lack an academic department dedicated to journalism, a large student body to drawn from and meaningful administrative support. But one of the largest barriers is that students tend to be reluctant to reach out. Amherst, with its many talented and articulate writers, should not shy away from reaching out to its publications, especially if they have a particular voice that needs to be heard.
The editors and staff writers of The Student only represent a small portion of experiences and viewpoints. However, we — and every other student publication — are more than willing to offer the platform for the diverse experiences of every other student, be they about sexual assault or mental health or any other issue with campus life, culture and College administration, to be brought out in the open and spark the kind of dialogue Epifano’s and Bolger’s articles did.
Given the demonstrated effect of campus publications, disengaging from them constitutes a lost opportunity for meaningful change to occur by those who claim to seek it.
It can be difficult to attach one’s name to one’s public opinion given the intimate nature of our small campus community. But if enough students come forward, and the administration supports students’ doing so by providing the environment for student engagement with their publications, students can make a change that betters Amherst for their peers and successors at Amherst, leaving a mark on the campus as they pass through.