An Open Letter from President Martin

An open letter to the Amherst Community:

I write to you today with an enormous sense of sorrow. Yesterday, a website for the Good Men Project posted a suicide note written by a former Amherst student, Trey Malone, who took his own life in June 2012. Trey’s death is a tragedy. My deepest sympathies are with his family members and friends, who have suffered the most painful imaginable loss.

Suicide could not be more heart-wrenching. It leaves those who remain not only with incomprehensible loss, but also with painful questions—about what more could have been done, what any or all of us may have missed, what could have caused such a sense of isolation and despair.

Out of respect for Trey’s privacy and the privacy of his family, the College has not been public about what he experienced at Amherst. Trey’s note, parts of which we read in the summer, causes us to pause and reflect on the insights and perspective he wished to offer. The lessons in his words have informed the on-going changes we are making at the College directly. When I learned of Trey’s suicide this summer and after consultation with the Board of Trustees, I sought a review of the College’s response, and, for the purpose of informing our community, I share the following from that review:

Trey was a first-year student at Amherst in the fall of 2009, and again in the fall of 2011. In September of 2011, Trey reported a sexual assault involving another student. The College responded immediately to the report, provided Trey with access to support and resources, and in October of 2011 the College resolved the report through our disciplinary system, resulting in a finding of responsibility for the respondent. Through the remainder of the Fall semester, the College provided on-going outreach and support to Trey. In December of 2011, Trey requested, and the College granted, an academic withdrawal. In the Spring of 2012, Trey was discussing academic options with the Office of Dean of Students for what he hoped would be a return to Amherst.

Since learning of his death early this summer, I have often thought about Trey. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to meet or get to know him. In our brief conversation in December 2011, related to an appeal process, I offered him my sympathy for what had happened to him, asked whether he was getting adequate help, and sought to confirm his views on sanctions for the student who was found responsible for sexual misconduct. I recall being struck by the kindness in Trey’s voice.

While these facts can seem meaningless in the face of the loss of life, I am sharing information about our response, because I believe it relevant to our community’s understanding of this tragedy and to the dialogue we have been engaged in this semester. In recent days, this campus has come together to have frank and candid conversations about the community and culture we want and the many barriers to realizing our goals at Amherst, as elsewhere. I expect that we will face this news with the same courage, open dialogue, and care for one another that has marked our best responses to what we already knew.

The pain and finality of Trey’s suicide eclipse all other concerns, yet I call on us all to reflect on what we knew, accept that we cannot know everything, and learn from this horrible loss. The literature on suicide tells us that talking about suicidal thoughts or feelings helps to alleviate those feelings and, yet, the majority of students who contemplate suicide never tell anyone. Please make sure that you and those around you have the support you need. Pay close attention to your own feelings and behaviors as well as those of your friends and fellow students. I urge you to seek our help and ask you to encourage others to do the same.

As always, my door is open.