Preventing Sexual Misconduct

The Editorial Board discusses @amherstshareyourstory and the value of the accounts shared by students, while considering the difficulty, but necessity, of creating change.

Over the course of winter break, an Instagram account sharing student stories of sexual abuse at the college caught the attention of students, faculty, and administration. @amherstshareyourstory has created a much needed platform for individuals to share their stories anonymously without repercussions. It not only creates a sense of solidarity and gives a voice to survivors, but also makes their stories accessible and drives our community to reflect upon the sexual harassment which happens on our campus.

While many of these stories detail experiences arising at parties — which are commonly recognized as places where rape and harassment occur — others shed light onto other forms of abuse such as stalking or dating violence. The account reminds us that sexual misconduct doesn’t only happen at parties or in the form of physical harassment — it comes in physical, visual, and verbal forms, and can happen in any setting on campus.

But in addition to reflecting, the Amherst community must also concretely improve how it responds to student sexual trauma and broaden the ways it can help survivors and prevent future assaults. And it is imperative that this work must exceed just administrative action. While the administration certainly has plenty of room to further develop their institutional responses to sexual trauma — whether through expanding education, providing greater resources for those impacted by sexual violence, and establishing more trust and empathy between students and the staff managing sexual assault — this work alone is simply not enough, and it doesn’t attack the root of the issue.

Resources already exist on campus, and programs like the Peer Advocates and Student Health Educators are designed to disseminate the tools and information to create a culture of sexual respect. Despite all of that, mandatory sexual respect training and resources on campus like the Women and Gender Center (WGC) have failed to accomplish that mission — evidenced all too clearly by the number of stories pouring into the account. Oftentimes, resources put into these programs promoting sexual safety aren’t taken seriously by all of the student body. And yet, that is exactly what is needed: a serious reckoning, from all of us.

The work our community must do to create a safer environment goes beyond creating a better equipped counseling center or asking people to educate themselves. There are social cultures and patterns ingrained into our community that reinforce and perpetuate harmful behaviors. So to create true change regarding sexual respect, we must work on shifting the culture at the college surrounding sexual respect and consent.

But while it’s obvious that our campus culture needs a drastic change, how exactly do we generate it? There are often calls to action that are easily consumed on social media, but they tend to be harder to implement in real life — it’s easy to get stuck when looking for tangible ways to enact the necessary change.

In fact, that is exactly what happened when the Editorial Board met to discuss our stance. Our discussion felt almost fruitless, as so much was said, but so little of it felt tangible, worthwhile, or change-making. We suggested measures for positive change from 24-hour counseling support to a campus-wide movement to change the language we use. All of us affirm that we, both on the Board and off it, need to reflect on our understandings of consent and add nuance  wherever we can. And yet, we found no calls to action that didn’t ring empty. Anything we felt could be said in a typical editorial seemed just too broad —  addressed to everyone, and so also no one.

One thing that all of us agreed on was the enormity of the issue. This is not an issue immediately solvable by the administration, nor can it be immediately solved by the student body. It is a slow, continuous, and difficult process, and one that requires serious reflection on all of our parts. We were all disturbed by the dismissal of stories as “trauma porn,” and want to emphasize that the stories being shared are real — that they are happening right now, to people we know. @amherstshareyourstory has demonstrated thoroughly the pervasiveness of sexual violence at the college, affirming that past administrative attempts at preventing sexual violence have been ineffectual. But though the change we need can’t be effected overnight, the stories that have been shared encourage us to demand more, and they show us that our voices can be heard, that our community will keep fighting for better.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual misconduct, resources are available both here at the college (such as the Title IX Office, Amherst College Police Department, Counseling Center, and Survivor Support Group) and in the local community (such as the Center for Women and Community, 24-hour help hotlines, and the Victim Rights Law Center).

Unsigned editorials represent the views of the majority of the Editorial Board — (assenting: 14; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 12).