Shaping Sexual Safety

The Editorial Board calls on the student body to actively look out for each other and take the responsibility to create an environment of greater sexual safety and respect, in light of recent safety issues both on campus and at neighboring UMass.

No student should have to travel across campus afraid to walk alone, party with friends while worrying about being taken advantage of or wake up in the morning unsure and uneasy about what may have transpired the night before. Unfortunately, due to new reports of date rape drugs both on campus and at neighboring UMass, students no longer have the luxury of feeling safe at a place that should feel like home. These new reports bring to light a deep sense of distrust and campus-wide disregard for creating a safe social and sexual environment that students, especially women, are forced to navigate whenever they socialize on campus.

One obvious culprit, per usual, is the administration. Students have reported that claims of potential date rape drugs have gone almost completely ignored by Student Affairs, with one student even being asked to discuss why she had been drinking underage rather than about the events of her potential drugging. Many say they feel as though the administration doesn’t care unless they have incontrovertible evidence of wrongdoing, something difficult to provide when you’re a drugged student rather than a sober investigator. These feelings discourage students from coming forward in the first place, as the result seems more likely to be the victim receiving a citation for drinking rather than support in finding the wrongdoers. Once again, by failing to promote a sense of trust and care between students and administrators, the college has set a dangerous precedent which may prevent further issues from being brought to light at all.

However, while much can be said about the administrative failures regarding the unfolding sexual safety issue — they even failed to notify students of reports of potential date rape drugs before the satirical Amherst Muckrake posted memes about it on Instagram — they are not the only ones who must be held to account. After all, they are not the ones partying on the weekends.

Rather, it is us, the student body, who bear the burden of creating an environment in which every one of us feels safe. As cliché as it sounds, we need to be willing to stand up for one another in the moment, avoiding the bystander response that puts so many in danger in the first place. We need to be willing to take responsibility for the feelings of fear on campus, regardless of whether the administration is willing to stand behind students or not.

However, for better or worse, cultural change cannot be a solo effort and cannot stop at the edge of campus. As part of the Five College Consortium, Amherst students interact with Five College students on a daily basis. No cultural change, especially regarding sexual respect and safety, can be complete on campus without working with our fellow Pioneer Valley students, especially those at nearby UMass.

Fortunately, many at UMass seem to be on the same page, as the campus undergoes protest after protest targeting two fraternities accused of using date rape drugs. Students have even held a referendum urging the UMass administration to institute the student-drafted Survivor’s Bill of Rights. Even so, the UMass administration has so far failed to act, and UMass and town police have harassed protestors outside the Theta Chi fraternity house, warning them, “Don’t lose your education over this!”

The Student’s Editorial Board stands in solidarity with UMass student protestors in their demands for justice and support from the UMass administration. We hope that Amherst College students will support UMass students by joining in on protests, publicizing the issue on social media and putting pressure on UMass administrators to take survivors’ demands seriously. Similarly, we hope that UMass students will work with Amherst students to build a culture that allows for long-term change, rather than abandoning the work after solving the short-term issue of two problematic fraternities.

But what would a true culture of sexual respect look like on our campus? An instructive example might be seen on women’s sports teams at the college, where upperclassmen help younger students navigate socializing safely and teammates look out for one another on nights out to make sure everyone gets home safely. Broadening a similar structure to other social groups on campus, especially men’s sports teams where upperclassmen can play a decisive role in shaping culture and acceptable behavior for a large percentage — almost 40 percent and rising — of the college’s men, would go a long way toward improving accountability within social groups and strengthening trust across the broader campus community — just a few leaders taking decisive action could rapidly alter campus culture for the better.

Campus safety is a serious issue. Recent debates at the college about police, CSAs and security on campus have all demonstrated that we have a long way to go before we all feel safe here, but also that many of us are willing to do the work to address these issues and improve the Amherst College experience. Sexual safety and respect are just another part of the larger campus safety puzzle, and as with the others, there remains much to be done before the issue is fully solved. We hope that students in the valley will come together, across social circles, teams and even campuses, to generate the progress that is so evidently needed to make our town safer for everyone.

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: 10; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 6).