Drawing of a person looking at an elephant that has a sign saying "Go Jeffs" in its trunkBy Melissa Sheth

Volume XXXVI, Issue 1, October 4, 2013

 If it weren’t for my mom, I would have never heard of Amherst College, and I wouldn’t have even considered applying to the school. Ironically, my mom was also one of the people who tried to dissuade me from committing to Amherst.

Like any responsible pre-frosh, I had done quite a bit of research about Amherst’s academic reputation and campus atmosphere before applying, and I quickly convinced myself that Amherst was a good fit for me. But, miraculously, I never stumbled upon one of the most explosively publicized scandals in Amherst’s history: Yes, I am talking about Angie’s terrifying experience and her harrowing description of the way the administration dealt with her situation. I was utterly shocked when my mom hesitantly brought up Amherst’s “sexual assault problem” during dinner one evening.

Of course, our discussion that night had a tinge of awkwardness to it that belied my parents’ grave concern. How does an anxious parent politely tell her daughter that, frankly, she is worried about the safety of a particular school? My mom already knew that I was in love with Amherst, so I could tell it pained her to express her discomfort. When my dad found out that I was going to a school recently made famous not for its stellar intellectual atmosphere but for its violence, he urged me to (re)consider all my options and prioritize based on the pros and cons of each school. I remember reading Angie’s article online in The Amherst Student and being horrified. I also found the article from The New York Times. It scared me to see such a seemingly perfect school portrayed as a menacing place.

Given my newfound knowledge of Amherst, I couldn’t help but take a practical approach. I checked each box on my list of the
When your dream school becomes a nightmare.warning signs, the red flags that could potentially turn me into a victim: I am female, I am smaller than average, and I’m not especially strong. My mother made me promise that I would sprint at the first sign of danger. I began to doubt whether I could be safe at Amherst, and I wondered if I would get raped if I went to the school. Even if I avoided physical harm, I worried my education would suffer at a school where my safety would be a constant concern.

It wasn’t reassuring that people seemed to look down on me when I said that I was thinking of attending Amherst College. Few people in my hometown knew about Amherst, but those who did had heard of the school’s disgrace. Unlike my parents, who took a much more explicit approach, my friends and teachers only subtly broached the topic. A typical conversation could go something like this:

“So, you’re going to Amherst?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Wow, that’s a really good school! But did you hear about, you know, that one article?”
“Oh yes… I think I know what you’re talking about.”
“I see. Hmmm. Well, it’s still a decent school. Good luck next year!”

But public perception aside, I’m sure the press surrounding sexual assault at Amherst will have positive effects; by publically revealing Amherst’s jumbled treatment of sexual violence on campus, we can create a better campus conversation about our values as acommunity. However, it may also be worth noting that Amherst’s image has a repelling effect on high school students who consider applying to the school. My concerns before arriving at the school are not only representative of this class’s feelings, but also of classes to come.

Also indicative of Amherst’s scandal, as well as the College’s attempt to rectify it, are the numerous Orientation programs that were designed to address sexual respect and consent. A total of five mandatory events, including one lecture from the Title IX deputy coordinator, were devoted to teaching freshmen how to be conscious of other students’ personal limits and how to get help if they feel they’ve been violated. Additionally, at least one squad meeting was dedicated to discussing Amherst’s sexual abuse policies. The sheer amount of time that freshmen spent attending events about sexual respect and consent made it a lasting impression of orientation.

So here I am on campus, fully immersed. Despite my parents’ serious warnings, my friends’ mild scorn, and my younger sister’s half-joking advice to invest in a good rape whistle, I resolved to come to Amherst anyway. In the end, the factors that made me love Amherst in the first place won over my fear of being assaulted. I believe that there are many things that make Amherst beautiful and exceptional, so even though I won’t be ignorant of recent rough periods, I want to be a part of the community that stands against sexual violence. I hope that other freshmen thought about our unique position as the first students to arrive on a healing campus. We are the students who chose to attend a school with a notorious past, and regardless of why we ultimately decided on Amherst College, I hope we can bring a new perspective to campus culture that will allow us to better combat sexual violence.