Next May, I will be heading to Amherst, Massachusetts for my 25th College Reunion (and if you now think you know my age – you’re wrong). I’ve been really excited about this event, despite some issues I have with the College and the way it operates. Fellow alums will know what I mean when I say “Lives of Consequence”. Sigh…
But recently, far more disturbing issues have come up – and what’s really sad is that either of these could have happened during my four years there in the mid-80s. First, an “off-campus” frat advertised an event with a T-shirt that said “Roasting Fat Ones Since 1847″. It’s the graphic that’s really disturbing…and I’ll pause now while you read the article. Make sure you read the comments too, especially the one from the President of the College, Biddy Martin.
Okay, you’ve read it. Are you outraged? I am. I’m especially angry that this didn’t happen those many years ago while I was at Amherst – but now. That young women are subjected to behavior that even we, in the dark ages of the 1980s, knew was offensive.
But wait – there’s more! A former student wrote an account of her experience at Amherst as she suffered and recovered from a sexual assault. Now, before you say it, there is always more than one side to every story, and I have no doubt that there is more to know here, but this young woman wrote quite a compelling account. President Martin again responded, and this time, the response was also sent to all alumni. Read both. I’ll wait right here.
Now that you’re back, I’m sure you have a lot to say. Shock? Outrage? Disgust? Yes, all those. But for me, again, one of the saddest things about this young woman’s story is that I had heard similar, and sometimes worse, stories – during a sit-in in then President Pouncey’s office in 1984. And his response was not that different than President Martin’s.
Really, Amherst? Really? The institution that (only less than my family) shaped my thinking; my ability to create; my willingness and commitment to fighting for what is right is still 25 years behind the times in addressing the mental and physical safety of the young people entrusted to it? I wish I had some profound analysis to make, but I am stopped cold by my sincere distress. In fact, my friends and I are so disturbed by this that we are planning to try to discuss it at our Reunion – to use this joyous occasion to try, in our own small way, to understand how the College at which we grew and learned and changed has not done so itself in this area.
And maybe, just maybe, the good things we learned at Amherst will help us to help it now.
A recent update – the Board has issued a statement about further steps. Fingers crossed!