October 25, 2012

Cornellians Express Shock at Reported Sexual Assault at Amherst College

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After a student publication at Amherst College published a former student’s account of sexual assault on campus, Cornell students reacted with shock at the lack of action taken by the Amherst administration in response to the reported sexual assault.

On Oct. 17, The Amherst Student published former student Angie Epifano’s personal account of being sexual assaulted at Amherst. The story was widely read, generating so many page views that the paper’s website crashed, according to the blog Jezebel.

Epifano’s account of sexual assault largely deals with what she calls the dismissive way in which the administration handled her case. When Epifano told Amherst counselors and advisors that she had been raped, she said she was met with indifference and even skepticism.

“In short I was told: ‘No you can’t change dorms, there are too many students right now. Pressing charges would be useless, he’s about to graduate, there’s not much we can do. Are you sure it was rape? It might have just been a bad hookup … You should forgive and forget,” Epifano wrote.

Cornell students expressed surprise at the response of Amherst College’s administration to the reported rape.

“I was shocked. Amherst is a very good school and it’s very liberal, and it’s in a very progressive part of the United States,” Nomoya Hall ’13 said. “[That it would fall short] in something as fundamental to human rights, as preventing rape seems counterintuitive.”

Hall also said she believes that Cornell’s administration would have addressed the allegations in a more effective way, saying that the Office of the Judicial Administrator in particular “provides a very supportive community.”

Hannah Dorsey ’16 echoed Hall’s sentiments, saying that “the campus atmospheres are different [between Cornell and Amherst].”

For instance, while Epifano was not allowed to switch dormitories after she was sexually assaulted, at Cornell, temporary emergency housing is available to those who feel unsafe in their current living situations, according to Laura Weiss, director of the Women’s Resource Center.

Dorsey also cited the large number of campus resources available to victims of sexual assaults.

“There are so many obvious places to go that would satisfy all needs that even if one had a similar reaction [to Amherst], the next would be able to help,” she said. “It helps a lot that we have student-run groups because it seems like [Epifano] was dealing solely with administration.”

Wajeha Qureshi ’13 also said the size of Cornell’s campus serves as an asset when addressing sexual assault.

“Despite Cornell being larger, students form caring communities,” Qureshi said. “There was a Facebook group that posted that article and people extended their sympathies to anyone who had been affected [by sexual assault].”

But Rachael Blumenthal ’13 said the quantity of resources available to students dilutes their effectiveness.

“Unfortunately, our University has no space specifically for survivors [of sexual assault],” Blumenthal said. “I don’t think that we are successful at addressing the needs of victims.”

J.A. Mary Beth Grant J.D. ’86 said victims can reach out to officials in the Cornell University Police Department or Gannett Health Services, among other services, to determine an appropriate resource to use.

“Even if a survivor of an assault is unsure of what the best next steps are for him or her, talking about it with those in positions of authority can clarify options and get the survivor to appropriate resources,” Grant said.

Original Author: Julia Pascale