Amherst College is far from perfect in the way it handles cases of sexual assault and harassment on campus. Disciplinary procedures can seem long and complicated, and students often feel put in awkward positions when confronting assailants and administration alike. However, it seems we may be reaching turning point in the way these cases are approached. Recently, several professors in the Women’s and Gender Studies department met with the members of Women of Amherst to discuss the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. In a respectful, yet candid conversation, students and faculty shared opinions, experiences, and hopes for the future. Plans for more dialogue were outlined, and it seemed as though everyone present left with a greater sense of empowerment. As a female Amherst College student, I cannot imagine a more appropriate way to jump-start Sexual Assault Awareness Week.
Each year at Amherst College the LGBTQ group “Pride” organizes an Allies week, during which time members of the Amherst community are invited to stand in solidarity with the queer students on campus and in society at large. Pride encourages allies to create safe, inclusive spaces for LGBTQ students by speaking out against discriminatory language and behavior. “I Support Love” T-shirts are given out and allies are encouraged to sign pledge cards, promising to respect the rights of queer students. In past years during Allies week, T-shirts have been emblazoned with “Gay? Fine by Me.” While I commend the College’s efforts to create more inclusive communities at Amherst, I am reminded of a conversation I had last year during Allies week with a student who identifies as homosexual. For him, a point of tension regarding Allies week was that it seemed to suggest that permission must be given to the LGBTQ community, in order for them to be themselves. “I mean it’s cool that it’s ‘fine by you’ that I’m gay, but I don’t know if that’s the important part,” he said.
Just food for thought.