The past week at Amherst College has been like nothing the college has ever experienced. Survivor after survivor have come forward with their own stories, following the publication of a former student’s narrative about her experience with sexual assault at Amherst. The president, the deans, the counseling center, the Peer Advocates, Sexual Health Educators, student groups, alumni, even national news sources -all have something to contribute to the conversation around sexual respect and misconduct at Amherst College. Each group is shocked and angered, saddened and overwhelmed. And rightly so, there is no formulaic way to respond to reports of the most traumatic violations that many can imagine. Yet, in all of this dialogue, a certain reality seems to have been neglected. This is a liberal arts college. Not a “too liberal for assault” college. Sexual disrespect can happen anywhere, at any time, by anyone. We in the Amherst bubble are not immune to the reality that “one in three women around the world will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime” (2003 UNIFEM report) and “one in thirty three American men will experience an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime” (RAINN). Even college educated people, even people in relationships, even people in the safety of their own dorm rooms can experience the horror that is often reserved for those in the margins. Students spend countless hours a week, engaging with critical theory and literature, meant to awaken them to social injustices and prepare them for “lives of consequence” after their four years spent at the College on the Hill. One would hope, however, that students use this critical engagement to live consequentially while at Amherst, too.
Educational inequity and discrimination in schools may be different in the United States from how they manifest in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Female American students can reasonably expect to be safe from government violence as they ride the bus home. Politicians, policemen, and principals are unlikely to make overt public statements, threatening girls with bodily harm if they show up to class. Nonetheless, sex discrimination is engrained in American schools and universities. Female students are discouraged from participating in class discussions when teachers more often call on their male counterparts. Young women are channeled into vocational training programs, eventually being situated in lower-paying positions than their male peers. Recently, on 10/11/12, the world celebrated the International Day of the Girl, a UN Sanctioned campaign to highlight opportunities for female children worldwide. In light of both this celebration and Malala’s tragic shooting last Tuesday, we should make conscious daily efforts to advance women’s rights to education. Raise your hand in class; and if you are not invited to speak, keep raising your hand in class. Study whatever interests you. Male students do not own math and science.Be mindful of the way the media portrays women in power; and if you do not find enough women in public office, become a woman in public office. We have the right to speak up.