The recent revelation by Angie Epifano, a former student of Amherst College, that her school’s administration reacted in a way that was grossly out of line when she reported her sexual assault to school authorities, has stirred shock and strong emotion across the nation and on the Swarthmore campus. Given that Swarthmore and Amherst are very similar places, naturally Swarthmore’s own track record on responses to sexual assault warranted a review. A news article by Anna Gonzales in this week’s issue of The Phoenix chronicles the reflections of two anonymous sources on their experiences with the administration and CAPS in the aftermath of their respective assaults. The sources report that their own experiences were eerily similar to the one described at Amherst.
While we must caution the community against overreliance on anonymous information, the events reported by the two survivors certainly call for a review and reevaluation of how Swarthmore responds to sexual assault. It is not enough to simply review College policy; the administration must ensure that the execution of responses to such incidents meets the highest standards of integrity. No one at the College should ever downplay the significance of a sexual assault to a victim or doubt the veracity of his or her story. During Orientation, all freshmen take part in an ASAP workshop where they are taught that the very worst thing one can say to a sexual assault survivor is, “I don’t believe you.” The Administration must ensure that it follows the lessons taught in the workshops it supports.
Overall, it appears that the College does a moderately good job of responding to sexual assault incidents. We commend President Chopp and Dean Braun for their November 6 message to students, in which they highlighted an ongoing review of policies related to sexual assault and promised to continue educational efforts to prevent such incidents and aid survivors. We would, however, like to see more emphasis placed on the educational aspect. Swarthmore has a responsibility to educate its students not just in academic subjects but in social spheres as well. Sexual assault will not go away after graduation; a stronger educational campaign on how to prevent and deal with sexual assault will go a long way toward students’ well-being both at Swarthmore and in the “real world.”
We would also like to remind the community that admitting the occurrence of sexual assault on a college campus does not make that institution a “rape school,” or give it the reputation of having rampant sexual assault problems to the point of widespread fear for safety. It is a commonly held view that the Amherst administration attempted to downplay Epifano’s assault experience for the purpose of not having the “rape school” label applied to the campus. Instead, Amherst now bears the even worse label of a school that allows assault to happen and doesn’t do anything about it.
Swarthmore should learn from the shortcomings of Amherst and be sure to treat all cases of sexual assault with the utmost seriousness. The College should also ensure that students have access to legal recourse against their perpetrators should they desire to press charges. We find the CAPS policy (as detailed in the news article by Anna Gonzales) of “Only encourag[ing] a survivor to report their assault if the assailant seemed to be a repeat offender and posed a danger to the community” to be an ill-advised one. A perpetrator is a perpetrator, and reporting and/or seeking legal recourse against a sexual assault is an immutable right.
Coming forward must always be an option, and doing so will remind the community that assault does happen at Swarthmore, and it is a serious offense.