Surviving, at Amherst College

(Dana Bolger)– [Trigger warning for sexual assault]

Dear Amherst College community:

The photographs below feature eleven men and women who were sexually assaulted at Amherst College and the words that members of our community said to them following their assaults. Not every survivor is holding his or her own sign; some of the students have transferred or dropped out of Amherst out of fear of their attackers’ continued presence on campus or from lack of options in the face of an unsympathetic administration.

Many of you were shocked to read Angie Epifano’s story. Most of us in the survivor community at Amherst were deeply saddened but not surprised to learn of her experience with the College administration, since it so closely mirrored our own.

I have followed our college community’s reactions to Angie’s story. The outrage toward our school’s administration is just and appropriate. That our administration owes a formal, public acknowledgment of, and apology for, its treatment of survivors goes without saying. That it is time that we demand from our administration transparency, dialogue, and priority of students’ safety over Amherst’s image likewise goes without saying.

In the photographs below, survivors reveal hurtful words said to them by Amherst administrators—and also by teammates, roommates, and friends.

In our impulse to point a finger outward at the Amherst administration, let us not forget to look inward at our own complicity in the creation of a culture that gives Angie’s rapist the power to act and our administration the power to silence and dismiss her experience.

I urge you to see the words in these photographs—see them, be angry—and then recall your own words. I think we have all, at some time, in some way—through our jokes, our questions, our arguments—silenced a survivor. I think we have all, at some time, in some way, exerted our respective privileges—male, white, heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied—to silence our peers. As a woman, I have been silenced and shut down in the classroom, at parties, among friends, even in planning meetings leading up to Friday’s rally to support survivors. As a white, upper-middle class, heterosexual individual, I know I have silenced and shut down my peers.

Angie’s article has revealed to the rest of the Amherst community what survivors here have known since our own rapes: it is time to demand radical change from our administration. What I hope you will read in Angie’s article and see in the photographs below is that it is time to demand transformation from yourself.

Let these stories be a portal for self-examination and growth.

-Dana Bolger

Photographs by Jisoo Lee

Project by It Happens Here — Dana Bolger, Kinjal Patel, Sonum Dixit

“I know you’ll regret stuff in the morning.”
–My assailant
“Are you sure it was rape? He seems to think it was a little more complicated.”
–Amherst College Administrator
“Why couldn’t you fight him off?”
“Why don’t you take a year off, get a job at Starbucks, and come back after he’s graduated?”
“C’mon, you go out every weekend. Stop telling people he raped you or my teammates won’t want to pregame in our room anymore.”
–Freshman roommate
“If you didn’t want to have sex with him, why were you sitting on his bed two weeks before?”
–Student on the Amherst College disciplinary committee
“Hey, why are you such a slut?”
–His teammate, minutes after my attack, in front of everyone
“Was he drunk? Well, that’s not as bad.”
“You’re too complicated because you’re a rape survivor. You can pay for a therapist in town.”
–Amherst psychologist
“Oh. So that’s why you’re paranoid?”
“You never took your case to trial, so you don’t actually count as a rape survivor.”
–Amherst Dean

Cross-posted with permission from It Happens Here.

This project was created with the influence and permission of Project Unbreakable.