Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Amherst College responds

Students have been, it seems, emboldened by the national press their college has received over the climate on the Amherst College campus. They held a rally last Friday outside a Board of Trustees meeting. And the college is responding--publicly.
President Martin gave an interview to New England Public Radio yesterday morning. I was quite impressed by her statements. She gave a lot of credit to the students of Amherst College who have already been working on this issue. She referred to them as experts. She has hired an outside consultant to examine the policies around sexual assault and misconduct. She is bringing in outside counselors to the counseling center to specifically serve students who have been victims of sexual assault.
I was somewhat surprised by this. While I think it is a positive move, I am not quite sure why a college campus doesn't already have multiple staff members in their counseling center who are capable of working with students who experience sexual assault. This might be part of the issue around "climate," which the interviewer asked Martin about.
Policies can change, staff members can change--but how do you change a climate?
Friends and I had this discussion just last night in reference both to Amherst College and a recent article about the Boston University men's hockey team, which dismissed two players last season because of sexual assault allegations. An internal report found a "culture of entitlement" on the team which lead to the these assaults and was allowed to flourish because of lack of supervision or discipline by the coaching staff and university administration. BU has put several policies and practices in place in an attempt to change the culture.
But altering a culture, especially when it is so engrained, is difficult. According to the Globe article linked in the above paragraph, appealing to people's sense of right and wrong does not work. You have to tell them everyone else is doing it--whatever the it is. So in the case of a climate which fosters the sexual assault of women, do we tell people "hey, everyone else is NOT raping women--you shouldn't either"?