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Amherst College Refuses to Release Sexual Misconduct Data

After data released by the College showed that stealing laptops and iPods led to more severe punishment than committing sexual assault, students protested outside of Valentine to demand harsher sanctions. Of course, now there is no way to know if the College listened, since it refuses to release data on sanctions for Honor Code violations. (Photo Courtesy of Dana Bolger)

After data released by the College showed that stealing laptops and iPods led to more severe punishment than committing sexual assault, students protested outside of Valentine to demand harsher sanctions. Of course, now there is no way to know if the College listened, since it refuses to release data on sanctions for Honor Code violations. (Photo Courtesy of Dana Bolger)

(Ethan Corey)– Up until 2008, the College released annual reports of Honor Code violations to the student body, detailing the various offenses committed by students during the academic year and the sanctions they received, including for cases of sexual misconduct such as sexual assault and harassment.

After a three-year hiatus, the College resumed this practice (under pressure from student-activists) in the spring of 2012, releasing data for the 2009, 2010 and 2011 academic years. The release of this information helped catalyze the anti-sexual violence movement on campus after students learned that the College had punished cases of laptop theft more severely than sexual assault.

Inexplicably, however, the College has not released any more data since 2012, despite repeated assurances to the contrary.

Needless to say, this intrigued me. Last week, I emailed Chief Student Affairs Officer Suzanne Coffey and Title IX Coordinator Laurie Frankl to ask why the College hasn’t released any data. The answer I received from Coffey was, for lack of a better term, pure evasive bullshit:

Dear Ethan, Thank you for your good questions regarding prior reporting of summaries of Honor Code violations. While it is true that annual reports were not issued by the Dean of Students Office in academic years 2012 and 2013, I support continuing the practice of making regular reports to the community at intervals that feel appropriate. In thinking about moving forward, my plan is to work both with Title IX Coordinator Laurie Frankl and our new Assistant Dean of Students/Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards to address conduct reporting. You may also be aware that a Title IX Review Committee will be forming, and will hopefully be up and running this semester. That group intends to issue regular reports about the Title IX process. This Committee, conceived by students and formed by a working collaboration of students and administrators, will have as its goal to collect and review data regarding the community’s experience with the College’s sexual misconduct policies. The Committee will be charged with, among other things, informing the community about the work of the Title IX Team and will issue reports that detail aggregate statistics of Title IX cases, including sanitized narratives of sexual misconduct cases. Additionally, I appreciate your question about the College’s practice of notifying the community when a student has been expelled for committing sexual violence. Our intention is to continue the practice of making such announcements. Best wishes, Suzanne

Let’s break this down a bit. Coffey supports “continuing the practice of making regular reports to the community at intervals that feel appropriate.” Note that this is quite different from the College’s previous practice of making annual reports, so calling it a continuation of a previous policy is misleading at best. More concerning however is the qualifier “intervals that feel appropriate”: Who defines what is an appropriate interval? Suzanne Coffey? President Martin? I asked Coffey when the College plans to release this data, but she declined to answer my question.

As an aside, Coffey mentions “our new Assistant Dean of Students/Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards,” a position previously held by the less than beloved Susie Mitton Shannon. In a second email, Coffey clarified that Dean Mitton Shannon has left the College and that the Office of Student Affairs is currently searching for her replacement. Not really relevant to this article, but the College hasn’t announced this to the student body yet. (As you can see, transparency is not one of Coffey’s strong points.)

Next, her email suggests that the yet-to-be-formed Title IX Review Committee (a product, mind you, of the College’s decision to remove students from the more official Title IX Committee) will be responsible for releasing “aggregate statistics of Title IX cases, including sanitized narratives of sexual misconduct cases.” But there’s no reason why this would have to be delegated to a committee that doesn’t even exist yet. The College already has this data, but it is choosing not to release it. So passing the buck off to a group that will “hopefully” (her words) be established sometime this semester doesn’t really cut it.

The last part, you’ll note, is a response to another question I asked about the College’s practice of notifying students when someone is expelled for sexual misconduct. In January 2014, Dean Larimore and Laurie Frankl sent an email notifying the campus that the College expelled a student after he was found responsible for sexual assault in December 2013, but there have been no other notifications since that time. I asked Coffey if that meant that no other students had been expelled, but (surprise) she declined to answer that question too.

To be clear, this isn’t just a case of one rogue administrator or a simple oversight by the College. As Chief Student Affairs Officer, Coffey is the ultimate authority (short of President Martin herself) on whether or not the College releases this data. Moreover, Coffey CC’ed Laurie Frankl, the College employee charged with ensuring compliance with Title IX and other legal protections for survivors, on her email, meaning that Frankl gave her tacit approval to Coffey’s decision.

I don’t want to go on a rant about why transparency is so goddamned important on an issue like how the College handles sexual violence, so I’ll close with this: Students need to be able to trust the College and its administration. If any student feels like the College will not support them, than it has failed to do its job. This is a really fucking easy fix. There’s no excuse for this kind of bullshit.

Feel free to email Suzanne Coffey (scoffey@amherst.edu), Laurie Frankl (lfrankl@amherst.edu) or President Martin (bmartin@amherst.edu) with your feelings on this issue. Maybe you’ll get a more helpful response than I did.

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AC Voice Investigates publishes in-depth reporting and breaking news for the Amherst College community. Contact us with tips, story ideas or any other questions and comments at acvinvestigates@gmail.com!

8 comments on “Amherst College Refuses to Release Sexual Misconduct Data

  1. Siraj Ahmed Sindhu
    August 14, 2014

    Sometimes, I love Ethan Corey.

    This is one of those times.

    • Ethan Corey
      August 14, 2014

      Thanks Siraj!

  2. Arl
    August 14, 2014

    holy expletive ethman

  3. David
    August 14, 2014

    Watched Blumenthal and McCaskill Sentate Committee broadcast discussing campus sexual assaults with several college representatives and one very important question raised by McCaskill (a former prosecutor) was the issue of reporting. I’d like to know if, as you say, the College “expelled a student after he was found responsible for sexual assault in December 2013,” did the College then report the assault to the police?

    • Anonymous
      August 14, 2014

      The college actually alerts the police well before an expulsion happens. In my case, the police were notified by the college just after I talked to a title IX coordinator about the assault, even before I had decided to file a formal complaint against the student. The complainant gets to decide if s/he wants to file a police report, not the school.

      • terrairradient
        August 19, 2014

        My sympathies for your ordeal and my respect for your being a survivor and being proactive in filing the police report. This speaks to McCaskill’s concern that as a serious crime has been committed, it should, (like a robbery or mugging be reported), be reported. Yet this particular crime is of such a personal nature that the law attempts to take into consideration the victim’s feelings and privacy. As McCaskill came to realize listening to survivors, the balance is very delicate.

        I remain a little confused with your saying the college “alerts the police before an expulsion” yet the complainant/victim gets to file a report.” By this do you mean the college alerts the police only if and when the complainant files a report? I seek clarification because, I think the more informed everyone is about the reality of these situations, the more we see it discussed, then the more we empower people, thus, improving prevention and treatment. Clearly Amherst and other colleges/universities, society as a whole, needs to be scrutinized and better educated. Thank you.

  4. Pingback: College sexual assault: A campus-by-campus report card | Education Guide

  5. Pingback: College sexual assault: A campus-by-campus report card | General Education Blog

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