Mount Holyoke must acknowledge and understand the violent legacy that made alums say #MeToo

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

BY CHLOE JENSEN ’20

Many Mount Holyoke alums have been sharing their stories of sexual harassment at Mount Holyoke in Facebook alumni groups in response to the #MeToo social media movement. While the details of these stories range, their message remains the same: Mount Holyoke did not do enough to support students who came forward with accusations, or to prevent the attacks in the first place. In many ways, Mount Holyoke supports its students and alumni, however it also glosses over its dirty history of sexual harassment. 

Many current students have no idea sexual harassment at Mount Holyoke is or ever was an issue. In fact many of us, myself included, committed to Mount Holyoke thinking we could avoid gendered discrimination on this campus. 

In many ways, sexual harassment and assault at Mount Holyoke in the 1970s and 1980s was a problem that remained entirely unspoken of: everyone was aware that it existed and no one took the necessary measures when prompted to address it. For example, Sherril Gerard ’85 says that “it was not uncommon to see a professor at your friend’s dorm party.” Alums speak of professor and student affairs like it was not all that scandalous. 

However, this does not mean that these relationships or instances of sexual assault had no effect on students: they often did; Mount Holyoke did not support them. Gerard recalls that when she reported her rape to the College during her first year in 1981, there was minimal support. “They took me to the health center and then I went to a therapist,” Gerard says. “But they did not give me the opportunity to press charges.” 

Like other alums, Gerard found that the trauma she experienced continued to live with her. 

With the creation of W.A.S.H and other campus initiatives, the conversations surrounding sexual assault has improved. However, it’s dangerous to assume Mount Holyoke is immune to sexual harassment, a problem that prevails in higher education. 

Academia is absolutely no stranger to sexual harassment for women. According to a UChasings report, a third of women in science have been sexually harassed in their departments. As the daughter of a female professor, I remember hearing story after story of my mom and her friends being harassed by one of their coworkers or advisors. The problem of sexual harassment in academia is all too familiar, and unfortunately, many Mount Holyoke students have to be ready to face that not only in their own institution, but after graduation  as well.

Although Acting President Sonya Stephens recently stated that the College stood in support of survivors and of the #MeToo movement, the College has been silent about the history of sexual harassment at Mount Holyoke. 

As current students, it is our responsibility to uphold our community and support alumni in sharing their stories. As current students, we also have a right to know about these stories.

Mount Holyoke prides itself in preparing its students for the many kinds of gender discrimination we will face in our careers, but if we cannot face our own history of sexual harassment, how could we ever accomplish this mission? 

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