Our campus community must now think radically, not reactively

BY ZOË BARNSTONE-CLARK ’19

The recent allegations against a current Mount Holyoke professor by alumna Ruth D’Eredita ’84 sparked discussion at the executive board meeting of Mount Holyoke’s Amnesty International Chapter on Oct. 14. We chose to email the administration expressing concerns about their actions and requested they facilitate an open dialogue with students. We also contacted D’Eredita to voice our support and informed her of our intent to meet with the administration, asking if there was any specific action we could take on her behalf.

In response, D’Eredita shared a great deal of information with us about her investigation, which for legal reasons we cannot disclose to the wider campus community. We were also contacted by alumna Margaret Golden ’98, who shared her story of sexual assault by a professor who is now retired from the College as well as the stories of other alumnae. Our correspondence with alumnae made it apparent that sexual misconduct is pervasive throughout the history of our College. We cannot emphasize enough that the stories of D’Eredita and Golden are not isolated incidents.

We originally discussed this issue as the Amnesty International Chapter and are now moving forward as an independent group of concerned students. We cannot name names and we cannot give details. We have tried over and over to come up with ways to share what we know with the campus community, but we have been silenced by the law. It was infuriating to see how in the dark both students and faculty were at the open dialogue on Oct. 17, and to see the administration’s inability to answer simple questions about the allegations and the Title IX investigation, answers which students could easily find in the Associated Press article.

We cannot repair our current campus community and work towards a better future without first acknowledging the mistakes of the past. The Mount Holyoke administration must issue an apology to students, faculty and alumnae for their treatment of survivors. An apology is by no means enough, but it is a first step towards recognition, reconciliation and rebuilding trust between students, faculty, alumnae and the current administration.

Efforts to fire the accused professor ignore the unfortunate reality that the results of the Title IX investigation were inconclusive, meaning not only are there no legal grounds to terminate the professor’s contract with the College, but the administration would be left legally liable if he were fired. More importantly, firing one professor leaves the false impression that something has been done about this pervasive, persistent and systemic problem. It was not an isolated incident, and the situation is not unique to Mount Holyoke. We need to think bigger as a campus community; we must think radically rather than reactively.

I must take a moment to acknowledge my position as a cis, white, straight and able-bodied woman. Too often the voices given a platform in these cultural conversations are the privileged ones, while already marginalized voices become further silenced. As we have seen with the #MeToo movement, it is allegations of sexual misconduct made by white Hollywood actresses against powerful white men that receive the most attention. It is crucial that the voices heard in this campus conversation are wholly representative of the student body, and I am only taking this space because I wish to share as much of the information our group has become privy to in the past week as possible. I would also like to thank and acknowledge my collaborators, the Mount Holyoke Amnesty International Executive Board: Kara Candler ’20, Kali MuhlyAlexander ’20, Stella Elwood ’19, Emma Bowe ’21, Sarah Bloomgarden ’20, Colleen Molnar ’21 and Libby Horn ’21. We have all put in so much time and emotional labor this past week. Additionally, I would like to thank SGA president Adelita Simón ’19 for all she has carried and continues to carry — her radical leadership serves as an exemplary model for our own College’s president, Sonya Stephens. This is not the time for our administration to tread lightly, or to try to please everyone; rather, they must take large steps to take the lead on this issue and set the example for colleges and universities across the country.

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