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Amherst College sexual assault counselor leaves

Amherst College president Carolyn "Biddy" Martin confirmed Wednesday that the school's sexual assault counselor has departed after a student's  account  of being raped on campus was published in the Amherst Student. The college has canceled classes on Friday and is requiring students, faculty and staff to attend events about how to prevent and respond to sexual assaults on campus. (File photo)

Amherst College president Carolyn "Biddy" Martin confirmed Wednesday that the school's sexual assault counselor has departed after a student's account of being raped on campus was published in the Amherst Student. The college has canceled classes on Friday and is requiring students, faculty and staff to attend events about how to prevent and respond to sexual assaults on campus. (File photo) Purchase photo reprints »

The circumstances surrounding the departure of Gretchen Krull, , the associate director of health education and the college’s sexual assault counselor, are unknown. Martin declined comment on whether Krull was fired or if she resigned, saying it was a personnel issue. A call placed to Krull’s home was not immediately returned.

But Krull’s departure attracted criticism from some on campus, as well as victims’ rights advocates.

Colby Bruno, managing attorney of the Victims Rights Law Center in Boston, called Krull’s departure a “misstep” in the college’s otherwise positive response to the recent controversy, sparked by a student’s first-person account of being raped that was published in the school newspaper, the Amherst Student.

“Their very well regarded sexual assault counselor seems to be a casualty of the story,” Bruno said.

Bruno has worked with the author of the Student story, Angie Epifano, and other students at the college.

She questioned why the person who has counseled scores of victims over the years was held responsible, saying “The buck often stops with the counselors rather than with administrators, where it should.”

Brianda Reyes, editor of the Amherst Student, said Krull announced her departure during a meeting of resident counselors, peer advocates and sexual health educators last Friday.

“After her resignation, a lot of people started wondering if that came out of the investigation or out of stress,” Reyes said, adding that some on campus are concerned Krull has been made a scapegoat.

“A lot of students were positively impacted by her,” Reyes said. “I think that is one of the sources of tension right now — is the administration telling us enough?”

Consultant sought

Amherst College continues to be buffeted by Epifano’s story, which was published in the Student on Oct. 17. It came on the heels of another piece on a student blog about a T-shirt made by an underground fraternity, which showed a derogatory image of a woman, and ultimately went unpunished.

The stories prompted a large student protest two weeks ago and have attracted considerable national media attention. The New York Times published a lengthy story about Epifano’s story on Oct. 26.

The college has sought to project a proactive image in response. In the wake of the story’s publication in the Student, Martin said she was proud of Epifano, who withdrew from the school over the summer. A meeting of the college’s trustees on Oct. 19 concluded with promises to establish a woman’s resource center and increase support for victims of sexual assault. The college has also hired Gina Smith, a nationally known adviser on sexual assault cases, to review the school’s procedures and recommend areas for improvement.

On Monday, the college advertised in the Gazette for an investigative consultant to work on cases of sexual assault.

Martin, in an interview Wednesday, said the position is needed to comply with Title IX, which requires organizations to provide equal treatment to all students, faculty and staff. Victims of sexual assault have the option of not going to law enforcement if they choose, Martin said.

In those instances, colleges and universities are required to investigate and adjudicate sexual assault cases under Title IX, and the hiring of an investigator is a step toward that requirement, she said.

“We try to support students’ wishes while informing them of their rights under the judicial system,” Martin said.

The college is also scheduled to cancel classes on Friday, with all students, faculty and staff required to attend presentations and small group discussions about how to prevent and deal with sexual assault on campus.

“We decided it would be a good idea to bring the community together to create an opportunity for community-building,” Martin said. “It’s an opportunity to ask questions together and help one another.”

The ultimate goal, she said, is to find a way “harm can be prevented and not just responded to when it occurs.”

Bruno said Amherst College deserves credit for its reform efforts. The college has been proactive since April of last year, when the Department of Education issued new Title IX guidelines.

Some schools have merely ignored the guidelines, while others, like Amherst, have actively tried to meet the requirements, she said. Last spring, the school approved a series of changes to its disciplinary procedures, Bruno noted.

“I think those are a few, but really positive steps,” Bruno said.

Dana Bolger, an Amherst College junior and author of the story on the fraternity T-shirt, founded the website It Happens Here to raise awareness about sexual assault on campus last year. She, too, agreed that Martin and the college deserve credit for their efforts to reform the school’s response to sexual assault cases.

But she said much of that effort came after the media spotlight focused on campus following the publication of Epifano’s story.

“Last year, I and a few other survivors went to administrators to voice our concerns about Amherst sexual misconduct policies, procedures, and personnel — and were largely ignored,” Bolger wrote in an email to the Gazette. “Following the publication of Angie’s article and the subsequent media attention, the school began implementing many of the recommendations we’d made last spring.”

Bruno agreed that students have been instrumental in moving the college forward.

“If they had not been so vocal, things would not have happened as expeditiously and as comprehensively,” Bruno said.

Whether Amherst College continues to progress will depend largely on students, she said.

“Above all, what needs to change is the culture on college campuses,” Bruno said. “That self-sustaining movement comes from the students.”

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