Mount Holyoke students rally in support of sexual assault survivors

  • Margaret Golden speaks during a rally held to address historical allegations of sexual misconduct by a Mount Holyoke College professor, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018 at the college. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Margaret Golden speaks during a rally held to address historical allegations of sexual misconduct by a Mount Holyoke College professor, Tuesday, at the college. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kai Chuckas speaks during a rally held to address historical allegations of sexual misconduct by a Mount Holyoke College professor, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018 at the college. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mount Holyoke College students listen during a rally held to address historical allegations of sexual misconduct by a Mount Holyoke College professor, Tuesday, at the college in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mount Holyoke College students listen during a rally held to address historical allegations of sexual misconduct by a Mount Holyoke College professor, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018 at the college. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/24/2018 12:32:24 AM

SOUTH HADLEY — When Margaret Golden was a first-year student at Mount Holyoke College in 1982, she says, a professor sexually assaulted her.

Golden dropped out after the trauma of that assault, and it wasn’t until 1995 that she got the courage to come back and finish school. On Tuesday, she was back on campus, having flown all the way from Idaho to join around 200 Mount Holyoke students who rallied in support of sexual assault survivors.

“This is our campus… We are Mount Holyoke, not the administration,” Golden said to cheers from the crowd. Of her own experience, she said a letter she previously sent to the college’s administration about her assault went unanswered. “I was silenced, I was dismissed, I was erased.”

Tuesday’s rally came after Ruth D’Eredita, a 1984 graduate of the college, told the Associated Press that a professor forcefully groped and kissed her when she was a student on campus. D’Eredita’s complaint is one of a wave of allegations that colleges have received about past abuse as the #MeToo movement grows, and one of three from the 1980s to emerge from Mount Holyoke, according to the AP.

Golden said her complaint is one of those three. She said that as the #MeToo movement has unfolded, alumnae of the college began to share their stories on a closed Facebook group, including a story of rape by a professor decades ago.

Students also shared their own stories on Tuesday, with some telling those gathered that they were themselves survivors of sexual assault. The event’s organizers said the rally was meant to be a space for people to share those stories, to show solidarity with others and to hold the college’s administration accountable.

“Today’s rally was essentially in response to the steps the college administration had taken regarding the articles that had come out,” said Casey Roepke, a second-year student and one of the event’s organizers. “We are elevating our own voices to be heard.”

The college’s response was at the center of discussion at the event, with many calling for greater transparency and action from Mount Holyoke. Golden called on the college to name those accused of misconduct.

“Really it’s to call into question, what is this college doing?” Kai Chuckas, a junior, said of the rally. He said the college had a history of allowing predators on campus. “That creates a dangerous environment.”

The college administration has held forums with students and faculty to discuss the historical allegations of sexual misconduct. In an email to the campus community, college President Sonya Stephens said that one faculty member’s courses have been canceled “as a result of these recent developments.”

“The faculty member is not on campus,” the message reads. “This process is being undertaken in accordance with college policies. We are working with the students who are impacted, providing several options to complete their credits this semester, despite their cancelled class.”

College spokeswoman Keely Savoie confirmed that the professor in question is tied to those historical allegations and not any recent complaints, but declined to provide further specifics.

Stephens, in her letter to the campus, addressed calls to disclose more information about the complaints lodged against faculty.

“As histories of trauma unfold, we are deeply concerned that additional public scrutiny and commentary perpetuate harm for survivors, and we feel strongly that the College should not disclose the details of a Title IX case, regardless of when the incident under investigation occurred,” Stephens wrote. “Survivors have the right to tell their stories without comment from the College, and without the institution infringing upon their privacy.”

The college is creating a new policy on historical complaints, and has recently hired its first-ever full-time Title IX coordinator, Savoie said. Since 2016, the college has also hired a vice president for equity and inclusion and a chief diversity officer to work together with the Title IX coordinator, and is completing an external audit of its procedures around misconduct reports.

Students on Tuesday demanded more from the administration, though one student encouraged a more collaborative approach. But Roepke said she and others have had their faith in the administration shaken.

“I’m very upset and angry about that, because so many of us came to a historically women’s college because we felt like we would be safe and supported here from this issue,” Roepke said.

But Roepke added that she was encouraged to see alumnae, faculty and members of the administration joining the rally Tuesday. It isn’t just a student issue, she said.

“I hope that this failure in this system… compels us to move forward with fierce compassion to keep fighting and learning and supporting each other,” said Sorcha McCrohan, a sophomore and fellow organizer.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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