November 13, 2012 — Amherst College President Biddy Martin's academic background in gender and sexuality issues and experience handling "thorny disputes" as a college administrator puts her in a unique position to address criticism of the school's handling of sexual assaults, the New York Times reports.
According to the Times, Martin's administration last spring made a series of changes in how Amherst handles sexual assault cases, including requiring a professional investigator examine every complaint and hiring an outside expert to review the school's policies.
The school drew national attention last month when a former Amherst student published an article about being raped and receiving dismissive treatment from administrators, which prompted several other sexual assault survivors to come forward. Then, this month, a note by a former student who committed suicide was published, saying that Martin made an insensitive comment when he reported that he had been sexually assaulted on campus.
After the first article was published, Martin ordered an outside expert to look into the case. She publicly acknowledged that the college had handled the case poorly, gave interviews with the media and held a series of forums with students.
Martin's response has earned her admirers as well as detractors. While some in the university community question her commitment to the issue, others say she was too hasty in accepting that sexual assault is a problem at the school.
Colby Bruno, managing attorney at the Victim Rights Law Center in Boston, said the typical response from college administrators is "denial, delay and secrecy," adding that "Martin's response is not the norm" (Pérez-Peña, New York Times, 11/11).