Survivorship and silence on Smith campus: Reflections on Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Photo courtesy of | Women’s colleges are painted as being safe havens from sexual assault, but that is far from the truth, Katherine Hazen ’18 writes.

Photo courtesy of | Women’s colleges are painted as being safe havens from sexual assault, but that is far from the truth, Katherine Hazen ’18 writes.


Katherine Hazen ’18
Associate Editor

When I received my acceptance letter to Smith two years ago, the Department of Education released its list of schools that were under investigation for failures to obey Title IX. On that list were Amherst College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and it was suddenly my biggest fear that I would become one in five women who are sexually assaulted during their college experience.

During my first year, despite all my “precautions,” I was drugged and raped at Amherst College.  It’s undoubtedly been a rough year, affecting everything in my life from my ability to focus to my capacity to trust. However, I’ve been really fortunate to feel so much support from my family and friends.

Since then, I’ve grown more comfortable in my identity as a survivor, finding that politicizing my experience helps me compartmentalize it, but I’ve also grown so incredibly frustrated at the Smith community’s silence on such a pressing issue that is not only prevalent on our neighboring campuses but on our own campus as well.

Each April, which is recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA) host Take Back The Night, usually consisting of a march downtown, followed by a speak-out session. Last year, it was essentially attended only by myself, my support group and SASA club members. I was greatly disappointed by the Smith community’s absence; the lack of attendees felt like a huge slap in the face.

For a school that purports itself as being the birthplace of feminism, I thought this was profoundly disheartening, not to mention insulting.      

But I decided to give Take Back The Night another try this year, only to be let down yet again. People walked by in confusion, whispering to ask why ten students were standing somberly in front of the Campus Center. Admittedly, the event was poorly advertised, which is something I strongly suggest SASA take into consideration.

When our new Title IX Coordinator Sarah Harebo held an open focus group session last semester, there was one faculty member, a senior who worked in ResLife and myself in attendance.  The administration is trying, but students also need to contribute.

I wish there was not only more anger but also just plain awareness.  Many people think that a women’s college is somehow a safe haven from sexual violence, which only serves to further stigmatize and alienate survivors of experiences that don’t fit our typically gendered narratives of sexual violence. Unfortunately, many of those people who hold that belief are also our own students.

If people were aware and rightfully angry, we could organize to ensure survivors have the resources we desperately need.  I want immediate resources in every house in the form of a House Council position. I want an apology for any students that have experienced sexual violence on this campus and beyond. I want clearly articulated and easily accessible rights for every survivor, inspired by the work that has been done by UMass Coalition to End Rape Culture. I want a better form of reporting that takes survivors’ needs into account. I want some form of standardization across the Five College Consortium (seriously, am I the only one who thinks it’s weird that our language departments are more connected than our Title IX offices?).   

Those are really just a few pieces of a larger puzzle to becoming a trauma-informed, survivor-centric campus.   

So here’s my message for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Smith College: Wake up.

One Comment

  1. Katie Hazen, I am so sorry (and angry) to hear of your dreadful experience, but I am proud of your bravery and your eloquence in the face of oppression.

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