by Rhian Sasseen on October 19, 2012
I cried when I read former Amherst student Angie Epifano’s account of being raped. I texted my little sister, thick in the middle of application season, and she told me that this had changed her mind about applying to Amherst. I closed the window. And then I thought: thank God I went to Smith.
Immediately I felt ashamed. This is not a helpful response, I chided myself – women are assaulted and hurt on your alma mater’s campus, too; there are plenty of kind-hearted, feminist men that attend Amherst. I took three classes at Amherst during my time in the Pioneer Valley, and served as editor-in-chief for a Five College literary journal I co-founded. A good portion of my life, in short, was willingly spent across the river, or passing time on the B43. And yet: when I think of Amherst, and when I think of co-ed schools on the whole, I cannot help but remember the male student junior year who told me that he thought Adrienne Rich was “silly.” That for a woman to be concerned that her voice would not be heard, that her work would be dismissed on account of her gender – well, we all live in the twenty-first century nowadays, don’t we? Times have changed. Women who talk of being women – oh, we are silly.
The word stung. I didn’t quite know what to say. For the rest of the class I defended Rich’s words, and my professor backed me up – this shut the student up. But I did not feel triumphant. I did not feel secure. I retreated to my campus, disturbed and yet also relieved – I was not crazy. These feelings existed. When I returned to Amherst two days later I felt keenly aware of the fact that I was a woman, and that the school, upon its founding, was not meant for me.
We express our politics through our choices. I chose to attend a women’s college, a decision that occasionally drove me crazy during the midst of it but that which today I look back on with enormous gratitude. A part of me thinks that every woman should go to a women’s college; a part of me thinks that men would benefit from a single-sex atmosphere, too. Another part of me wonders if that is simply avoiding the problem. Then I think of my classrooms, my lectures and my seminars and my time tempered by books: no one ever called me silly.