ANGIE EPIFANO: Amherst is such a dream school. And it wasn't until I began talking with some of the upperclassman about sexual assault, specifically, that I realized that Amherst was not all bright sunshine and happiness. And that was only a few weeks before my rape actually occurred.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
That is the voice of Angie Epifano. She was a freshman at Amherst when she says she was raped by another student. We reached her this past week after a Harvard student anonymously detailed her own alleged sexual assault on campus, in a piece for the Harvard Crimson. That student writes, quote, "I'll be moving out of my house next semester, if only, quite literally, to save my life. My assailant will remain unpunished, and life on this campus will continue its course as if nothing had happened." That letter went viral, and Harvard announced it's creating a task force to evaluate the school's sexual assault policy.
Like that Harvard student, Angie Epifano wrote about her assault, an Amherst response in an op-ed published in 2012 by the student newspaper. Angie Epifano is our Sunday conversation.
EPIFANO: He had invited me over to watch a movie. And neither of us were drunk or on drugs, or any of those questions that people typically ask when they are talking about rape, unfortunately. And I basically dozed off during the movie because I was really exhausted and it was pretty late at night, at this point. And I just wake up to basically, cold air. And he was on top of me. And it just - it spiraled from there. And afterwards, I just laid there, curled up in a ball. And woke up the next morning, and just took my clothes and ran as fast away from the room as I could. And told myself I would never think about it again. And unfortunately, that's not how rape works in your mind. It always comes back.
MARTIN: You did try to put it away for a while. When you did make the decision, though, to report what happened to you, where did you go? Who did you tell? What did you say?
EPIFANO: It was the second semester of my sophomore year in February. And I'd basically had this huge emotional breakdown with a friend of mine. And he suggested I go to the Amherst sexual assault guidance counselor. And I didn't even know we had a sexual assault guidance counselor and...
MARTIN: So this was nine months after the assault?
EPIFANO: Yes. And so I went to see this woman. And I think I spent like, two hours in her office and most of it was just crying before I eventually told her why I was there. And that was, in retrospect, the beginning of the end of my time at Amherst.
MARTIN: At some point, school officials believe it's best that you are sent to a psychiatric institution. Can you take us back to that day? What conversations preceded it? How did you - how did you get there?
EPIFANO: It was, honestly, the worst day of my life. And it started with presenting a photo project that I had done for my photography class that I was in. And it was basically a project to work through my trauma. And it wasn't received well, and it was mocked by some of my peers. So I went to the sexual assault guidance counselor and told her about this, what had just happened. And she said that that was how Amherst was, and that's how men will be. And I just broke down. I was so devastated. So I went to the other guidance counselor, and that's when she started asking these questions about suicide and if I had ever intended to commit suicide.
And being a very type-A person, I answered very honestly that yes, I had thought about suicide. And I kept saying, I don't want to but if I were, this is how I would do it. And next thing I know, she's left the room and the door is locked. And this woman comes in that I've never seen before who's apparently, the head of the counseling center. And she tells me they've called an ambulance and the police, and I am being sent to the local hospital for suicidal intent.
MARTIN: We should also say you are estranged from your parents, so they were not a source of support for you through this.
MARTIN: So you are taken to the psychiatric facility against your will. How long were you there?
EPIFANO: I was on the psych ward for five days.
MARTIN: You returned to campus. Did ever return run into your assailant again?
EPIFANO: I didn't. I went back and there were only a few weeks left in school. And I had found out while on the ward that I could have, basically, a restraining order put against him on campus - which I had never been told about. And I had that put on him just to make sure that in his last few weeks on campus, I would not see him.
MARTIN: How have things been going for you since then? What's life like?
EPIFANO: Life has been up and down, to be honest. It's very difficult withdrawing from college and attempting to transfer. And I think this is something that is basically, the unspoken problem of what happens to sexual assault survivors - especially after they withdraw. And especially now that the Harvard letter has come out and the reality of what's going on at these elite institutions becomes more and more clear, the options of where to go to school and still feel safe feel like they're just falling through your fingers.
MARTIN: What were you studying, Angie?
EPIFANO: I was doing African art history with a concentration in women and gender studies; and minoring in studio art, specifically photography.
MARTIN: And that's what you would like to finish, to get your degree in?
EPIFANO: I would. It would really depend on where I end up going and if they would offer that. But at this point, I would be happy with any diploma. (Laughter)
MARTIN: Angie Epifano wrote about her experience after withdrawing from school. Her article prompted an immediate response from university president Biddy Martin, who promised to take action. We reached President Martin this past week for comment, and she offered this statement. Quote, Angie Epifano's account of her rape, her painful efforts to deal with it on her own, and her subsequent experiences when she sought help on campus are horrifying. President Martin also says the school has since made several changes to its policies, including hiring more counselors trained to handle sexual misconduct and overhauling the judicial review process for sexual assault complaints. You're listening to NPR News.
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