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Winter 2000


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Highlights

A SILVER YEAR
FOR SAUL PERLMUTTER

AMHERST SKIES, FROM BOTH SIDES NOW

LONELY? TRY LYING!

MARTHA STEWART
PLAYING

THE CHANCELLOR
AND THE SUFI
MASTER

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Snapshot

Y2K MINUS ONE


Campaign News

ISENBERG SCHOOL
LANDS KRESGE
GRANT

GENEROUS PEOPLE:
RANDOLPH AND
CECILE BROMERY

 

 

Broad daylight
The campus community
responds to a
"terrible turbulence"

Photo: students rally

Expressions of frustration: Outside the Student union, students rally and write against violence.

"I'm probably as scared as I possibly could be," said student Elisabeth Lessard, 21, of Boxboro. "But the other part of me is happy that the reaction from students is so great. I would never guess a big campus like this would bond like this."
AP report, November 23, 1999

 


It's not what we'd have chosen as a valedictory for the last months of the century on campus, but the experience of bonding was indeed a redeeming feature. Last November was the most collectively miserable month that many of us can remember at UMass – a month in which the griefs of the world, which always abound, came knocking in a most painful and brazen way at the campus's door. In late October, on a sidewalk in downtown Northampton in broad daylight, Jean Hosmer, a staff member for twenty years and by all accounts a woman of unusual sweetness and pluck, was shot and killed by her estranged husband, who then fatally shot himself. Less than a week later, a student reported being raped in the late afternoon on the east bank of the Campus Pond. A week after that, a second rape was reported, even earlier in the afternoon, at the north end of the pond.

     With the second report, events already grotesque began to feel sequential. The proximity in time to the murder of Jean Hosmer was tragic coincidence, but similarities in the accounts of the two attacks made it plausible that they might be connected. A scattering of reports of attempted assaults on other local campuses ­ and another near the pond the following weekend – gave rise to fears of copycatting at best, a serial attacker at worst. "He's a psychopath," a woman in our building exclaimed when we heard, in the third week of these reports, that a fourth woman had been attacked – again on a Tuesday afternoon in central campus, this time with a knife – even as a mass rally against the violence was going forward outside the Student Union.

     This last report later proved false. It was recanted early in December by the "very remorseful" student who had filed it. That she was not identified angered many, including those concerned that false claims discredit genuine ones. In any case the recantation, and the winding-down of the semester with no further incidents of the same type, marked the winding-down as well of the sense of siege and crisis that had been so striking the month before.

     The mobilization against the widespread fear was something to see. "There's a whole sense of unity around it ­ everyone's trying to bond and walk places together," first-year student Meredith Krumenacker told the Boston Globe, although she added, "At the same time there's this sense of disunity, because you mistrust everyone and are thinking, 'Could it be him?'" The frustration of the situation for male students was personified by history major Todd Hartzler, described by a reporter as "marching alone near the pond with a hand-lettered placard reading 'Protect our Women. Arrest, Convict, Castrate and Incarcerate.' "

     The response of the campus elders, too, was comprehensive and cohesive. "This is our home," a male colleague said to us, his face twisting with frustration and rage at whoever was responsible. "Whoever's doing this seems to be going out of his way to throw it in our faces," said Carol Wallace, the director of Everywoman's Center. Justine Bramble, a supervisor in campus activities, told the Springfield Union News she'd stopped sending her female student workers on errands by themselves: "What kind of guilt would I feel if I sent them out and something happened?" said Bramble. "This is a big, big, big deal for women on this campus." Patrols were increased; faculty members volunteered for beefed-up escort services; the faculty senate voted to give academic clemency to students who missed classes out of fear. The chancellor, police chief, and other officials attended rallies and forums, and on several occasions walked the campus at night. Pan-campus emails were sent; letters were mailed to parents (who were calling in record numbers themselves); 15,000 hand-held "shriek alarms" were ordered and distributed free on campus.


There was, certainly, backlash and criticism. Some came from people who thought the response overblown: Bulletin-board denunciations of the rape reports as "scams" represented this view. But more came from students who thought the response inadequate ("I put the responsibility on the campus administration for not putting out the word so we could deal with this," said SGA leader Jeff Howe at a rally) or misdirected ("They're putting responsibility on women rather than on the school or on the men doing these rapes," junior Adrien Hilton told the Globe.)

     As usual, some of these criticisms seemed unreasonable, others not. When a student at one of the forums was told that there's no way to make the woods on the east side of campus perfectly safe at night except to stay out of them, he retorted, "Chancellor, I pay a lot of money to go to school here; I should be able to walk wherever I want." When Howe pointed out that some of the safety measures being undertaken had been previously requested by students, he made a more discomfiting point.

     One point which didn't get much argument, interestingly, was that whatever one might think of the response to these incidents, rape and domestic abuse are not rare but common. When Jean Hosmer was killed moments after renewing a restraining order, the Daily Hampshire Gazette observed that 623 restraining orders against abusive spouses had been issued in Hampshire County the previous year. Similarly, FBI estimates of forcible sexual offenses on campuses rose 11.4 percent between 1997 and 1998.

     One of the exceptional public events of the month, arranged by communication professor Sut Jhally, was the visit to campus of Jackson Katz '82, a stocky and engaging anti-violence educator and founder of the consulting company MVP Strategies. Speaking to a standing-room only audience including many men, Katz elicited from his female listeners a list of the multiple precautions they feel compelled to exercise at virtually all times.

     The precautions reveal the pervasiveness of the threat of violence, said Katz. "In 1999 it's not enough to say, 'I'm a good guy, I don't abuse any women,'" he said. "You have to send a message that if you abuse women you will lose status with your peers." Chancellor David Scott, who introduced Katz, took a characteristically hopeful view. "Sometimes from terrible turbulence, an organization can rise and align itself along a new direction that can bring about important and systematic change," Scott said.

     In the end, the most important responses to our collectively miserable November will be such increases in consciousness and such experience of community as we maintain. "She would have loved it so much to see everyone here," said Sandra Bernotas, the fifteen-year-old daughter of Jean Hosmer, at one of several overflowing public gatherings honoring her mother and protesting the way of her death last fall. To see a large proportion of the campus population confronting in a heartfelt way the shame, sorrow, and fear of violence against women, and reaching out to help each other with those feelings, was also a thing to be much loved.

– Patricia Wright

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