Amherst Opinion

Amherst Sexual Assault Victim’s Suicide Note

TRIGGER WARNING: The following article discusses a case of sexual assault and suicide which some individuals may find triggering.

There is something magical about first-year seminars.  They’re the only required course at Amherst, small enough to facilitate discussion and encourage participation.  You get to know all of your classmates and learn their habits – the person who has a lift scheduled before class, the girl who color-codes her notes, the guy who wears flip-flops in November.  At the very least, you learn their names and a little of what they have to say about “Romanticism and the Enlightenment” or “Secrets and Lies.”

Unfortunately, time and memory are often at odds, and as a senior I can only name a handful of people from my first-year seminar.

One of them is Trey Malone.

On November 5, his June 2012 suicide letter was published by a website called the “The Good Men Project.”

In the letter, he discusses his sexual assault at Amherst College and the incapacity of the institution to adequately support him.  There’s a vividness to his language that makes the letter seem like an article or an op-ed, but the circumstances of the letter’s creation are difficult to forget.

Perhaps most significantly, there’s a presence of mind in the letter that is refreshing amidst the discourse that has consumed Amherst in the past weeks.  He does not situate the College as the soul of the problem, but speaks eloquently about the perverse and pervasive culture that allows for the gross mismanagement of cases of rape or sexual assault.  At one point he rattles off statistics on rape and discusses how our carelessness in action and speech feeds into a culture of sexual misconduct.

Consequently, Trey writes, “Sorry I ranted a bit, but please have someone read the last two paragraphs to whomever comes to say goodbye.”

As Amherst College students, I feel that we were not given an opportunity to say goodbye until the publication of this letter.  Though Amherst quietly released a statement this summer announcing his death, I cannot recall receiving any notification or link to the piece.  The statement, which includes a quote from Biddy Martin, is respectful but general, with no mention of the sexual assault.  It includes a link to the official obituary.

In an interesting comparison, the College held memorial services on campus for Jordan Moore-Fields ‘11, who died in a car crash in Fall 2008.  While the unequal treatment of the two deaths could be attributed to differences in season and administration (Moore-Fields died while Anthony Marx was president), it’s worthwhile to question why each case was handled as it was.

Truthfully, I can’t recall hearing about Trey’s suicide until this fall.  A friend told me and it took me a few moments to place his name.  Then I remembered.

He was in my first-year seminar.

Part way through the semester, he stopped attending class.  We noticed his absence.  Our professor noticed.  How could you not?  We figured that he, like many of us, was ill, but time continued and Trey’s non-presence became somewhat of a source of comedy.

We read his absence as his choice or indifference.

I have no way of knowing when Trey’s sexual assault happened, nor the nature of his depression, nor when that started.  I have no idea why Trey stopped attending our first-year seminar, but I do know that I lacked sensitivity.  I lacked the part of me that should have asked, “Why?” more insistently.

In reframing that experience in my memory, I feel ill.  I cannot help but ask, “What if?  What if?”

I’m reminded of Biddy’s comment at the “Day of Dialogue” – that we should not be quick to judge people’s absences.

I’m reminded of our discussions of building community and increasing interpersonal accountability on campus, and I wonder if such measures will foster a community that supports rather than alienates, that speaks rather than silences.

Though the article was not released in an Amherst-affiliated publication, the letter has been passed around the student body through social media and word of mouth.

I’m sure that walking around campus tomorrow will yield a better sense of how the publication of this letter has been received, but I’m not sure what to expect.  How do you talk about something that feels so alive, but that was written as a survivor’s last words?  What effect will Trey’s letter have on the Amherst College community?  How can we ensure that it does?

I have deliberately refrained from quoting from Trey’s letter extensively in the hope that you will read it and contemplate it in its entirely.

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