Angie Epifano was working on a dude ranch in Wyoming in the fall of 2012, feeling frustrated that before she left school a few months earlier, she hadn't done anything to improve the support for victims of sexual assault on the Amherst College campus.
Epifano said she was raped in a dorm in 2011 during her freshmen year at Amherst, where she was an African Art history major. She didn't report it for months. When she finally did, school counselors didn't believe her story or tried to convince her to "forgive and forget," and eventually, after making suicidal threats, she was admitted to a psychiatric ward.
After her assault, Epifano attended free group counseling sessions for survivors at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. At the suggestion of a woman with whom she was working there, Epifano began channeling her feelings through journaling.
"And that spark came, and I decided to write about everything that happened and kind of get it down on paper," Epifano said, "to prove to myself I wasn't crazy, that everything had happened." She had no intention to show it to anyone, until she went back to visit the Amherst campus before heading off to Europe for a few months.
The situation was "very bad" for a lot of her friends who had had similar experiences, Epifano said. So she decided to hand over something she wrote in her journal to the Amherst Student, a weekly campus newspaper.
Epifano said she had nothing to lose and no chance of retaliation since she was no longer an Amherst student.
The editors ran the essay in the next issue on Oct. 17, 2012. By that time, Epifano was hanging out near the campus of Oxford University when a friend came up to her and said they had just read her article. Not only that, but stateside it was spreading like wildfire.
Student newspapers from Amherst to Wisconsin and California were editorializing about it. The national media took notice of the outrage on the campus of Amherst. The Amherst Student's server crashed. Soon, other students began sharing similar experiences, encouraged to speak out after reading Epifano's story.
"It was very emotionally overwhelming," Epifano said. "I spent most of the night crying because it was so overwhelming."
"You always hear about the one-in-four stat, but it never actually processes. It never makes sense in your mind until you have hundreds of people coming out about what happened to them, and then it all starts to click and the reality sets in," she said.
Most of the feedback Epifano has received has been positive and encouraging: Many people she knew -- and many she did not -- have shared their stories and thanked her. Among them was Amherst President Carolyn "Biddy" Martin.
Martin became president of Amherst in August 2011, during Epifano's final months at the school. Nevertheless, when the op-ed was published, Martin said she was "appalled" and "surprised" she didn't know about it. Martin also felt "gratitude toward Angie," she said, "for having the courage to come forward."
Martin emailed Epifano a day after her op-ed was published, and they spoke a couple of times by phone and Skype while Epifano was in Europe. Epifano said she likes Martin as a president and that she's done a "commendable" job of reforming Amherst.
Students demanded answers and change. At the same time, a sexist shirt made by an off-campus fraternity fanned the flames of outrage about how rape victims are treated. Martin decided openness was key and began having conversations with groups of students.
"We immediately put up a new website that gave greater visibility and clarity, but also the support and the services available to victims of sexual misconduct and sexual assault," Martin said.
The website is displayed prominently on the Amherst home page, and they've posted a running list of accomplishments, proposals and changes that have yet to be made.
According to her op-ed, The Victim Rights Law Center in Boston told Epifano they'd been trying to change Amherst for years, citing 10 sexual assaults on the campus in 2011, and in the past 15 years, reports of multiple serial rapists who have raped more than five girls. However, it appears Epifano's op-ed, in combination with a fairly new president and an outraged student body, is finally bringing about reform.
Martin appointed an oversight committee to review ways to improve how Amherst responds to assaults, as well as a Title IX committee to do similar work. On their Day of Dialogue, when they canceled classes and activities for a discussion on sexual respect, they had 70 percent attendance by both students and faculty.
"I think it is characteristic of Amherst students that they are quite earnest and thoughtful about the issues that get raised and how they get raised," Martin said, while admitting, "The reaction here has amazed me."
Epifano flew to Alabama on Monday to work as a counselor at space camp. She hopes to go back to school in the fall, if she can find a solid financial aid package. As for Amherst, Epifano said she simply hopes the reform movement doesn't die out.
"I hope people stay aware," Epifano said. "If one person at one party remembers the articles and stops somebody from going off when they shouldn't, or if one women's center opens, it's such a huge step forward."
Also on HuffPost:
A year ago, Sandra Fluke was just a law student at Georgetown University who believed that if she and her peers were forced to purchase health insurance through their school, birth control and contraception should be covered. By the end of 2012, she had been the center of the political debate for weeks, was practically a household name, received phone calls from President Obama, appeared on countless TV news shows and spoke at the Democratic National Convention. It all started because Fluke and other students had long protested against Georgetown's policy of excluding birth control from its health insurance plans. She testified before a Congressional committee about the health issues her friends faced. The specific health concerns really didn't involve sexual relationships, but Rush Limbaugh decided to call her a "slut" and demand a sex tape from her on his national radio show, sparking a firestorm in the media around her and the Obama administration's policies. In the months after, many Jesuit universities were also suing the Obama administration over the birth control mandate.
Andrew Ng & Daphne Koller
Andrew Ng (left) and Daphne Koller, Stanford University computer science professors who started Coursera, pose for a photo at the Coursera office in Mountain View, Calif. <a href="http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/coursera-hits-1-million-students-with-udacity-close-behind/38801">Coursera attracted a number of notable institutions</a> to its Massive Open Online Courses platform and gained more students than any other MOOCs out there. This was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/massive-open-online-courses-are-multiplying-at-a-rapid-pace.html?pagewanted=all">the year of the MOOC</a>.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/30/for-profit-colleges-senate-report_n_1721058.html">released a damning report this year asserting</a> that for-profit schools often hit vulnerable students with exorbitant tuition, aggressive recruiting practices and abysmal student outcomes. Harkin's investigation has essentially given a black eye to for-profits, which <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/19/for-profit-college-enrollment_n_1988186.html">posted a significant decline in enrollment this year,</a> damaging their share prices on Wall Street.
Attorney turned activist Robert Applebaum worked with the Occupy Colleges/Occupy Student Debt team to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/10/student-loan-forgiveness-act-2012-hansen-clarke_n_1415910.html">gather more than 1 million signatures on a piece of legislation</a> to forgive student loan debt.
Penn State University President Rodney Erickson ran the university following its child sex abuse scandal. In August 2012, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/freeh-report-penn-state-coverup-joe-paterno-jerry-sandusky_n_1667727.html">Freeh report detailed a high-level cover up</a>, including Erickson's predecessor. However, Penn State has put in motion a number of reforms, held <a href="http://protectchildren.psu.edu/">a national child abuse conference</a> and ripped down monuments on campus, which <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/22/joe-paterno-statue-penn-state_n_1692683.html">honored the late Joe Paterno</a>, who also covered up Sandusky's crimes, according to the Freeh report.
Pam & Robert Champion
Pam and Robert Champion Sr., seen in this Oct. 22, 2012 photo, look at defendant Brian Jones as he apologizes to them before being sentenced in a Orlando, Florida courtroom. Their son was killed in a hazing incident, and in the aftermath, the Champions pushed FAMU to stop the kind of violent hazing that killed Robert Jr. Many other universities have taken notice around the country. Clubs, Greek houses and other student organizations were routinely suspended and investigated for alleged hazing incidents since Robert Champion's hazing death at FAMU.
Long before students around the country were petitioning to have their university boot Chick-fil-A off campus over the CEO's controversial comments about gay rights, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/02/new-york-university-wont-_n_1317004.html">Hillary Dworkoski was calling for New York University to remove the fast food joint </a>from her campus. Dworkoski was upset about the millions the company's charitable arm has donated to anti-gay initiatives. To date, <a href="http://www.change.org/petitions/new-york-university-stop-serving-anti-gay-chick-fil-a-on-campus">her petition</a> has gotten more than 17,000 signatures, more than any other Chick-fil-A petition. Even Christine Quinn, New York City Council Speaker, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/30/christine-quinn-nyc-chick-fil-a-nyu_n_1719538.html">jumped on the bandwagon and called for NYU </a>to remove the chicken joint.
Despite enormous challenges from state funding cuts, rising tuition, criticism over the mishandling of student protests, multiple University of California campuses <a href="http://www.dailycal.org/2012/09/12/u-s-news-world-report-ranks-uc-berkeley-top-public-school/">remain world-class public research universities rivaling Ivy League schools in top rankings</a>. Mark Yudof, president of the UC system, presided over that and saw voters reward the schools by electing to raise taxes to fund them <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/prop-30-passes-california-education_n_2087931.html">through Prop 30</a> -- a ballot initiative.
This fall, Angie Epifano wrote a column in the Amherst Student, the Amherst College student newspaper, about the poor treatment she received from the school when she came forward after a sexual assault she survived. Her <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/27/education/amherst-account-of-rape-brings-tension-to-forefront.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0">column sparked direct action from the Amherst administration</a> and an <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2012/10/25/after_angie_epifano_amherst_rape_victims_speak_out_no_wonder_college_students.html">outcry from the students</a>. Afterwards a number of students came forward with similar stories around the country.
University Of Virginia Community
Public college presidents have had a tough job navigating through budget cuts, a recession, skyrocketing tuition and student debt levels and calls for reforming education in general. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/21/college-presidents-job-security-university-virginia-education-cuts_n_1617361.html?1340652010">Many of them chose to step down or were forced out</a> at notable state universities. But when University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan was pushed out of her post, an uproar by UVA students, faculty and alumni <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/26/teresa-sullivan-university-of-virginia_n_1628201.html">forced a big reversal and her reinstatement </a>less than a month later.
Whether it's petitioning for Chick-fil-A's removal from campus, a group locking themselves inside the Cooper Union Foundation Building, going on a hunger strike for better wages for school employees, demanding better care for sexual assault survivors or calling for their university to cut ties with fossil fuels, student-led movements typically cause real change in higher education.
We're not sure what it is about pop stars like <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/19/call-me-maybe-ryan-challinor_n_2160797.html">Carly Rae Jepsen</a>, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/26/gotye-parody-college-humor-video_n_1456876.html">Gotye</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/gangnam-style-parody">Psy</a> who inspired college students to make their own music videos to their hits. There were<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/call-me-maybe-parody"> too many parodies</a> to track!