UMass Amherst: Take student safety seriously- don’t assume we are all drunken degenerates

We were talking about foreign policy, history, and America. It was the kind of talk that made me love people. I loved seeing the smallest bit of passion bubble up from anyone’s drunk thoughts, even if it was at a highlighter party.

I talked with this boy, a history major, as I was sitting on a couch with my friend. The party was small, but I still didn’t let the veil of comfort keep me from being vigilant. Did I know this boy? No, better not let him know my last name or where I live. How was I sitting? An armrest separated us, a good sign, but my friend was sitting on the armrest so I made sure to keep an eye on her. Was he alone? It seemed like it, but was he actually alone or would two or three of his friends follow me if I got up and went outside. What was he drinking? What was I drinking? Where were my friends?

Anxiety-wise it was your typical party. After running through my mental checklist I felt comfortable enough to sit down and hold a conversation. It went much better than most, then he offered us each a sip of his drink.

Red flag. Why would he do that? I wasn’t drinking at the time but this boy had no reason to share his.

“You first,” I said.

And he did. He took a sip just like he had moments before and politely handed the bottle to me. I took a sip, offered it to my friend who also drank some, the conversation dissolved and the party continued.

Then I woke up in the hospital.

“You were passed out on the men’s room floor,” a nurse said.

Good morning to you too

I was lying on a gurney in the hallway, an IV stuck in my arm and a cup of water next to my face. I was dizzy and shivering, hoping that my being conscious would garner some answers but it did not. My friends would have at least left me a bagel.

I was too tired to ask questions so I closed my eyes and listened to the hospital breathe. Beeps and ticks, squeaky shoes on a tile floor, and exhausted staff talking over their cups of coffee. Still no one talked to me. By eavesdropping I figured out that EMTs took me from my residence hall to the hospital, that I had been very sick, and that a friend of mine had called them. I never remembered being at my residence hall. I decided they may have been talking about any one of the other students strewn about that sad, beeping hallway.

Eventually they removed the IV from my arm and handed me a stack of papers. I think I remember signing something, but I was too focused on finding a phone charger and a ride back to pay much attention. I wandered the hospital for a few minutes asking for a charger but no one had one. A nurse took the liberty of calling me a cab which they politely tacked onto my $1,200 hospital bill. Cooley-Dickinson Hospital, while it services the drunk needs of all students in the Amherst area, is located ten miles away in Northampton.

I found out later my phone wasn’t even dead. My friend had turned it off and explicitly told the EMT she was doing it so I would be able to call her in the morning for a ride home. She also told the EMT that something was wrong with me, and that it wasn’t that I was drunk. I would find all of this out later.

When I got back to campus we all gathered and pieced together the night’s events. I found out that my friend and the boy from the couch had both gotten very sick too, so sick that we knew something had to be very wrong. I told them about the bottle and all signs pointed to something sinister.

They told me that four boys had brought me back to my residence hall. The UMass police saw them and spoke to them but did not get their names. They stayed with me until my friends got back from the house where they were helping my other sick friend. She was so sick she slept on the bathroom floor that night. The boy, my history major friend, was so sick he passed out on the floor vomiting and pissed himself.

(Correction here, the four boys who brought me back to my dorm did not speak with the police, they called an RA for me however)

How could this have happened? How could this have happened to us, to me? Someone, either indiscriminately or lazily, slipped something into this bottle with the intent to drug and rape a girl. Maybe it was me or maybe it wasn’t. I know that I was lucky enough to be okay, but I can’t say the same for everyone that night. Two people I knew were hurt by whatever was in that drink that night, but we will never know if anyone else was affected or if they were lucky like me.

At first, no one seemed to believe me that the hospital did not give me a toxicology test. I double checked the paperwork. Nothing. The information more or less told me, in hospital jargon, that I was drunk and drunk is bad. It was funny because the information didn’t even include my BAC or anything about me. I imagined a “Drunk” folder in the hospital’s filing cabinet with paperwork they distribute to all the students who spend a night in their hallways.

My friend and I started to realize if we wanted to do something about this we would have to turn it into a private investigation. We set up appointments at UHS to get tested for whatever might have been in our systems that night. The doctors told us that Rohypnol or gamma-hydroxybutyrate, the two most common date-rape drugs, would already be out of our system but that they would test us anyways. Both of our tests came back normal and our investigations went cold.

One positive thing that came out of my meeting: my doctor contacted the hospital to find out my exact BAC that night. It was nowhere close enough to justify how sick I was, or how little I remembered. I left the clinic with my questions still unanswered, but I felt a lot better. He was the first, and only, person to tell me that this wasn’t my fault.

Soon after, UMass made sure that I knew it was my fault. I got emails telling me I had to schedule meetings with my Residence Director and the Student Code of Conduct office to talk about my “alcohol related transport”. I was written up for being sick, despite the policy protecting students who seek help or seek help for friends who are sick. If I don’t win the appeal I am in a situation that could get me kicked out of housing. My last hope is to appeal the Code of Conduct office where I will plead my way out of a night I have only heard about.

Meanwhile my friends continued the investigation. They contacted the owner of the house who wanted to sample all the leftover alcohol from his party and get it tested to find out what drug had gotten us sick. I had refused to give his address to the doctor who questioned me, so I discouraged them from going to the police as well. If I was being punished for drinking, they would surely punish him for letting me drink.

I started thinking about anyone else who has been in my situation. How many people have had the same thing happen to them and said nothing? Three people from one party in one night were drugged and the university does not know because they are choosing not to listen. I thought of the other students lying in the hospital with me that morning. How many of them needed more attention than they got?

Worrying about my own rights only distracts from the scariest part of the night. Someone was at that party who had the intention of drugging and raping a girl. I will never know if it was me, or if it was my friend, or even if every girl at that party was as lucky as me. All I know is that I am doing everything in my power to stop this from happening to anyone else. And I also don’t think that kicking me off campus is an effective way to get rapists out of the community.

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8 thoughts on “UMass Amherst: Take student safety seriously- don’t assume we are all drunken degenerates

  1. Thank you for writing about this. As you said, so many people are silenced from telling their own experiences. The refusal of UMass to recognize this problem is absolutely outrageous!

  2. A very similar situation happened to me when I was an undergrad at UMass, except I had a severe concussion and was arrested for disorderly conduct. A classical clinical sign of traumatic brain injury is sudden change in mental status and aggression. Unfortunately for me, instead of taking me to the hospital, campus police put me in cuffs. I was able to get the charges dropped because I did go to the hospital, where they confirmed a grade 3 concussion, after I was released from NOHO correctional the next morning (yes, jail. APD was full that night…). They’re lucky my condition didn’t deteriorate in that cell.
    I think that this is a huge issue at UMass. So many students get sent to “Basics” and receive disciplinary action for events that happen to them outside of their control. Not that there are some students who take drinking/partying too far and we do have to face the fact that underage drinking is in fact illegal. Which is the stance that the administration takes. I don’t mean to be the devil’s advocate, but you’re going to have a hard time proving your point to the administration if you are under 21 and consumed alcohol. But I applaud you for bringing this issue to light and am sad that little has changed at my alma mater in regards to this.

  3. Just so you know, you’re not going to win the appeal. The Dean of Students Office couldn’t give two scarce fucks about Umass students if they tried, and it’s precisely because they do assume that we’re all drunken degenerates. That, combined with the fact that you actually were under-aged drinking, means that every single person with administrative power will just tell you that you made your bed and have to lay in it.

    Oh, and I know from firsthand experience that the deans gossip about the more “interesting” cases with anybody who will listen, so if you kick up too much of a fuss then you bet your sweet ass that anybody with even the most tenuous connection to the Dean of Students Office will know you as “that chick that drank herself into retrograde amnesia and then got uppity about it.”

    My advice to you is to get a lawyer and bully them back before the final decision is in. Use Student Legal Services, but in my experience you can’t rely on them to actually act as attorneys or even advocates during your appeal. If you can’t afford a real lawyer, then your only option is to find off campus housing and hope to god the landlord doesn’t care about your disciplinary record, because some places do look at that.

    Source: Got suspended from Umass for being a clever dick and overheard some administrators talking about my case at the community college I’m going to now. I chatted them up and they confirmed that they were talking about me and not someone else.

  4. You should consider emailing this to the chancellor. I responded to his Blarney email after he sent it last year stating that I felt the police responded in an aggressive manner and he actually read it and emailed me back. This is very important and certainly something that should be brought to his attention! Glad you are okay – keep fighting.

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