It always amazes me that the students who sat through the same droning orientation lectures that detailed out every line of Title XI could be so blatantly oblivious to the reality of college rape, but I also must remember that I only listened because I knew it affected me. There is a disregard for conversations on sexual assault because most college students feel like they’ve heard it all before. Despite the seeming ambivalence of students, an increase in reports is still common. As a student who saw the number of reported instances of sexual assault almost double on my campus, I felt it was necessary to take a stronger role in preventing this from happening.
Before I go further, I would like to highlight the fact that I am a survivor of sexual assault and a student who lives with the consequences everyday. As a survivor, I found that college campuses have a tendency, unintentionally or not, to censor my voice. Since ‘rape’ is such a powerful buzzword for a college, it’s more commonly than not a conversation that gets quickly shelved when I mention my “survivor status”. While it’s a topic people do not often trivialize, I’ve found myself in situations where fellow students either argue in favor of an accused rapist or are painfully unaware of the school’s policy on sexual violence/crime and many times have been told that I cannot chose not to interact with someone just because they have a Title IX case against them.
For me, sexual assault is uniquely hard to advocate against due to the fact that I have diagnosed PTSD, which, prior to doing my own research, did not know was in fact a protected disability for which I can request accommodations from my school. Asking for the help needed as a sexual assault survivor is challenging because of the pain associated with the memories as well as for the fact that many survivors do not want their friends or family to know what happened to them. This time last year I had told only two people about what happened to me and neither were school officials. I never could have seen myself stepping up to the position I am at now in my own advocacy.
Now, three years after my sexual assault, I have started to support myself and, therefore, bring support to my whole campus community. I am in direct connection with the head of the Title IX office, the head of student accessibility and support services, and the president of the college. My task has been easy because my college received me in a very supportive manner. I sat in the President’s office after sending him a desperate email for help and laid out to him all of the ways in which I thought the college was failing survivors of sexual assault. One of the biggest supports for which I advocated and one which I am currently in process of developing is a conversation with and within the whole of the campus community. Serious recounts of survivor stories, serious narratives on prevention strategies, actual discussions with professors on trigger warnings, linking students with the academic accommodations they need, are all support efforts that are in the progress of becoming a school norm.
My advocacy, while aimed at the community, is a step in my own personal healing that I wish I would have taken sooner. The amount of sheer compassion and the desire to make the campus a better place that I have found in school officials is what I believe is really building and uniting the community. My campus, as one that is very liberal, took an emotional hit with the election of Trump but, as I advocate for a more supportive campus, has not given up on making the environment around it the best it can be. As I reach out to support others in my situation on campus, I know that there are many more big steps I will have to take and, while I find that terrifying, I feel secure in the fact that I’ve made it through the hardest step.
Explaining my situation to others has always been a challenge for me. I was unable to talk about my situation until two years after it had happened. I slowly grew into being able to share the story with my close friends and other survivors, but I have always been terrified of bringing it to light to my superiors. More often than I like to admit, my sexual assault and PTSD make me feel weak, which is an opinion I fear others will share. Through the act of advocating for myself, I have proven to myself that I am not weak, nor am I defined by experience. The reactions and help I received lead me to see myself as a strong person and, as I slowly begin to believe that, it becomes more and more apparent that my advocacy is a private, as well as a public, form of healing.
Claire Preston is sophomore English and Studio Art Major at Kenyon College. She is originally from Butler, Pennsylvania.