Several weeks ago, I visited my former school, Amherst College, for a supposedly routine visit that quickly transformed into several days of memories and frustrations. It was my first real visit to the school since I had published my story of mistreatment there last October. When I published the story, I thought I was fine, healed, stable, and all of those nice words people throw around; visiting Amherst made me realize I wasn't. The entire time I was stuck in a haze of amorphous memories that I have tried to compartmentalize out of my consciousness, and I got an up-close look at the sheer lack of progress at Amherst.
I explored the dorms, noted the lack of information about sexual assault and mental health resources, discussed the issue with a new dean, met Survivors and advocates, talked with new students, and grew more angry.
I talked with First Years about sexual assault and was shocked by their shock that rape happens at Amherst.
I talked with upperclassmen who told me that they were frustrated by a lack of change.
I talked with administrators who thought they had done quite a bit to fix things.
But nothing had changed.
With the help of some close friends, I made posters about sexual assault, slid them under every First Year's door, and waited.
I invited every student on campus to join me in a discussion about sexual assault. It was a spur of the moment engagement, but I firmly believe that it had to be done.
First Year Orientation was, according to a dean, a series of entertaining skits that, when critically analyzed, educated students about sexual assault. Unsurprisingly, students hadn't paid attention to these skits, I felt that I had a duty to speak out and put some information out there.
I envisioned the discussion as an opportunity for students to speak candidly about their thoughts regarding current and future sexual education work.
There was a pothole though; my invitation never specifically said that it was a student only event, so, of course, administrators showed up. They made their presence obvious, yet I allowed them to stay. I preferred a student-only audience, but I hoped the new administration would be less domineering than their predecessors.
During the talk, I spoke on a wide-array of topics, but I always came back to my experiences for contextual purposes.
I revealed things I had not spoken about before: I was not raped by a fraternity brother or an athlete, and I was not drunk when I was raped.
I spoke about the counseling center's deficiencies that have not yet been remedied.
I even spoke about anonymous students, who, several months after my article was published, had been mistreated exactly like I had been.
An hour later, the conversation ended, the audience scattered, and I was left with a feeling of irritation coursing through me that I couldn't articulate.
It took a friend's comment to make me realize what was troubling me: Did you notice how the administrators started their comments?
I had, and I realized that was what irritated me; they all said, Thank you for sharing your experience...
Extreme emphasis on the "your," followed by an example of that one time that Amherst had done something right for one student.
For example: Thank you for sharing your experience, but there was one time I worked with a girl who had been raped and we eventually got her rapist put on academic probation...
That one time something went right became the fixation of their comments; it was a wonderful way to do damage control and invalidate the experiences of many Amherst Survivors.
By emphasizing the "your" in their statement, they told students that my story is unique. But it's not.
I have talked to dozens of Amherst Survivors who prove that my story is not unique.
I have received hundreds of emails and messages proving that I'm not unique.
I have seen thousands of stories that prove that sexual assault is universal.
But that is not what many administrations across the county want non-Survivors to know; they want to make sure that Survivors appear to be unique, isolated, and crazed.
No matter how many times they mess up, no matter how many lives are ruined, there is always that one time that one thing went right for one student. That is what is latched onto.
Yes, we should applaud those who have gotten justice or those who have been saved from self-injury or those who were prevented from dropping out. However, society cannot forget that these are not the norm; dismissal, vilification, anger, and suffering are the norm for Survivors.
The Survivor Movement is thought of as a female, feminist college student issue, it is dismissed as anti-male or anti-education, and it is contextualized as a non-issue for non-Survivors. We lack advocates and progress because of the perpetuation of the your experience, i.e. your issue, mentality.
Sexual assault is not just my issue.
It is not just a female issue.
It is not just a Survivor issue.
It is not just a college student issue.
It is not just a feminist issue.
It is not just an American issue.
It is an issue of humanity.
Sexual assault is not just my experience or your experience or their experience.
It is unfortunately part of human experience, and for that, all humans should be advocates.
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