Thank you, O4S

Arbol de la esperanza, mantente firme  or  Tree of Hope, Remain Strong  by Frida Kahlo, 1946. 

Arbol de la esperanza, mantente firme or Tree of Hope, Remain Strong by Frida Kahlo, 1946. 

content warning: sexual assault, sexual violence

Thank you, O4S. 

Thank you for your relentless efforts to hold our community leaders accountable for their wrongdoings, O4S, and I’m sorry I haven’t been there to join you.

Surviving sexual assault means being deprived your choice to say no to what is being done to your body. For that reason, I have this sense that having the choice to stand up against assault could or should feel more valuable in the aftermath of assault; participating in the Organizing for Survivors (O4S) sit-in in Dean Braun and Dean Millers’ offices and in the other amazing work that they are conducting would allow me to blend my voice with others, to transform my experience from a quiet, unnoticeable singularity to a part of a disruptive, unmissable uproar, one that will ultimately result in meaningful action.

But I keep finding excuses not to go to O4S events. I went to the very first rally where O4S premiered its demands, where over a hundred people cried, shouted, and cheered on the steps of Parrish Parlors as we initiated a new chapter in our fight to end sexual violence in our temporary home. The rally was powerful and felt meaningful and only amplified my unwavering support for the movement. But the next events were late, and I was tired and sick. I’d just had chorus and wanted to sleep. Other times I told myself I needed to write a paper that night, but I didn’t even do that. I just stared at Facebook or Netflix. Other nights I had already had a few drinks, two or five or seven; other nights I didn’t want to walk in the cold. They aren’t the worst excuses I could have come up with, but they’re excuses nonetheless. I’m not proud of them.

I feel embarrassed to say I didn’t go out of my way to participate in the sit-in. I’ve walked past Parrish East in transit a few times, and once I made a big homemade meal for the attendees. I firmly believe in the cause, the methods, the people, and the strength in unity, but I have such a damn hard time making myself follow through, and I don’t know why. I want justice for people who were wronged by the administrators of this college who were supposed to help, but I have become detached, numb, and lethargic, unable to argue for my own or even others’ humanity.

A few days after I sat my rapist down and asked him not to have sex with me when I’m blackout drunk and resisting while he pins me down, he asked rhetorically: “wait, you didn’t think that was rape, did you?.” All I could say was, “it’s complicated"; resisting was too much. The other day, he texted me asking “do you remember the worst thing you’ve ever done?” rhetorically, referring to stealing a sum of money from his boss, not when he raped me. In the face of this, my resignation still feels like excuse, but it’s a heavy weight to carry into the deans’ offices. I’m not sure I’m even strong enough to carry the burden of my own baggage of that much less pull the weight of my peers’. I want to do more, and I feel moved to say sorry. I’m sorry I haven’t.

O4S is not demanding an apology from survivors who don’t make it to their events. The work they are doing clearly stems from a selfless desire for justice for all afflicted by sexual violence in this community, not for personal clout. For this I am thankful. I am thankful there are survivors and allies who can share what these deans have done wrong, who can hold them accountable, and who are working to ensure those mistakes are no longer repeated. I am thankful your work is making both rapists and those who protect them afraid. I am thankful that your work is making campus safer. I am thankful that O4S has repeatedly voiced their commitment to survivors’ healing process and respect for their ability to show up or not. Thank you for working for us and demanding nothing of us. Your activism is truly exemplary, and your visibility will continue to inspire many people around our school and outside. More than what I see as my own impotence, I wish to highlight the resilience, power, and strength in O4S. Thank you for doing for me and for others what I, right now, cannot.

I’m sorry, not because of you, but because of my own deeply entrenched personal guilt that comes from the tension of knowing what is right but also experiencing a trauma that disallowed me any form of agency. Being asked that impossibly loaded question—“you didn’t think that was rape, did you?”—just a week after being assaulted did something to my brain. I was intensely vulnerable but armored in denial. Even the writing of this piece feels self-indulgent, because at this point my apology feels like little more than semantic acrobatics meant to offload my own self-loathing. I rationalize the irrational guilt I feel at any action or inaction with unrealistic self-imposed expectations married with the trauma of assault. I have warped the understanding and empathy of my activist peers. I have confused it with my own paranoia and the internal harshly critical eye that governs my self-image. I am demanding my own apology, and there is no redemption in that.

Earlier this month, an article entitled, “Confessions of a Bad Survivor” by Abby Diebold ’20 came out in The Daily Gazette. I was inspired by the article to share my own experience and grateful to be reminded that my feelings are not facts. Yet, I must admit that I find no comfort in the voices of others like me who feel equally powerless or resigned. I find gut-wrenching the number of students who must be like me: unwilling to report assault and unable to muster enough energy to engage in the struggle for their own rights and their comrades’.  This inaction has made me feel worse than a bad survivor and more like a terrible one. I actively avoided Parrish East and the trauma in the back of my mind in favor of work that I find tedious, frivolous, and somehow hypnotically engrossing. I do not break down and cry anymore, I do not hurt myself anymore; I move indifferently through each day, not because I was raped, but because I’d rather think about anything else. I can only imagine how many of us there must be doing what feels like nothing for O4S, finding petty distractions wherever we can, kicking ourselves because it feels inexcusable when compared to struggling and failing.

I don’t have words of redemption, because I don’t know what to do. I am thankful for the support, the labor, and the love I silently feel from O4S and their supporters. I am asking myself how I can turn the guilt I feel into support, labor, and love to send back to you.

Addendum: Considering recent developments, I wish to congratulate O4S on its many accomplishments, including the successful agitation for Dean Braun’s resignation, a sit-in that disrupted the complacency of our administrative officials, and a collective sense of unity fostered in numerous community discussions. You are light, you are love, and you are power. Warmest Regards, Anonymous