I never went to an O4S meeting. I never went to the Phi Psi sit in or sang with my fellow students in protest of the frats. I went to the Inn while student activists confronted the board and other clowns, but I focused on a spot on the floor and blocked out what was being said, then I left ten minutes later. As my peers have organized and worked to completely transform community spaces on Swarthmore’s campus, I have been attempting to avoid their activism and remained in the shadows of their strength.
I have, however, watched every live stream and read every article, consuming whatever information that I could find. I have watched my classmates and my friends demand that these institutions which have historically caused immense harm face justice. I have watched, and supported from afar, as student activists have reopened wounds and repeatedly made sacrifices in order to work towards a better community that centers healing. But- why from afar? Great question.
In the Spring of 2018, O4S launched their campaign with a list of demands and went on to stage a sit-in in dean Nathan Miller’s office and former dean Elizabeth Braun’s office. I went to the rally that kicked off the sit-ins and felt good after, I felt like I was a part of something that could bring about some real change. I imagined that I would remain involved. I was excited. Soon after, I am sitting in the Parrish hallway and I can feel it- tears are coming and I have this weird feeling in my neck. I feel weak and it reminds me of something, but I can’t quite pinpoint what. I run to my room. My breathing is a bit weird and I can’t stop crying.
After a few hours, I started to remember what initially brought about that weak feeling and started thinking about the night that I had been working so very hard to never think about again. And my mind goes, “it’s because you are a survivor” and the whole breathing thing starts up again. I won’t go into detail about the whole survivor thing (because hey, I don’t have to give all the details to validate my experience and no one should have to), but from that point on I started avoiding anything dealing with O4S or survivor healing because I was terrified, terrified that I would feel that weakness again, even just for a second. I wrapped it all up in a nice avoidance blanket and tried my very hardest to ignore what I was feeling, to ignore something that had cut me so deeply.
Fast forward to now, Spring 2019, and O4S and the coalition against fraternity violence came back SWINGING in the best ways and now both frats are DISBANDED. Students really did that and I could not be more proud of every single person that was involved. But as I mentioned earlier, I kept avoiding any and all O4S events- hoping to keep avoiding my actual feelings. This time, however, I couldn’t help but feel guilty. I was watching all of these people step up, put their bodies and trauma up on display in hopes of pushing for radical change. And I couldn’t show up? I couldn’t step up? When had I become so weak?
And oh. There it is again, the feeling I have been running from since that horrible night. The weakness. It became increasingly clear: the whole running thing isn’t working. After almost canceling three time, I eventually showed up to my CAPs appointment and started talking. And honestly? I wasn’t magically fixed. I cried for most of it and have cried a bunch since then. I am tired. I still feel guilty sometimes that I was not more involved in O4S and other times I start avoiding my feelings again. But I also learned some really valuable things too.
While talking to my therapist (shoutout to her), she stopped me during one of my ramblings and said: healing yourself is part of the movement. No matter what form that takes, no matter how public or private that healing is, that healing is fucking radical and it is work. So my therapist says this and for a second, before my brain starts arguing against this point, I feel so damn strong and whole. Put simply, I felt good about actually being part of a movement I cared about so much, but felt I distanced myself from .
So I started to look up radical transformative theories and how healing is central to that process of transformation. I stumbled upon an interview with Angela and Fania Davis, in which Angela Davis names that self-care and attention to ourselves is actually a major part of any social justice struggle. Tarana Burke, creator of the #MeToo movement, explicitly names that healing, both as a whole community and as a survivor, is essential to then being able to return to a community filled with hurt and being able to actually help others in their journey as well. In this, it means that every survivor has a different survivorship, a different journey and there is no one “right way” to heal oneself. I kept reading and kept getting that feeling of wholeness, just for moments, and I started thinking about how being gentle with myself was essential to eventually finding my place in the larger world of organizing.
So here I am, writing about how I am a survivor that was not ready to name that I was a survivor and not ready to join the community that was pushing for some real institutional change. Like I said earlier, I have never gone to an O4S meeting, so they may say all of these things about being a survivor and how there is no one right way to heal. Also, I would like to make it explicitly clear that I have always wholeheartedly supported O4S and the coalition to end frat violence- no member has ever pressured me into or shamed me for not attending events. Instead, however, I write this for my fellow survivors, watching and witnessing but not quite sure what their journey looks like. I write this as a step in my own journey of healing, as a reminder that I should not feel guilty. As a reminder that my healing is radical, it is a part of O4S in its own quiet way. For as I stand in the shadows of the students activists who stand in the public, I am healing and witnessing my strength.