Hi my name is Sarah and I’m a senior who will be graduating in 75 days. As a senior you get asked a lot of the same questions. “What are you doing after graduation?” “How does it feel to be a senior?” “Didn’t it go so quickly?” I do my best to field these questions with a smile and witty comment, but there is always one question that stops me in my tracks.
“What will you take away from Middlebury?”
Of course, I have a canned answer that involves talking about academics, varsity sports, medicine, friends and opportunity. However, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of my Middlebury experience.
This is because when people look at me they see an average Middkid. They see a leader, a classmate, an FYC, an extrovert and someone who is having a great senior year. They see who I am right now rather than who I was or what I’ve experienced.
It Happens Here Event April 22nd, 2013 (sophomore year)
I hear my story read on stage:
“I trusted him. He was my freshman hall mate, not necessarily my friend, but someone I had many conversations with and knew. He had a crush on me in the beginning of the year, but I made it clear I only wanted to be friends and he recognized it. So when he came into my room one night to pregame with some friends during Winter Carnival it wasn’t all that strange. Eventually we all headed to the social houses, but got separated.
He and I ended up at Tavern where some people were playing pong. He started saying, “Lets go back to Battell” implying a hookup. I kept saying, “no, I don’t want to go back to Battell”. After more standing around, he took my hand and led me into the laundry room in Tavern. I remember being confused, but not alarmed because I knew him. I thought, “why are we here?” All of a sudden we started kissing and clothes started coming off. I was completely surprised but he was significantly more sober than I was so I wasn’t processing things fully. “Lets go back to Battell and get a condom”, he said. I didn’t want to have sex with him so I kept saying, “no I don’t want to go back to Battell.” Still nothing was stopping.
At some point my underwear came off. I wanted to leave and I didn’t want to have sex with him so I tried giving him oral. But it wasn’t enough and that’s not what he wanted. After a final round of “Lets go back to Battell and get a condom” and me saying “no”, he picked me up, pinned me against the washers and penetrated me. After less than a minute he pulled out and came on my stomach.
I was in shock, having sex for the first time in a laundry room with out a condom wasn’t even an option that I thought was possible. I got dressed and walked back to my room as fast as I could. He was following and asking, “What’s the matter?” like he had no clue what he did. I was livid, in shock and refused to answer him.
The next morning I woke up early to go to the health center to get Plan B. Despite living a few doors down, he didn’t say a word to me the rest of the year. Neither did I. I didn’t speak of or hint at the incident for nine months. It was easier to live in denial.
However, when I found that I couldn’t concentrate or shake feelings of depression sophomore year I headed to Parton counseling. Finally nine months later I came clean to my therapist. She said that I should think about pressing changes through the judicial board. After some thought I decided to do it. I wanted to be able to set an example for others and the head of the judicial board told me that ‘people need to be help accountable for their actions’. I agreed.
The process started in J-term and it was anything, but easy. I was forced to relive every moment. Finally weeks later, after countless interviews, responses, tears, pain, emotions that I didn’t even know I had and a small judicial panel review, the verdict was in. Not Guilty…”
I was devastated. I collapsed into a deeper sadness, which I didn’t think was possible. For the first time fear drove my life. I didn’t feel safe anywhere except in my own room. Even then flashbacks would paralyze me multiple times a day. I stopped eating normally. I was so paranoid that I would see him or his friends that even getting a ‘to-go’ container was stressful. Once I went two weeks without eating in the dining halls.
I would lie in bed for hours on end with an unshakable feeling of emptiness. The reflection in the mirror became a stranger to me. I constantly wondered how I got to that point.
The point when I had to hold back tears in every class I attended.
The point when I was scared to leave my room.
when any guy with light brunette hair and glasses made my heart stop.
when I hated myself for being so sad and so good at hiding it.
Where did that happy, well adjusted and hopeful girl go? Would she ever come back?
That spring semester I left school early and started going to an outpatient program at home where I attended therapy 5 times a week. There I was officially diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder and major depression. Therapy gave me the space to understand how traumatized I was by my rape and following judicial process. It also gave me the space to rebuild and start pickup up the pieces of my life.
At first it was subtle. A smile here and a chuckle there. Glimpses of that girl I knew started to shine through between the heavy asphalt that is mental illness and trauma. (Full disclosure the jackhammer of intensive therapy and prescription medication helped too.) I slowly weaned myself off therapy until it was time for school. Sometime in the fall I ran out of my anti-depressants and just never refilled the prescription. The road to recovery was anything but linear, but I do believe time heals all wounds.
You might be asking yourself, ‘why is she sharing this super private story with a room full of relative strangers she will just have to run into tomorrow?’ The truth is, I could put a positive spin on my story and avoid talking about my lowest lows, but it is important to acknowledge the realities of what sexual assault does to someone.
One night, one moment changed my life.
It’s easy for me to demonize the guy who assaulted and violated me, but that is not my intension. In order to really address the issue of sexual assault we need to be honest about our community. Contrary to popular belief, rapists, predators, and people who sexually assault other people (intentionally or not) do not materialize on the weekends just to dissolve again.
These people aren’t aliens or things of fiction; it’s us. Until we are able to come to terms with this fact and accept it we can’t make change on this campus. People who sexually assault others can be ‘nice guys,’ but this does not mean they should be excused from their actions.
On my freshman hall, 3 out of 10 women experienced rape. I know that at least 2 of the 18 men on my hall have raped someone.
The statistics are real and we have to do something about it. Just the thought that 1 in 5 women have experienced what I’ve experienced scared me, but it also drives my passion for activism. I’m not just a statistic and I will never stop caring about this issue.
We all have to do our part and that starts with realizing that there are predators and perpetrators on this campus. Before entering into any sexual encounter you have to make sure your partner is enthusiastically saying ‘yes’ to each changing situation. Kissing does not mean someone wants to take their clothes off. Being naked doesn’t mean someone wants to have sex. Consent is not the absence of a no. Consent requires open communication. It requires an enthusiastic and clear yes. Sex should only happen when you know someone is 100%. Any hint of hesitation is an immediate sign to stop and talk.
Having conversations with a partner can be hard. Having conversations with friends who exhibit predatory behaviors can be hard. But what is the alternative? Assaulting someone? Allowing someone to change the lives of multiple students on this campus? Everyone who hears this story can do their part. If this story can prevent just one assault from happening, support one survivor or help one person support a friend its worth it in my eyes.
Which brings us back to our original question:
“What will you take away from Middlebury?”
More than anything I’ll take a newfound sense of passion. A passion for making my life meaningful. I’ve found my calling in sexual assault advocacy and doing my best to make a positive impact on others. I want to be the friend someone needs, the advocate that can empower others, the activist that can make change and eventually the doctor that can save a life.
Because of my experiences I can now say I am in touch with the full range of my emotions and for that I am eternally grateful.
To others like me: I only hope you can find the silver lining like I did and be able to work through your experience in whatever way feels right. I’m here for you and I understand. Don’t push it down. No matter if it was an unwanted grope, rape or anything in between. Your experience is significant and should not be disregarded. Talk to someone. Get involved. Do it on your terms and only when you are ready. There are people who know exactly what you are going through and can listen without judgment. Don’t hesitate to message me or stop me in the dining halls otherwise I hope to see you at support group.
In the end, everyone has a story and everyone can make a change.
My story as a student at Middlebury will end in 75 days. And when I walk across that stage I’ll probably be balling, but rest assured I’ll hold my head high. I’m not ashamed of my past and am proud of the person I have become. With the love of my family, amazing friends and mentors I’ll finally throw my cap in the air. My tears will be ones of joy, pride and disbelief when I can smile and say, “I made it”.