As I begin to type words on this page, I reflect on the major significance and timeliness of this blog post. It is significant to not only myself, but to college students everywhere. Right now, across the country, students are moving into residence halls; they are driving back to their institutions and moving their
belongings into apartments and houses. It is the first week of school, filled with excitement, old friends, new friends, and acquaintances. As classes begin, so do old and new habits, healthy or not. This time is stimulating and fast-paced, it is a time of vulnerability, of discovery, and connection.
It is also a time called the red zone. It is a time when sexual assaults happen on a college campus. It was almost exactly 14 years ago that I felt all of these things: excitement, anxiety, nervousness, and energy. It was also 14 years ago that I experienced an event that would forever change my life.
I was raped.
When you think of a typical first year college student it was me. Fresh faced, first generation, from a small town, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to leave home and meet new people. I wanted to achieve all the things that my family had missed out on; start a new chapter, move as far away as I could while staying in state. If you could paint a picture of a college dream, it was me.
This dream was cut short after I met a friendly face, trusted him, and allowed him to get to know me. At first, he was nice, asking me on dates wanting to spend time with me. I never knew this kind of attention before and I felt special, I felt important.
Until one night, he took it too far, he wouldn’t take no for an answer and he drugged me. It all got cloudy so fast, I remember seeing a haze through my eyes, waking up and wondering where I was, what was happening. A cloudy mind and shattered trust. I woke to someone I thought cared about me or at least would respect my decision. It wasn’t the case and I left crushed, bruised, and confused in a hazy cloud of uncertainty and regret.
The next day I locked it up, threw away the key. I secured a life of blame and self-hatred. I held it in and pushed it down, down until I never felt or thought of it again….
…until 6 years later.
It was one day in a graduate school class when the local women’s shelter came in to talk to students. I remember reading a line from a woman that had been raped and I burst into tears from out of nowhere. From that moment, I knew I had to address the scarring act that my mind had repressed for so many years. It was a difficult healing process for the next few years. I had a difficult time because he took something from me; he took my freedom, my memory of my first few weeks of school, my trust, and my first time. It was unrealistic for me to forget the traumatic event, yet because I was drugged, my hazy memory made it hard to claim the experience.
I attended counseling sessions to reflect and address the event for over a year. During that time, the sexual assault was fresh in mind, it influenced my relationships 6 years later. It influenced my actions and it was raw. Before counseling, I had suffered panic attacks, anxiety, and depression.
Fast forward to now. I am a survivor. I claim my past and acknowledge the rape, I am a product of sexual assault, but I choose to see the positive in it. You might ask, how in the world would anything positive come from a rape? I choose to use my reflections in my current work and identity as a Feminist. I truly believe that experiences matter but the way we reflect on them matters more. My sexual assault influences my work with students, my research and dissertation topic, and my identity as a woman. I refuse to let it get me down. Essentially, I am an activist, I talk about the experience and continue to
educate others are the large impact of sexual assault. One event can shape and affect a person for the rest of their life. I am resilient and I wonder how many women can make it through something so tragic.
My experiences continue to shape my professional work. Any student centered work I do is authentic because it is the only way I know how to be. I believe that my authenticity is hard to hide because of the vulnerability I experienced in past academic and personal work. In addition, the ability to deeply reflect on my life and my identity was made possible because of the realness of my counseling work. I encourage students to use counseling as a proactive stress management tool because of the personal difficulty in making yourself vulnerable to another human. This takes strength and a willingness to get to know YOU better. If we know our authentic selves, we can truly help others. In addition, a counselor can truly contribute to the personal identity and healing process. I am an advocate for counseling and overall wellness in the undergraduate career.
As a student affairs professional, I realize the impact I can make by sharing my story and my reflection. I don’t talk about it for me, I do it to educate others and remove silence and stigmas. Silence gives power.
And I will not let sexual assault have power.
If you are a survivor of sexual violence, know there are many resources available to help. For current #sagrads, your campus counseling center is a great resource. For #sapros, you may have access to an Employee Assistance Program as part of your benefits package – check with your Human Resources department if you’re not sure. Additionally, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is available to 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673. Lastly, anyone can search online for their nearest crisis center at http://centers.rainn.org/. Please take care of yourself and know you’re not alone.
If you would like to contribute to this series, we do have slots available, and we will post contributions anonymously. Please contact us at email@example.com for more information.