It’s 5 a.m. I didn’t take Ambien the night before since I’m running low and unsure when I’ll get a refill. I don’t love it as much as I used to, anyway; it still helps me fall asleep, but it no longer provides the nightmare-free slumber it first provided.
Motivated by suspicions of his infidelity, I find public forum posts my boyfriend made online. My heart drops when I read the series of posts he made to tell the other members about me and our dating life. My blood runs cold as I see the MRA-style quotation marks around “rape case” in one of his first posts about me. They joke about me lying and falsely accusing him of rape. He joins in. I cry myself to sleep; the man who says he loves me thinks I’m a liar, too.
I rush into the accountant’s office, late for my morning appointment. Mornings have been a lot more difficult these past few months. The nightmares and depression have worsened since I was humiliatingly laid off in January and now I have the humiliating breakup to handle, too. When we start crunching the numbers, I realize that I don’t have everything I need to file that day. If I hadn’t had to hoard my ADD meds in the wake of losing my insurance, I know I would have had my shit together. Then, the appointment gets even worse: Thanks to my dad negotiating to settle my defaulted private student loans for less than was owed, I am going to owe Uncle Sam about $10,000. I groan. I only am able to keep calm as the accountant tells me about tax payment plans by telling myself I will get my chance to cry alone in the car as I drive back home.
I muster the energy to leave my house for the first time in five days. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I’ve run out of Ambien and I have some speaking gigs coming up. I can’t be a good speaker if I haven’t slept. As I pull up to the drive-thru pharmacy window, I turn down the car radio that’s playing my latest media interview talking about the portrayal of survivors. My prescriptions should be ready, but there is a problem with my health insurance — an increasingly frustrating, regular occurrence since the layoff. Medicaid doesn’t cover Ambien so I sucked it up and bought a plan I can’t afford through the Obamacare exchange. The pharmacist doesn’t have the info for it. I hand her a print-out, but she says that the insurance card I brought is incorrect. They won’t be able to fill one of the prescriptions. “What can I do? I’ve been out for a while.” I hope the pharmacist doesn’t notice my voice cracking and the tears welling up in my eyes.
I wake up after getting only an hour of sleep to catch a flight — one of many flights that I take during the month of April to share my trauma with strangers around the country. I sleepily click through to an article giving an update about a survivor who was also betrayed by her school’s administration. The similarities in our experiences were heartbreaking, but one stark difference hits me sharply in the heart; her life is moving forward. She’s pursuing a career in medicine.
I try to hold down the bitterness rising within me as I struggle to lift myself up from bed. My childhood bed. In my parents’ home. Because I cannot afford to live outside the home like a “real” adult. I feel a pang of jealousy as I think about my own stagnant life: unemployed, in debt, living at home with my parents, and possessing a college degree earned six years late from a different institution than I’d intended to graduate from. Not exactly the portrait of success. My own dreams of pursuing law were long destroyed since Tufts decided to kick me out. Now I financially scrape by through sharing my trauma on different stages year after year. I wish there was more to my abilities, but I take this privilege of being a paid public speaker and thank my stars for this one option.
The cab pulls into the airport; the sun hasn’t even risen. I psych myself up for a potential (often racist) government-sponsored scalp massage at TSA. It’s almost ironic how much personal invasion I have to endure to go to and from some of these speaking engagements addressing boundary violations.
Happy Sexual Assault Awareness Month to me.
Dear Tufts administrators present during my time on campus,
Do you ever think of me?
I often think of you. I wish it weren’t this way, I promise. I feel like that ex-girlfriend who just won’t admit to herself that “He’s Just Not That Into You.” But as you can see from the scenarios above, even the most mundane life events — paying my taxes, reading an online article, going to the pharmacy — are seemingly forever tainted by your decision to force me off your campus almost seven years ago. I reported my sexual assaults to you and you did nothing. And then, instead of recognizing my floundering GPA as a cry for help, you chose to use it as an excuse to refuse to provide me academic accommodations and ban me from your school when I was a mere one year away from finishing my undergraduate degree.
I have to ask, how do you sleep at night? (I’m sure you do it much better than me.) How do you remain silent and go through your day-to-day knowing that you have failed numerous survivors who’ve lived on Tufts’ campus?
How do you function knowing that students entrusted to your institution suffer from your ignorance and reluctance to do the right thing?
I don’t know why you chose to be a part of Tufts’ community. I chose it because as a high school senior, I was drawn to the school’s supposed commitment to both academic excellence and being good citizens. Obviously it’s been easier for you to talk the talk than to walk the walk. Seriously, how can you claim to want to create “informed, ethical, and engaged” citizens when you fail to properly engage with the problem of campus sexual assault or treat survivors ethically?
Your collective failure to assist me — a young, Black woman trying to recover after abuse — reaffirmed how I feared the rest of the world saw me: not valued. After having my body abused and my self-worth diminished by another student, your institutional refusal to do anything implied that you agreed with him.
Your message was clear: What happened to me didn’t matter; I was not worth helping.
After being raped and in an abusive relationship, I felt like I had lost almost everything: my friends who ostracized me and then graduated on time, the confidence that I was intelligent and a good student, my dreams of studying abroad, and the hope of experiencing a healthy romantic college relationship. I had one last thing, though, that you took away from me: finally earning a degree from the college that I chose as a naive 16-year-old high schooler.
It’s amazing how much power the administrators occupying Dowling Hall have over the lives of thousands of students who pass through the Medford/Somerville campus. I now really get why civil rights laws like Title IX exist: your knowledge and apathy toward crises like the impact of gender-based violence prevent education from becoming anything close to “The Great Equalizer.” That’s why I am completely unsurprised that the Department of Education chose you as the first school officially declared in violation of Title IX for sexual violence — and you subsequently tried to back out of the voluntary resolution agreement with the government to improve your response to sexual misconduct.
While I didn’t receive a degree from your fine institution, I did learn an invaluable lesson: that being a good person does not protect me from being unfairly harmed by others. And as your apathy toward my abuse and years of struggle afterward shows, being good doesn’t guarantee that others will help when they serve as witness to my harm. I would tell you more about how much of my spirit you have broken, how every time I’m mistreated by someone I know and trust I think about the administrators who, frankly, ruined my life. But I know better than to expect that you’d actually listen to me almost seven years after you turned your back on me.
I now know better than to expect the best from people.
Happy Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Images courtesy the author