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The Privilege of Solidarity

May 1, 2016

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This article was guest authored by Savannah Daniels ’18

CW: this post discusses rape and sexual assault. 

This is an opinion piece, all views expressed within it are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Thrill.

How many survivors are enough to justify protecting?

In the wake of an open sit-in of support for survivors of sexual assault, op-eds and letters have been flying back and forth. Mic, Teen-Vogue, and Jezebel covered the campus events of the last few days, framing the sit-in as an all campus reaction to administrative mishandling of sexual assault cases. Alumni have reached out in support, and survivors have organized.

Sit-ins have a tradition of empowerment. To be surrounded by supporters, to see the faces around you and know you are not alone in your cause—it can be a source of great empathy and action. But that isn’t what happened this Thursday. Not for everyone.

Student survivors, the same that this event claimed to stand for, were forced out of one of the few unavoidable places on campus. On a campus with one dining hall, running into last night’s hookup can be awkward, but running into your rapist in the servery is debilitating. Peirce is already a battleground, and most survivors will vividly remember the first time they saw their rapist sitting two tables away, maybe brushing past them to get to a line. But the organizers chose Peirce rather than an administrative building, even when their event presented itself as a response to the administration.

Their choice of location re-awoke that fear and terror. The sit-in made Peirce dangerous once more, or perhaps reminded some survivors that their danger had never left. It should be acknowledged that the Facebook event promised SMAs and PCs on hand to support survivors through issues like this. It should also be acknowledged that counselors, head SMA students, and the majority of the SMA body found this out through the Facebook invite rather than a prior agreement.

After being alerted to several students’ discomfort, the event changed locations to a more secluded area of Peirce. The organizers, commendably, stressed their goal to avoid discomforting survivors, and their intent of making the event “COMPLETELY avoidable” (original capitalization). So where did it begin to go wrong?

It could have been this choice of location without considering the implications, or it could have been the miscommunication regarding SMA support. For myself, a survivor, it began with a sign and a conversation.

For an event that claimed to want to be “COMPLETELY avoidable” in the name of survivors, the sit-in fell far and short. An organizer stood with an unavoidable sign in the dining hall entrance, forcing all passing students, survivors included, to acknowledge that the campus was failing survivors. This was triggering and confrontational. SMAs who attempted to speak on behalf of triggered students were turned away or told the event was doing the best it could for everyone. Safety became a secondary concern. I, a fellow survivor, became a secondary concern.

Shaming PTSD sufferers for uncontrollable reactions to disturbing reminders of sexual assault is not progressive or brave. I fear seeing sit-ins such as this on my event feed, knowing the attitude and inevitable “PC culture” comments that will fall from the mouths of people who have never lacked control of their bodies. I am grateful to those who genuinely support survivors and stand alongside my fellow survivors’ decisions. But it is too easy for this campus to support half a cause—to condemn rapists in one breath, and shame students for being too sensitive in the other.   

As a survivor, I understand what the event’s organizers were going for. I understand that there were many survivors amongst those who supported and organized the event. I respect the original intentions, the compassion of all who engaged, and the letter that started it all.

I don’t understand how a movement in the name of survivors disintegrated into a dismissal of them. I want to know why we respect PTSD, yet refer to it as being “too sensitive” on college campus. I want to know how many survivors have to gather the courage to step forward, to admit they’re still healing and needed a safe place to do it, for us to pay attention to their words.

I, along with another SMA, spoke with one of the event’s organizers about their decision to hold a upsetting sign in an unavoidable location. We explained students were being triggered, and she responded that the sign was necessary because Kenyon professors were confused about where to go. A respected male professor interrupted our talk on his way to the sit-in. He proceeded to aggressively shame, talk over, and condemn my fellow SMA and I. Even after we identified clearly as survivors who had spoken with other triggered survivors, he shamed us for worrying about “triggering” (air quotes heavily implied)  instead of actually standing up to rapists. He accused us of silencing sexual assault survivors only moments after declaring that he intended to write a response supporting them. Then, while we were responding, he left.

In the wake of this sit-in, I have so many questions and no answers. What makes some survivors more worthy of speaking up for than others? How do we, as survivors and supporters with different stories, learn to listen to each other productively? And a larger question: who did this event help, and at what cost?

Our campus and the outside world have been called attention to. A letter, brave and important for survivors’ rights everywhere, was rightfully shared and discussed. Panels were held, the administration has agreed to an audit that was already in the works, and the President commented on our need to improve campus discussions of sexual assault.

The cost sustains. An upsetting sign remained standing to help supporters of survivors, while ignoring the voices of those same survivors calling for it to be moved. A professor verbally shamed two survivors for not trying hard enough to stop rapists, and then wrote an all-stu describing it as a thoughtful conversation. Students of an unknown number are no longer able to feel safe in the same place they have to enter daily.

But on the night of the sit in, dozens of Kenyon students and faculty were able to sleep with the righteous knowledge that they stood up for an important cause. In the weeks ahead, some of them will share anti-PC culture posts on their Facebook walls. Dorms and halls and rooms away, some survivors will re-live their trauma. They will be silent, because speaking in self-defense is too PC, too selfish. And that’s what this campus is all about. That’s the cost.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    May 1, 2016 3:36 pm

    Shame on the five female students for organizing the sit in event. Without training or guidance, they completely missed the point of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Shame on them, they were misguided and the entire event was inappropriate.

    • Anonymous permalink
      May 1, 2016 4:24 pm

      Those female students did, in fact, receive substantial guidance from multiple SMAs, including one of the two referenced in this op-ed. If they were misguided, that misguidance came partially from the SMAs themselves.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    May 1, 2016 3:50 pm

    Kenyon: the place is full of shit, even though the people mean well. The complication this article addresses hits the heart of what’s wrong with progressive rhetoric and the inevitable inaction that such rhetoric accomplishes. Disagreeing, disputing, and even dismissing survivors, people who actually understand the complexity of being raped demonstrates the half truths and ignorance of neoliberalism shrouded in radicalism and progressivism. IF anything will happen to prevent a rapist from getting away with rape, it will have to begin with compassion for the survivors. Waving a sword only spills more blood.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    May 1, 2016 4:04 pm

    The organizers of this sit-in met with SMAs before finalizing the location of the protest and the event in general. In fact, they met with the other SMA to whom you are referring. When the SMAs later suggested the event be moved to Old Side, the organizers complied. In doing so, the attendance was limited to those survivors who felt comfortable sitting on Old Side, where their assailants may have, themselves, been sitting. I know I, myself, felt less comfortable attending because of this location change, prompted by the SMAs.

    This “organizer” you’re referring to is also a survivor (which I heard her tell you herself), one who did not feel comfortable sitting in the area the SMAs had urged them to move the sit-in to because her rapist and his friends were sitting only feet away. This organizer’s survivor’s experience and feelings were therefore delegitimized by two SMAs, the very people who claim to be there when they need help, because she chose to be vocal. In demanding that this organizer (read survivor) be neither seen nor heard, you attempted to hijack her voice. You effectively said that her experience is invalid because she chose to say something.

    This “respected male professor” stepped in when he saw two people, two SMAs, ganging up on this survivor. This man did not become aggressive with you; he did not speak over you; and, he most certainly did not leave while you were responding. In fact, when you two stormed off, he stayed there, comforting her until she told him he could leave.

    I would like to think that we can all understand and respect ALL survivors and ALL responses that they may have. And, I would additionally like to think that forcing a survivor to be silent is not something that would ever be promoted or endorsed by the SMAs especially.

    Evidently, I am wrong.

    • Anonymous permalink
      May 1, 2016 4:20 pm

      I don’t think that the SMAs were attempting to invalidate the organizer’s experiences by asking them to move the sit-in from the Atrium to Old Side. I believe that they were attempting to speak for survivors who were unable to enter Peirce because the event was triggering to them. You say that you want to respect all survivors and all responses they may have. Clearly, going forth with a demonstration that people may have been triggered by despite knowing well in advance that people would be triggered by it is not respectful of these survivors or their responses to their assault. The fact that the organizers requested that PCs and SMAs be present during the event illustrates that, in some capacity, they understood the trauma that this sit-in could awaken among survivors. I understand your intention behind illustrating the complications of the confrontation between the SMAs, the organizer, and the professor, but I don’t believe you’re really getting the point of this article – that the sit-in for supporting survivors of sexual assault came at the expense of causing them a great deal of pain.

  4. Anonymous permalink
    May 1, 2016 4:39 pm

    [This comment has been moderated for including a personal attack.]

  5. Anonymous permalink
    May 1, 2016 5:19 pm

    Everything the author complains about here was what the organizers were TOLD TO DO by the SMAs (including changing venues from the Peirce Atrium). This SMA in particular also told the organizers several false things, including that the SMAs “hated them” for organizing the event, and seem to have pretty much turned on the sit-in and it’s protesters, despite being the people who are supposed to be there for the survivors the most. So, take this article with a grain of salt.

    • Anonymous permalink
      May 1, 2016 5:33 pm

      As a survivor who went to and supported the event, I feel that the backlash, including articles like these, are shaming me and others for speaking out. As far as I understand, the event organizers gave multiple trigger warnings and met with individual SMAs in order to make this event as productive as possible. When I read articles like this, it makes me scared to tell my story on this campus, for fear that I will be accused or shamed for inadvertently triggering someone. I’m disappointed and embarrassed that such a misinformed, and, at times, blatantly false piece has been published in a Kenyon publication.

      • Anonymous permalink
        May 1, 2016 5:36 pm

        Welcome to the wide, wonderful world of entitlement! Just because you have an opinion doesn’t make it true or valid! ESP with things that deal with other people! The author needs to consider her place as an SMA if she’s too timid to work on preventing the issues even after giving misguidance to organizers and then blaming them for it.

      • Anonymous permalink
        May 1, 2016 5:39 pm

        Thank you!!!!!!!! I’m a survivor who is extremely scared to tell their story now, for fear of getting harassed by individual SMAs, as I saw happen throughout the sit-in. Glad to know I’m not the only one.

      • Anonymous permalink
        May 1, 2016 5:54 pm

        In conversations I had with multiple professors following the sit-in, many expressed that, after the actions of these SMAs at the sit-in, (to quote one directly) they “would not send a student to an SMA for help but instead send them directly to Patrick Gilligan.”

      • Anonymous permalink
        May 1, 2016 8:57 pm

        You act like Kenyon publications were ever credible. ESP the Thrill. IF they’re willing to publish this gruel, they’re clearly second rate at best.

      • Anonymous permalink
        May 1, 2016 9:17 pm

        Fair point, but I wish our publications represented us better than this.

      • May 1, 2016 9:28 pm

        Hi there! I’d just like to reiterate the phrase at the top of this article: “This is an opinion piece, all views expressed within it are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Thrill.” If you’re interested in sharing your opinion publicly, we would welcome a submission from you, or anyone else on this topic.

      • Anonymous permalink
        May 1, 2016 9:57 pm

        I definitely don’t blame the thrill as a whole. I, however, do not feel comfortable sharing my opinion publicly, as it is evident that, on this campus, you get accused of being morally corrupt and shameful if you speak out in the “Wrong way”. Why the author deems this article, which can be shared all over and be “in people’s faces” at the click of a button, at all morally superior or less triggering than a sit-in, is completely beyond me.

  6. Anonymous permalink
    May 1, 2016 6:14 pm

    As a survivor with PTSD, I have spent this past week in a blur of panic attacks, avoiding Peirce and trying to understand why I was responding so negatively to something that was apparently being done “for” me. This article explains why.

    I think it’s important to understand that everyone heals differently from sexual assault; for some survivors coming forward is healing, for others it is traumatizing. For those “others”, a steady pace and normal life are the only things that will get them back on their feet. And all of that was taken away from us this week.

    The sit-in showcased solidarity and strength in assault survivors, but it was only for those who were ready to come forward with their stories, and for those that stood in ‘solidarity’ with them. The rest of us stumbled around campus trying to avoid triggering signs and wondering what was wrong with us. Weren’t we supposed to feel empowered?

    Over the course of this week, the ubiquitous “CW” has itself become triggering from its rampant use by impassioned allies. Dizzy from panic at every turn, I feel like somehow it has become my responsibility to not be triggered; it has become my fault if I can’t filter through the deluge of “solidarity”.

    I know that this conversation is good. Thank you to the survivors who are standing tall, for showing strength. Thanks also to the SMAs who (thank god) actually thought about what survivors go through with daily triggers. But if there’s any occasion where we should all think before we speak, it’s this one. If you’re going to put something out there to express your “solidarity” with me and other survivors, be acutely aware that it will trigger us. It might be hours, or even a day, before we can function again after reading what you’ve written. Which is not to say don’t express your opinions – just make damn sure they’re worth it.

    • Anonymous permalink
      May 1, 2016 8:48 pm

      Too dramatic, 4/10.

      • Anonymous permalink
        May 1, 2016 9:57 pm

        I truly hope you’re being sarcastic (not the original commenter, but the person in response).

        As one of the people that this op-ed is primarily targeted at, I would like to say (to the original commenter) that I am sorry the events of the past week have caused you anxiety. I would also like to say that the conversation about Title IX reform, despite the discomfort it causes, is absolutely vital. If we do not speak about it, it will never change, and it must change.

        As a survivor myself, I understand just how uncomfortable and anxiety inducing all of this can be. And, likewise, I understand that there is no one, “right” response for a survivor, or anyone else for that matter. And, I hope you understand that the participants of the sit-in were by no means saying that your personal response is wrong, simply that those who do not share your response can, and should, be heard if they chose to speak up.

  7. Anonymous permalink
    May 1, 2016 6:39 pm

    I also was really disappointed with some of the SMAs behavior during this event. Don’t get me wrong, I love the organization as a whole-however, I can’t really take this article seriously after seeing how some SMAs treated outspoken survivors at the sit-in. It made me sick, honestly.

  8. let's get real permalink
    May 1, 2016 7:28 pm

    “Trigger,” “PTSD,” and “trauma” are specific clinical terms. They don’t mean whatever you want them to mean. Feeling upset or anxious isn’t being triggered. Being enraged or sad or frightened isn’t being triggered. Being silenced because someone doesn’t think you have the right to make your beliefs known in certain ways is also not being triggered. Thinking about a terrible experience is not being triggered. Really wishing there wasn’t a sit-in that makes you miserable or makes you decide that you feel you cannot enter a building where it is happening is not being triggered.

    If a sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper on which someone has written with a marker the words “I support victims of sexual assault” is truly triggering for you, then you have been diagnosed with PTSD by a professional And you apparently had a specific traumatic experience with something equivalent to this piece of paper with those words on it.

    Being incredibly upset, or really, really angry, or really anxious, every time someone mentions sexual assault — or holds a piece of paper with those words written on it — is not being triggered It’s having intense feelings, and nobody should disrespect your feelings, and you are entitled to your feelings, whatever they may be. Nobody should try to make you feel bad, Nobody should feel entitled to shame you. But feeling shamed or miserable or enraged or anxious or pissed off or frustrated or helpless is not the same thing as being triggered.

    It is evident that SMAs need more training and support from the administration.Their jobs are difficult and most of them are admirable Ideally, it wouldn’t be common knowledge how much contempt many of them feel for the administrator in charge of them. And, ideally, unpunished rapists would be screened out of the possibility of becoming SMAs.

    • Anonymous permalink
      May 1, 2016 8:55 pm

      Like, harsh, but I agree with most of your points. It all boils down to people being too goddamn sensitive. As a survivor myself, I get that flashbacks happen, but it’s often an issue where people take it too far and refuse to “move along” because of some complex where they know they can milk it. Granted, this isn’t everyone, but it happens a lot (esp. at Kenyon, I feel). People need to accept a bad thing has happened, do their best to wrestle with it, and try to help others. I’m sick of this school coddling everyone. College is supposed to be hard, college is supposed to challenge you. It is, by design, tough. It’s tough so you can be a tougher person.

  9. Anonymous permalink
    May 1, 2016 7:56 pm

    I personally sat next to one of the organizers as she talked through with one of the SMAs for HOURS about how to make this event as accommodating and non-triggering as possible. The fact that this article paints a false picture of the organizers blowing off the SMA’s worries disgusts me, after seeing the extensive discourse my friend went through.

  10. Anonymous permalink
    May 1, 2016 10:04 pm

    So this article, and the viral letter, are completely acceptable, but not the sit-in? Seems like someone is on a bit of moral high-ground… (and no, I am not speaking out of place-I am a fellow survivor).

  11. Anonymous permalink
    May 1, 2016 10:19 pm

    Would also like to post the ACTUAL quotation one of the event coordinators posted, as opposed to the unfortunately truncated and out of context version that the author of this article provided:

    “IMPORTANT CHANGE: we have received input from multiple survivors that an event spanning Peirce is far too triggering. We of course want to respect all survivors, so we are moving this sit in to OLD SIDE ONLY so it can be COMPLETELY avoided if it is too traumatic. We all sincerely apologize for any discomfort any survivor may have experienced as a result of this event, and we are doing everything we can to listen to your suggestions and minimize how triggering this event is. Please know that your feelings are completely valid to us and we value your input and patience.”

    The author may attempt to make the organizers and their supporters seem as if they are lacking empathy and refusing to listen, but a simple search into what ACTUALLY went down proves otherwise. Good work to the organizers of this sit-in.

    ~A Kenyon Survivor

  12. Ashamed permalink
    May 26, 2016 1:44 pm

    Welcome to Kenyon, where it’s ONLY okay to speak out if NOBODY will feel uncomfortable as a result. What a sad, disappointing, and, frankly, authoritarian piece.

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