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.