TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contain information about sexual assault and/or rape which may be triggering to survivors.
By Cade Leebron.
I’m about to start teaching first-year English at a large midwestern state school. There are a lot of anxieties I have about that first day of class (how young I look, how likely I am to be nervous and stutter, forgetting my students’ names immediately, etc etc). But the thing I think the most about my class, as if it is a song I am playing on the radio, is: this one goes out to the girl who was raped during orientation.
I know she exists. Maybe she’s not in my class, maybe she and I will never cross paths, maybe there are twenty of her. A banner hanging from a house near campus reads “Dads, we’ll take it from here.” Frat boys sit on their porches and harass passing women. We get public safety alert emails about rapes on campus. I am willing to believe that there is at least one girl here who was raped during orientation.
And I know she was easy prey. Because I know I was easy prey. Because I know that on every campus right now there are girls going to college to fucking learn and have some fun and meet people and they are not yet trained to be afraid. Because they shouldn’t have to be. Because I know that rapists are college boys are your hallmates are athletes are nerds are freshmen are upperclassmen are predators.
Sure, it was different for me. My school was small, this school is large. My school was an elite northeastern type, this is a midwestern state school. My school had three residential fraternities, this school has a whole webpage with different categories of fraternities listed. But I was raped by a hallmate after a frat party on my third day on campus. And probably something similar is happening right now.
I do sometimes wonder why I still care. I am just shy of being five years away from rape. My alma mater now has zero residential fraternities. I carry pepper spray in my purse. I shut down handsy men at bars. I like to think I would no longer be easy prey. I could maybe let it go.
And yet, this song this class this paragraph goes out to the girl who got raped last night and doesn’t want to show up for the first day of class. I do not feel like anyone’s instructor right now. I feel like the girl staring in the mirror and wondering what the hell I’m going to wear to class that won’t showcase my very prominent bruises. I feel like the girl who so desperately wants to tell her professors, her parents, her somebody, and yet is afraid of not being believed, of having to go through some complex reporting process that she doesn’t fully understand.
I feel like the girl who’s going to get drunk on dorm balconies and confess to groups of strangers that she just got raped and then laugh maniacally. Yes, she’s telling all the wrong people, they’ll just turn away from her in confusion. Yes, that girl is going to take a little while to figure out how to make friends. She’ll drink to excess for maybe a few years. She’ll feel choked by rage.
If she’s in my class, I hope she comes to my office hours. If she’s in my class, I hope she knows that I’m playing this song for her, and that whatever she needs to say, I will listen to and believe. But she’s probably not my student. She’s probably walking into that other classroom and deciding to stay silent for a while. I’m walking into my classroom and trying not to talk about rape. It’s not my course theme. I’m not really playing a song for anyone. It’s been five years. I’ll try to pretend I don’t care. She’ll try, too.
Cade Leebron, a recent graduate of Wesleyan University, is now earning her MFA in nonfiction at The Ohio State University. Her work (nonfiction & photography) has appeared or is forthcoming in Inside Higher Ed and Qu: A Contemporary Literary Journal. She can be found online at www.mslifeisbestlife.com or on Twitter @CadeyLadey. She has previously been published here on The Manifest-Station in an essay that went viral.
Featured image by Tiffany Lucero.
Thank you so much for writing this. I hope some of your students take you up on your offer, even though I hope they won’t have to.
You are brave.