By Cade Leebron.
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.
survivor. I don’t feel like a survivor of anything. Sometimes I think that one girl died on a bed in a dorm room on her third day of college; she died in his bed while he was fucking her, raping her, whatever. Another girl was born in her place and she rose, gasping, like a phoenix and ran from the room. She was a virgin. Nobody had ever fucked her, raped her, whatever. She was brand new, and she stumbled to a different dorm room and collapsed on the floor and then eventually crawled into the dead girl’s bed and fell asleep and in the morning she took a shower.
Three and a half years later, in April of my senior year, it still feels like a lie to call myself a survivor, I still don’t feel like I survived at all. I’m sitting on a carpeted floor, the institutional carpet leaving an imprint of its texture on the bottoms of my thighs, and I look around and start to speak to the people on all sides, unsure of which way to look. It feels wrong to start my sentence with as a survivor, but I say it anyway.
We are here, at this meeting of the Wesleyan University Student Assembly, to have a community discussion regarding sexual assault on campus and the role of fraternities, if fraternities should be dismantled or co-educated in order to combat rape culture, if fraternities contribute to rape culture at all. I turn to look at the back of the room and I see rows upon rows of massive men, fraternity brothers. They are just so much bigger than me that it is shocking. Why do they get the chairs? How did they get so big? I have seen them in the dining halls, their plates piled high with what would be several meals for me, but they didn’t seem so large then. Now here they are, massive men sitting in comically small chairs, perhaps those chairs were meant for small and fragile people like me who are instead down here on the floor. I don’t usually feel small. And I do know why they got the chairs, it is because they got here first, and I know what this must look like: they care more, we the women don’t care enough, we showed up a little late. The truth is that we didn’t show up late, we were here, wandering around the student center and avoiding entering this particular room, getting coffee and pretending to text, doing anything to not come here until the last minute. We were hesitant, maybe a little afraid, they were not. But we are here now, I am here. And so I say things, I add my voice to this war that’s happening very politely in this room, I say, according to the transcript, to the members of fraternities: if you care about women, why don’t you want to share this with them?
I’m sure that’s not how I said it, I know I said something about how siblinghood can be just as meaningful as brotherhood, how coeducation is a viable option, and something about how as a survivor, I feel safer in co-ed spaces, but I don’t remember exactly how I said it and the transcript is available online. It’s accurate enough.
I know that in the context of the world, a big place almost entirely full of crime and genocide and war and hatred and dead or abused children and terrorism, if you believe CNN, this is a very tiny little battle in this carpeted room. This is a group of college students at an extremely liberal liberal arts college arguing over whether or not men get to have clubs and call them fraternities and not let women join. And if we the women don’t fight against it, if we let these fraternities continue to exist, let men be together in this way, are they more likely to rape us? And are there enough of them for it to matter? Only three campus fraternities own houses. This whole situation feels artificial and surreal. We are having a conversation facilitated and policed by members of the student government and the administration. We are not allowed to laugh at each other or speak out of turn. A woman speaks, she says that the president of a fraternity called her a slut at a party recently. In response, the president of that fraternity introduces himself and then calmly attempts to explain it away, he says she was dancing inappropriately at his fraternity and that’s why he called her a slut, she was just dancing that way, dancing like a slut. As if this is justification. As if we should not notice that he is white and she is black and he is policing her body and the way it moves in his privileged space. We are shushed by student assembly members for booing him and then we sit quietly, chastised, waiting our turn, as the meeting continues. The minutes make no mention of this incident. The administrators, the supposed adults here, sit in a row of chairs against the windows to the right, they are silent. My campus therapist is among them, sometimes we make eye contact and then look away. This is a very orderly kind of pain. And it has become the reality, the vocabulary of my life. I’ve gotten so sucked into it, using these words, triggered, survivor, rape culture, so easily that someone might think it’s what I actually mean.