As I tried to write this op-ed, I doubted what validity I had in making a judgment on the administrative policy.
More than a year ago, when I was raped on this campus by a fellow student, I chose not to take any legal action. This was informally recommended to me by the administration and those who counseled me. The legal proceedings for a sexual assault case at Tufts then were long and unfriendly. He was a friend of my friends and I had chosen to go out with him that night. I was told I would face disapproval and questioning, making it more difficult to “get over” my experience. I saw my decision to not take legal action as an indicator of my weakness for a very long time. My decision, I thought, was my own and its repercussions were my responsibility. The same type of pain I felt then has now plagued me for the past few weeks. Although it is something that I wish I didn’t have to continue reliving, these past weeks have led me to understand that the burden I carry is not only my doing.
In May, the Tufts community rallied around the administration’s violation and later revocation of the Title IX federal guidelines. Tufts was nationally condemned and humiliated by students and an allied community until progress was made. Yet long and unfriendly are the words that still describe the bureaucratic process I went through to request exemption from highly triggering course material. The multiple phone calls to different administrative offices, the voicemails, the redirections, the crying, the waiting, the feeling of impotence, the crippling anxiety.
It has been over a year since I was attacked. I felt I should have the strength to read the required class material, to be able to function as an otherwise capable and intelligent individual, to isolate that event in my life. I am someone who considered themselves a member of a community against rape culture, even before my assault. For me, one of the more difficult parts about being raped was the inability to reconcile that in which I ethically believed and that which I believed out of fear. I once again felt it was my weakness that was the problem here. I automatically blamed myself for not being able move on with my life.
No one can tell you how you will process a traumatic event. No one told me this, and perhaps someone should have. The few times I received help from Tufts, there was always the idea of “overcoming your experience” and “not letting it define you.” All along, I have been told there is a recovery process from my sexual assault. I can reach a point where it will be behind me. Understanding the lack of truth in this statement is probably the biggest step I have taken.
At Tufts, you are given the choice: to call yourself a victim or to live in secret. It is difficult to call yourself a victim. For me, it meant accepting my attacker had an impact on me. He took something away from me that I may not have back for a very long time. My experience is something that will never go away. I will never wake up one morning and feel okay with what happened. I am a victim. And it does define a part of me. But it is not everything I am and it is not something I chose to be. I want the choice to pick whom I can be vulnerable with.
I am not accusing the university of malign intentions. I am not accusing them of apathy. I am accusing the administration, though, and even further the Tufts community, of a misunderstanding of my trauma: the effects, the process of healing and the extent of the impact of my rape. As a student, I should not have to go out of my way in order to be in a safe environment. A simple trigger warning before a class or a class assignment with sexually violent content would have helped me not be caught off guard when I encountered rape mid-text. More importantly, I would have been able to request an alternative assignment, or even dropped the class if the material was a significant portion of the course content. I would have had the ability to control my environment.
Of course, I always have the option to not take the class. I could also research every text I come in contact with to ensure that I am not being exposed to anything I feel uncomfortable with. But that is not the point.
I understand that developing a system of trigger warnings for course material is inconvenient. Rape, like many other brutalities, is a part of this world and is a phenomenon we study. This year, a similar request was made by the student body of a Californian university. The request became a national debate. The students were accused of “oversensitivity,” denying reality and desiring censorship. The truth is quite the opposite. The reason I would have appreciated a warning is because I am too aware of the reality of rape, and I relive it too often without the need to be pressured to dissect it in an academic setting.
This pressure is not necessarily emerging from Tufts professors or my community, but from myself. The pressure and obligation to be strong, to get over it. As well as the difficulty of a bureaucratic process that presses a person to identify with the binary of victimhood and a single-routed healing process. I want to be able to address my healing process, whatever this may entail, as I desire to address it. I want the space to do this with ease. I do not want to have to relive my experience, as I have been, due to bureaucratic inaccessibility. A victim should not have to jump through hoops. It is difficult enough as it is.