Op-ed: Survivors are students, too
Read a letter from our editor, Sam Seekings, about this submission here.
Content warning: This article contains sensitive language regarding physical and sexual violence.
As both students and survivors, we have had enough. Incredibly brave survivors have added their voices to an ongoing effort to hold Washington University accountable for ensuring students’ safety in regards to sexual violence on this campus. Their powerful voices have forced people to pay attention. They have spurred increasing student mobilization. I am forever indebted to all of the survivors who have spoken truth to power.
Like many of these survivors, I have chosen to write anonymously. I have chosen anonymity In part because this movement, while inclusive of my own personal experience, transcends it. But as my family and most of my friends don’t know about my rape, anonymity has not been a choice for me, just as it isn’t for so many survivors. Title Mine fights systematic failure and lack of accountability with a cacophony of survivor voices and experiences. Over the last few years I have begun to get involved in sexual violence prevention both on campus and in the St. Louis area, but this week marks the first time that I have felt comfortable doing so as a survivor as well as an activist. While we applaud the courage of these survivors for speaking up, we must also remember that they are students, they are people and this is hard. This is hard for survivor activists in this movement, for all survivors, for everyone touched by interpersonal violence.
Professors, these students have been in your classes this week desperately trying to balance studying for your exams and writing your papers with campus mobilization and with their emotional well-being. Students, these are your friends, teammates, roommates, the people at the table next to you in the Danforth University Center.
Title IX states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Sexual violence falls under Title IX because it creates a hostile environment based on gender and denies survivors the benefits of their educational experience. Sexual assault affects everyone differently, but it left me unable to concentrate, unable to sleep and constantly on edge. Those responses are both overwhelmingly normal and painfully debilitating. I wanted nothing more than to engage in campus life and learn, and my rapist took that away from me. I can’t speak for other survivors, but sometimes I think that this pain gets lost in this conversation.
Administrators become defensive, professors become annoyed, students become apathetic and survivors are left to navigate an ineffective and harmful system. I want change. I need change. We need change. That starts with recognizing the harm committed against survivors by their perpetrators AND by the system. This starts with empathy and compassion. This starts by listening to understand, not listening to refute.
The strong, smart, angry, motivated and passionate survivors and allies taking part in this movement will make change on this campus. At the same time we must recognize the emotional toll that this takes on individuals across our campus. We are simultaneously students and survivors. Peers, professors, administrators and the broader campus community need to allow, encourage and support us in both of those identities.