“I see students going about business as usual, as if there’s not something so grossly and monumentally messed up with the state of Wesleyan University.”
In middle school, I distinctly remember having to say, in a classroom full of my peers, that Holocaust jokes are not okay. That my grandmom was a Holocaust survivor. That so many of my family members died.
I also remember the uncomfortable silence that followed. Afterwards, people would stop making those “jokes” around me, or at least made them knowing that I would call them on it, that they couldn’t get away with being that awful. I remember a lot of uncomfortable silences after that.
I also remember wondering what happened when I was not in the room. I remember wondering if the people I spent all of my time with—in classes, in activities, in the community at large—ever made a Holocaust joke when they knew I wasn’t there to make them feel guilty for it.
I remember thinking a lot about the word “integrity.” What you do when nobody’s watching. I remember feeling like I did not trust the integrity of the people who stopped making Holocaust “jokes” around me because I saw them make other hurtful comments that targeted other groups, and passing it off as humor. I remember wanting to say something, but not wanting to be the buzzkill, the girl who took everything too seriously.
I’ve thought about that a lot this week.
This week has been so incredibly difficult. It’s hard to find out that Wesleyan University doesn’t care about the safety and well-being of its students. It didn’t come as a surprise, but the confirmation of this fundamental issue is still unsettling.
What’s hurt me the most, though, is finding out that Wesleyan students don’t care about each other. Since the news about Scott Backer broke, I have overheard so many conversations in public spaces about the consequences of Wesleyan hiring a sexual predator to oversee sexual assault hearings, and then claiming that there was no reason to tell students, faculty, and staff, including those who were directly impacted by this man. Over and over again, I hear students saying, “I don’t get why it’s such a big deal.”
It is a big deal. This administration affects real lives. It hurts real people. It causes material, emotional, and physical harm to the human beings you walk among every single day. And I don’t think people realize it. I really don’t. I don’t think people at this school realize that they will never be in a public space where there is not a survivor of sexual assault. The complaints, anger, and grief that students are expressing are not about hypothetical injustices. These are real people who hear what you say and are hurt again when you dismiss their pain.
And these people who are hurt the most are bearing the brunt of the labor to make these injustices right. We’re the ones who are going to the hours of meetings to plan actions that will hold this institution accountable for the harm it causes. We’re the ones waking up early to print out posters to make it impossible to ignore the shit that goes on at this school. We’re the ones reaching out to each other to provide emotional support and a shoulder to cry on when there is no one else to turn to. We’re also the ones who, after long days of fighting, are going home to our rooms to sob and scream and feel all the things we’ve had to repress to keep on keeping on. We’re doing all this because we cannot ignore what’s happening, because it impacts us every single day. We’re doing all this because we have to.
And I’m tired. This work is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. I’m going to keep on doing it, because I can’t not. But I’m tired.
I want students at this school to care. I want students at this school to get angry. I want students at this school to give a fuck even if survivors aren’t around to demand it of them. I want some fucking integrity. Because right now, I don’t trust the students on this campus. I do not believe that they actually care about me and other survivors and everyone else who this administration harms. I don’t see students standing in meaningful solidarity. I don’t see students doing anything to show me and other survivors that they care about us. I see students going about business as usual, as if there’s not something so grossly and monumentally messed up with the state of Wesleyan University.
If nothing else, ask how your friends are doing in light of all this. It doesn’t matter if you know that they have been a victim of the administration, or sexual assault, or racism, or sexism, or ableism, or anything else. People shouldn’t have to “come out” as survivors for you to demonstrate basic human decency. Take care of your people. Take care of your classmates. That’s what communities do, and right now, I do not feel like Wesleyan students are a community, let alone one that I want to be a part of.
I also want to acknowledge that I am so impassioned in this moment because I am a survivor of sexual assault. I don’t want to claim moral high ground by implying that I have been the perfect ally up until this point. I’ve participated in protests about issues that don’t directly impact me, such as the #ISTHISWHY campaign, but I know I should have done more. I should have reached out to my friends to support them in coping with difficult emotions. I want to take better care of my friends, classmates, and community. But I need care right now too. We as a community need to do better. And it starts with all of us.
I am sending so much love to everyone who is hurting right now. I am hoping that things will change. I am working to enact that change. But I know that I am not enough. And I’m just really scared that not enough people care. That hurts more than anything this university will ever do to me.