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jmorgant's picture

I wasn't able to be in class last Tuesday, which I was especially disappointed about after our class on 11/15. I've read the class talking notes and people's blog posts, and there are a couple people I want to respond to, and a couple points I want to make in general.

I left class two weeks ago feeling totally drained - not only because of the things we'd talked about, many of which touch me deeply - rape&sexual assault, Ensler's Huffington Post piece, activism - but also because I felt totally unprepared to be talking about such things so publicly, and also, to be honest, pretty offended. I'm not trying to speak for others here, but I thought that it was grossly inappropriate to take a student's quote from this website and have them read it aloud in class without any warning. As some students (and Kaye) have already pointed out, to say something out loud, in public, is completely different from writing it (semi-anonymously?) online. I felt that in some ways, a community was created as a result - but I also think that it was very insensitive. Kaye acknowledged that if she and Anne had warned us beforehand that we would be discussing rape&sexual assault, people may not have shown up, or had their guard up. It doesn't matter. That's our right.

I don't have anything to hide (anymore). I've "come out" at Haverford as a survivor of sexual assault. Just this past summer, I "came out" to my parents. It took me nine years, though. So in response to Amophrast's blog post - I loved the Harvey Milk quote, about "coming out" (as homosexual, or, for that matter, as a survivor) as a political act. I agree with you that breaking the silence is, in some ways, paving a road for others. That's what I hope Haverford's rape and sexual assault support group (SOAR) has become - it's a student-led initiative; I founded it with two other Haverford students in 2009, and I felt like we kind of became the "faces" for rape&sexual assault at Haverford. Before SOAR was created, we didn't have a support group on campus. We plastered posters everywhere advertising the new group, and the posters had our email addresses on them. When my mom visited campus my freshman year, I was terrified that she would see the poster with my email on it and find out. She didn't see it.

Regardless, I chose to "come out" publicly (at least on campus) as a survivor because I thought I would help others by showing that yes, this happens to people you know, and you're not alone, and it's not your fault, and you have a community where you can come and talk about this. I hope that that's been created (and I think it has - in many ways, I feel closer to the people I know through SOAR than I do anyone else at Haverford). At the same time, however - and this is my main point - I chose to "come out." It was not forced upon me. It took me six years to be able to talk about it to anyone. Someone who's gay, or who has survived a sexual assault (and I'm not trying to conflate these groups, but both are socially stigmatized and often difficult to talk about) must be able to choose who and when to tell and what to divulge. These choices are absolutely vital in order to prevent re-victimization. And that's what bothered me so much about class on 11/15 - I don't feel like people were necessarily given that choice. Despite the fact that I'm "out" @ HC and relatively comfortable talking about my experiences, I don't want to do it constantly. That's why I'm not involved with SOAR anymore - it completely consumed me. In my first few semesters in college when we would discuss rape in class, I would have flashbacks - it would take me weeks to start feeling safe again. So, in the classroom, when we're going to be talking about things that can be incredibly personal and/or emotional, a "trigger warning" is necessary.

Someshine responded to Shlomo's post about Little Bee. He discussed his frustration at the woman on the plane who wouldn't, or couldn't, understand that the horrors described in Little Bee are not fiction, but reality for so many people. It made me think about an interaction I had at a bar the other night (bear with me, I'll explain...)

I was at a local bar, and I met a man who has started selling offensive T-shirts for a living. He was wearing one that said "I sell broken rape whistles." I immediately confronted him about it, and he said that it was just a joke, that everyone knew it wasn't serious. I lost it. I told him that I'm a survivor, that I was assaulted when I was twelve, that rape is not something to joke around about, that regardless of if he's serious or not, it doesn't matter. I was in tears. A friend who was with me got up and left the bar - she was so upset, and so frustrated, that she didn't even think it was worth it to try to explain to him what was wrong about his opinion/behavior. I kind of think that's the same thing you did, someshine - you were so put off by this woman's response that you couldn't even begin to explain to her where she was wrong.

I don't know if I got through to this guy. I hope that I did. When I saw him again at the bar several weeks later, he went up to my friend and apologized to her again (and just avoided me). I've found that I can use my identity as a "survivor" as a powerful tool to educate others (even if it's sometimes an in-your-face, how-dare-you type of "education"). Personal stories - putting a face to an experience -- make a huge difference, and help people understand that these things are not only real, but that they happen to people you know. But again - "coming out" in this way is a scary choice. But it must be a choice.


Anne Dalke's picture

choice: given, or taken?


are choices "given" (you say, "I don't feel like people were necessarily given that choice"), or taken?

what puzzles me--as i continue to process what happened in class a few weeks ago--is the sense you and others have expressed of not having had a choice.

didn't you, really?

don't you, always?

what is it--socialization, training, interpellation?--that compels students to do what teachers ask them to, rather than to say no, or to question what you have been asked to do?

what compels you to perform, rather than to re-signify, to use the request to an end different from what was intended?

so when we were talking in class tonight about the "potential for agency" of characters in Little Bee, i found myself struggling, again, to understand the claim that students in the bi-co don't have a sense of themselves as agents, able to choose....

jmorgant's picture

Choice? What choice?

Anne, I guess I'm a little confused about your idea of "choice," since we're speaking about issues of sexual violence.

When I was being sexually assaulted, I didn't have a choice about it. I didn't have agency.

Nor did I feel like I had a choice in class that day. As Christine already pointed out, whether I stayed or I left, I was reacting in very public ways that I didn't have control over.

To conceptualize "choice" in the classroom setting, as you did, without understanding or acknowledging its obvious connection to sexual assault - the fact that agency/choice are taken away - and then to have that agency taken away in the classroom once again - is insensitive and hurtful.

Christine Letts's picture

A few weeks ago, I walked out

A few weeks ago, I walked out of class when I was triggered by a discussion of sexual violence. I didn't start crying until after I left the room, but I was visibly upset while I was there. I wasn't "out" to my class, and I didn't want to be. As I perceived it, my options were necessarily constrained by my physical/emotional response:

1. Start crying in class, outing myself as a survivor.
2. Leave class, also outing myself as a survivor.

While there is very much a choice as to whether or not to participate in a discussion or even to stay in a classroom, that choice is not one that allows you to stay anonymous as a survivor if you react visibly. My body didn't give me that option.

AmyMay's picture

Ditto Alice

I'm glad to hear from more people about this issue; I really appreciate your perspective and share many of your sentiments.  I was afraid because myself and S. Yaeger had similar sentiments, that there would be a false sense of consensus.  Thanks for continuing this open, undecided conversation.

S. Yaeger's picture

AmyMay, I agree with

AmyMay, I agree with everything you've said here.  I feel like these issues are so complex that there is always a danger of the loudest or most repeated idea being taken as a consensus, and that having something like that occur in relation to feelings related to having been a victim, or to being a survivor of assault would be the absolute worst outcome for us as a community.'s picture


Not to say the medium matters compared to the message here, but I just wanted to say that you've put your thoughts quite beautifully, jmorgant. Thanks so much for sharing and giving me lots more to think about...