In May of 2014, the federal government put Franklin & Marshall and many other top colleges under investigation for Title IX violations. Following the news, the school reacted quickly and replaced the existing Title IX coordinator. Many students saw this action as sign that positive change was coming to our campus and the way in which we handle matters of sexual assault. Unfortunately two years later, I have been forced to realize that the change we believed was imminent has yet to arrive. What follows is a letter I wrote to officials of the school detailing the terrible way in which my sexual assault was handled. My hope is that by reading this, students at F&M will step up and realize that if we are the strong community we say we are, action needs to be taken to protect the survivors:
To whom it may concern:
This letter is coming to you as a plea to change our campus views and practices on the handling of sexual assault cases. Since my freshman year here, I have heard various stories of classmates and strangers’ dealings with the administration after sexual assault incidents. Of course, hearing those stories I sympathized with the victims, but never went out of my way to hear the entire story or find out what happened to the students, until I became one of those students yesterday.
My rape didn’t happen on this campus, or even in this country. I was studying abroad last semester when a man chose to take advantage of me 12 minutes from my home by the side of a lighthouse. After the assault I ran to the police and was told since I didn’t know his name or where he lived they could do nothing. I shut down after that. I told no one, except two close friends on my program and returned to the United States a month later. I thought I would grin and bear my pain until it went away.
But that’s the thing about trauma, it does not go away. It does not get easier. So finally, after living and working in Lancaster all summer, multiple panic attacks, two paralyzingly terrifying flashbacks, my friends convinced me to reach out and get the help I needed. I reached out to our campus counselors and finally found the help. After my first visit I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and anxiety. To help combat these issues I was also started on several medications.
The team I was working with at health services was incredible. They were always available to me and I felt that they genuinely cared. But even with wonderful treatment, this semester started slipping away from me. I lost interest in everything. I went from (The College Reporter has redacted information here listing the activities and positions the author held on campus as it could lead to victim-identification which would violate the newspaper’s sexual assault victim policy. The author expresses here that they went from being a heavily involved student)…to a woman neither me nor my friends could recognize. It was after one of my worst bouts of depression – inability to get out of bed and complete sense of helplessness – that I reached out to my therapist and asked for leave. I just couldn’t function at the level F&M required of me anymore.
To be clear, leave was not my idea. My therapist brought it up as a last case scenario during one of our first meetings. I fought the idea all semester, even used it as one of my goals to get me out of bed in the morning. Until that moment, I had viewed leave as the cowards way out. I felt it was my attacker’s final affront on me and the person I used to be.
But after making the decision, I realized that the strength it took to write that email and admit I was not OK and needed help, was the most I’d felt like myself since last May.
Unfortunately, since getting the school involved in my leave, I feel that all of my power has been stripped from me once again. This stems from a meeting I had with my Dean to discuss the process of extended medical leave. Instead of giving you a transcript of the meeting here are a few main highlights:
1) The process of coming back from leave is the same for every single student. So me, as somebody who is leaving the school to undergo intensive therapy for a trauma I did not ask for or cause, has to write the same letter to the school asking for readmittance that any person put on a disciplinary leave must write.
2) To go on leave, I must give access to the school to open my medical records. We cannot even start the process until I sign over my permission, which leads us to point three…
3) At the end of this meeting I was told by my dean who looked even more uncomfortable than I was feeling, that my assault would have to be officially reported because she was a mandatory reporter. I asked why this was necessary because I didn’t feel comfortable with it and her response was that they needed it so our Title IX coordinator would have more statistics. She then followed up by saying yes, the school probably couldn’t help me with anything since the attack happened internationally and in all honesty the Title IX coordinator wouldn’t even be reaching out to me. But since it was an official report, she or I would have to fill out the correct paperwork. She handed me the sheet to read over. The simple one page document asked me about every single detail of my assault. And gave me six lines to describe the entire experience. Six lines?
I left this meeting shocked. The shock turned to pain, grief, and sadness, then anger, and has left me here writing this letter to all of you. Never in my life have I felt less human, boiled down to a simple statistic. As a school that prides itself on community and inclusivity, we have failed sexual assault survivors. We have a Title IX coordinator, yet we have not put in place a separate system for those survivors who want nothing more than to return to their lives at F&M.
Why do we require that every employee at this school be a mandatory reporter, if we do not give them enough training to not call a victim of sexual assault a “statistic”?
Why isn’t recognition from my treatment provider at home enough to get me back to school?
This isn’t an injury, or disease. And I did nothing wrong. I don’t believe we can designate all leave as the same.
Dealing with the school has only been the salt on my invisible wounds. I thought I would find solace, and I did not.
That does not mean the story can’t be different for anyone else. I hope this letter is a catalyst for change. I hope there is some discussion and some delegation to ensure this process stops with me and that no other survivor EVER has to deal with what I have.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Due to the personal and private nature of this piece, the Editor of The College Reporter is protecting the author’s anonymity. Naming victims of sexual assault or publishing anything that makes them clearly identifiable without their explicit permission would also violate The College Reporter’s policy regarding sexual assault victim privacy. If you have questions about the piece or would like to respond journalistically via ‘letter to the editor’ please do so by contacting The Editors at The College Reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, the letter in this article has not been edited or modified by The Editors at The College Reporter in order to preserve its transcription accuracy, unless to redact identifying information about the author.