By Chris Barton, Co-Editor
Every story has an audience. An author always writes with someone in mind, someone who they hope will read what they have written; someone who will benefit from it in some way. Sometimes it’s a specific person, sometimes a group of people. Sometimes it’s just an undefined archetype, a category of person whose shared features the author hopes to address. But every story has an audience, and every parable has a purpose.
Let me tell you a story.
During my undergrad at ASU, I knew a girl who we’ll call Jane. Jane was a brilliant student with a fiery personality and an unstoppable drive. She was full of curiosity and excitement, and was a joy to talk with and listen to.
During the summer of her sophomore year, she went on a school-sponsored study abroad trip and was raped.
When she returned to school the next year, she had a hard time processing what had happened, how it had happened, and what she should do about it. In the meantime, her attacker remained on campus, and was stringing Jane along emotionally. She became depressed and anxious. Eventually she realized that she had to get away from the scenario, and took a leave from school.
With a bit of distance, she realized the severity of what had happened to her, and that it meant other students were in danger as well. She told her story to the dean of the college, who downplayed her trauma and tried to discredit her. Then she took it to ASU’s Student Resources department, who acknowledged her claim, strung her along on a months-long ‘investigation’ that eventually found that her case had no merit, and then dismissed her. Everyone who Jane spoke to either didn’t believe her or told her that she was overreacting.
Trying to find the words for what was happening to her, Jane eventually discovered a concept that helped her make sense of her struggles. She understood ASU, and the Barrett Honors College where she lived, to be examples of ‘rape cultures.’ Despite the lip service the school gave about ‘protecting their students,’ this was a place where rape and sexual assault were normalized. They were either actively accepted as the everyone’s-doing-it way that students interacted socially and ‘negotiated’ hookups; or passively accepted as just an unfortunate fact of life that was someone else’s problem. No one was taking her seriously, because no one took rape seriously.
At this point, Jane had lost faith in the system, but she had recovered some of her fire. And she was pissed. She sued ASU for Title IX violations. Multiple times, if I recall correctly. She also wrote about her story in publications across the valley, recruited students to help pressure the administration, started an activist group, and pushed every possible button. Eventually, her attacker was forced out. ASU also made superficial changes to try and protect themselves from further lawsuits – every incoming student was required to take a token ‘consent training,’ and the school began sticking posters everywhere that said, basically, “hey, don’t sexually assault people.” You might have seen them around campus. They’re light blue and black.
People still get sexually assaulted at ASU. And at Thunderbird. Unsurprisingly, the posters don’t work.
But that’s not the point of this story. Jane never went back to school. Last I heard, she still hadn’t completed her bachelor’s degree. She couldn’t bear to go back to the buildings where she had suffered, the community that had dismissed her suffering, and the institution that had tried to silence her. She was one of the brightest students at the honors college, one of the most promising students in the entire university – and she was forced to cut short her education in exchange for a modicum of closure and respect.
Who was to blame? Her attacker, for sure. But also everyone who stood in Jane’s way as she tried to heal, doubted her, blamed her, or belittled her suffering. People she thought were friends. People whose job it was to protect her.
When I see those posters around the Thunderbird campus, I get sad. I know the story behind them, and I know that they don’t work.
Maybe this will.
Are you my audience?