October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and this week the ACLU in conjunction with some of our youth clients and V-Girls, a global network of youth activists and advocates empowering themselves and one another to create the change they imagine for the world, is presenting a blog series. “Your School Your Rights – Ending Sexual Violence” is designed to highlight the many voices impacted by sexual violence and harassment in schools and the tools students, teachers and parents can use to fight back. The girls, expressing themselves in both poetry and prose, underscore the fact that kids have a RIGHT to be protected against gender-based violence in schools.
When I got into Yale, I was sure there had been a glitch. I jumped at the sound of a phone for the following weeks, convinced some admission’s officer on the other end would be calling to inform me of the unfortunate mistake that had been made. But they didn’t call and my admission wasn’t revoked.
When I arrived on campus, the surreal dream just continued. It was mesmerizing. Later when I reunited with my friends from high school, one of the girls prompted us to go around and say the thing we hated most about our new college. I was that jerk that simply couldn’t think of anything. Not a single thing. As far I was concerned I had arrived in heaven on earth.
Like every college there are student organizations: acapella, theater, comedy groups, debate, newspapers, and Greek life. The new DKE (Delta Kappa Epsilon) inductees were hazed one autumn night on Old Campus. The upper classmen blindfolded the new freshmen and led them around campus making them shout, “No means yes! Yes means anal!” And of course, because we live in the 21st century, someone had a camera phone and this video soon got on the internet. Before our administration had a chance to regroup, the world knew.
A harsh public spotlight swung towards Yale as the media turned its unrelenting scrutiny upon our administration and student body. Months later, a Title IX complaint was filed against the school as both current and past students, male and female a like, claimed that the school had an inadequate response to DKE’s actions. They also brought forth cases of sexual abuse that had been swept under the rug from years past. Before I knew it, Yale went from being known for its progressiveness to being known for sexual abuse and a corrupt administration. Eventually, DKE was shut down for five years and a committee focused on the sexual misconduct taking place at the school was formed.
My reaction was mixed to say the least. Part of me leapt to my school’s defense. All my newly acquired Yale love and pride welled up as I lashed out at friends from other universities who contacted me about this. Part of me was horrified at my own numbness as the words from the DKE boys seemed not to faze me. Was hatred against women so ingrained in me and my world that I would accept this kind of abuse? Was the American masculine image so defined by violence and stupidity that my automatic response would always be ‘Oh, it’s just boys being boys’? Where was my fury? Part of me wanted to ignore it. I was in denial. I had never experienced anything like that at Yale and knew no one else who had. I didn’t want to believe it. Especially since I knew one of those freshman, one of those “chauvinist” inductees. And he was my friend.
When life becomes confusing or muddled, I find clarity in theater. I believe art can heal wounds, move mountains, and spark revolutions. It is why Emotional Creature has had such a profound impact on me. In my theater class, we were assigned to perform student-written plays as our final project called “Mater Town.” It was about a town where brain matter was made. The town imported people from all corners of the globe to make this brain matter. The mayor of the town called the town a family. I was cast in a play by the boy who had wrote it a character that is peer pressured into drinking too much at a party, and is raped by a friend. When she tries to go to the police, the mayor stops her and tells her that this matter should stay in the family. Then he calls in her rapist, gives him a slap on the wrist and lets him go. The character watches in horror as her rapist leads another girl away while the mayor reads out an announcement of a committee that will be formed to help this issue.
It was horrifying. As I played the part, I became more and more disturbed, because I knew. I knew it was true. I knew it was accurate. But the worst part was I knew it was true at Yale. And that broke my heart.