This article contains content related to sexual assault.
This story is not linear. None of these pieces are neatly tied together before they had the chance to overlap, and yet they barely seemed connected to each other until recently.
I’ll start by telling you something incredibly mundane: sometimes I lie about reading books.
I lied to my roommate about reading Chanel Miller’s book, “know my name”. We spent Hurricane Ida’s break in South Carolina with stacks of novels and poetry, and she had devoured it voraciously.
As flippant as my suite mate asked, I said “Yeah, sure. I can’t wait for her to come speak on campus.
It was in September. I didn’t read anything after the intro until less than a week ago.
As I sat at my gate waiting to board my plane, I decided I was finally going to open one of the books I had promised myself I would read over the Thanksgiving holiday. . I brought three: “Dispossessed” by Ursula Le Guin, a book on structural listening in post-modernity, and “Know My Name”. In a way, a book about sexual assault seemed like the easiest read of the three.
This time I skipped the intro. It only took me a few pages to start crying in the middle of the airport. I marked the exact line, on the sixth page:
“I always wondered why survivors understood other survivors so well. Why, even though the details of our attacks vary, survivors can close their eyes and get it without having to explain. It may not be the details of the attack itself that we have in common, but the moment after; the first time you’ve been left alone. Something escapes from you. Where did I go. What was taken. It is the terror that comes out of silence. A detachment from the world where up was up and down was down. This moment is not pain, not hysteria, not crying. Your insides are turning into cold stones. It is total confusion associated with knowledge. Gone is the luxury of growing slowly. So begins the rude awakening.”
I was assaulted in January 2021, just weeks after I returned to campus for the spring semester of my freshman year at Tulane University. I was at a frat party, and the next thing I knew I woke up the next morning to a beanbag. I vaguely remember talking to a guy the night before. I had cuts on my face and hands, what I assume was my own blood embedded in the cracks of my smashed phone, and my body ached.
A friend helped me get to Campus Health, who tried to send me to the ER immediately. It was an ordeal of several hours where I had to recount the little I remembered several times before signing a waiver stating that I was leaving against medical advice.
Since I had been assaulted, all I wanted to do was call my mom. I didn’t want to sit down at Campus Health and tell another person what happened; I didn’t want to go to the hospital with no way to contact anyone. My only option to contact her was to leave against medical advice and text her from my laptop.
We have FaceTimed. It was silent when she first responded, then I told her I thought I had been sexually assaulted. She immediately sobbed; I still hadn’t.
We spoke briefly, and I lied to him. I told him that I was with friends at dinner and some guy had just done something bad, random and violent. I couldn’t admit to her that I had apparently put myself in a situation where some of the blame would inevitably fall on me.
The same friend who helped me get to Campus Health also took me to the ER. The details of that don’t matter except this: if you’re sexually assaulted, they lock your file so you can’t be found. I understand that, and it’s a good rule. But, in January 2021, New Orleans was still in the throes of COVID-19 and visitors to the hospital were not allowed. So my friend, for whom I am eternally grateful, waited for me outside in the cold for hours.
I sat in the pediatric wing of the hospital – another safety measure I guess – alone, confused and in pain. My nurse promised she would bring my friend back. The hours have passed. But, as she tried to check with the table at the main entrance, they told her that there was no one by my name at the hospital. I had to beg her and beg her to have her with me.
This was my experience; or, at least, what I have reconstructed about it. My body remembers it and still today I have small scars on my forehead, nose and hands.
No matter how similar my experience is to Chanel Miller’s, but I know her stomach turned to rocks the same way mine did when she woke up that morning in a bed of hospital. I know she had the same feeling of being overwhelmed by the feeling that something horrible and unspeakable has happened to you, that this agency has been robbed. I know for a fact that she also lived through the worst of what comes next.
Another thing you don’t learn until you’ve been mugged is that the first moment of silence is the last moment you have as the only character in the story of the worst experience of your life. Every point from there, there were others to consider or share moments with.
I hadn’t thought much about my aggression until recently. I caged it and hid it in a corner of my brain that never saw the light of day. I thought I was done, healed, and had other reasons to be angrier. But then Tulane sent us “Know My Name” with cute stickers about believing victims and not a single trigger warning for the graphic details of the book.
I thought about this when I discovered that several accused rapists weren’t allowed to hold any leadership position, but positions where they would be the first person new students would meet on campus. They would be present for the consent workshops. He would be someone who seems to be trusted by freshmen despite the fact that the university knows the kind of person they really are.
I thought about it when hundreds of people gathered at a protest where I was only able to stay for five minutes due to a new trauma. I thought about it when Robin Forman, the provost, sent a E-mail addressing that which said, essentially, “that’s not who Tulane is.”
I thought about it when I was on assignment for the Tulane Hullabaloo the week before Halloween rewatching a concert. Outside of my full-time position as a victim, I follow a multitude of other things. On the one hand, I am a bass player. I jumped at the chance to rewatch the Thundercat concert at Orpheus Theater.
I got there early and approached the pit, displaying the little sticker on my chest that said “press” as a badge of honor. In response, I received a comment that the only reason I was in the pit was because of my “pretty little dress”.
My press badge didn’t stop a drunk guy and his friends dressed as members of the Blue Man Group from leaning over the barricade and hitting on me. The barricade was terrible at his work, it didn’t stop him when my lack of recognition at his advances was apparently seriously upsetting. That didn’t stop him from leaning over my shoulder and into my face.
I have never seen Thundercat play.
Like I said, Chanel Miller and I by no means have similar stories about our assault. But, she would understand how even small instances of harassment kick in when you feel trapped.
I’m sure she, and other victims, understand what it’s like to be fine for days, weeks and months after being assaulted only to suddenly realize that any man can be bad and that by the time you know it will be because they assaulted one. Victims of sexual assault know that recovery is by no means linear or logical. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not necessary.
Sometimes I lie about reading books. This one wasn’t a frivolous lie, though. Would I be a bad sexual assault survivor if I didn’t read it? Would that make me somehow complacent? Is it even justified that I should question this; after all, Tulane sent students a book with graphic depictions of sexual assault without caring about its impact.
After all, the administration of this school is the party involved that continually fails victims of sexual assault. After all, I wasn’t the one who stole my agency. So, I said I had read it and thought every day since I said it so I should probably start reading it. And there is nothing wrong with that.
This article has been corrected.
Resources are available for Tulane students who are victims of sexual violence. Contact Sexual Assault Hotline and Peer Education24/7 Peer Run Hotline at 504-654-9543 if you need help.
Tulane Emergency Medical Services can be reached at 504-865-5911. TEMS is a free student-run service. Also, the non-emergency number for the Tulane University Police Department is 504-865-5381.
You can also contact Case Management and Victim Support Services at 504-314-2160 and they can offer support and help you file a report.
RAINN: National Rape and Incest Abuse Network provides LGBTQ+ inclusive resources and can be reached at 800-656-4673.