a student-run publication that seeks to provide space for voices that are not being heard on our campus. we are grounded by politics that are radical, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, anti-homophobic, anti-ableist, and anti-transphobic (against all forms of oppression) and that reject the structural neo-liberal paradigm that characterizes middlebury college and its official publications
“Tell me a story that’s pungent and immediate. Avoid sounding academic at all costs. Have a really, really powerful example. Illustrate somehow that a victim of a grotesque crime is being victimized by the institution. Personalize the piece in some way, though it shouldn’t be a sob story about yourself. You need to have the sobriety and objectivity to say that we shouldn’t extrapolate too much, that on the basis of this experience, we should only draw limited conclusions. Be serious and thoughtful.”
Rape culture on campus and laced in our wider culture is an issue that I can’t step back from. When an up-and-coming news source asked me to write a piece this fall, this was the issue I chose. I was excited to have the opportunity to express my voice on a topic that makes me want to scream with anger: this would be my cry. I would have the forum and opportunity to join those whose online presence and activism I find so inspiring. I also thought I was being given the opportunity to connect these issues back to Middlebury, an institution not exempt from this discourse, as It Happens Here reminds us so powerfully (for those who could possibly forget).
Instead, I was silenced.
It happened so slowly that I didn’t notice immediately. The first red flag was the way the editor reframed my angle. In an email he told me, “Here’s the question to answer: is there a rape/sexual assault paranoia on campus? Has there been an overreaction? When I was at Middlebury a few days ago, I was struck by the number of posters everywhere warning of the ubiquity of rapists… Is it overstated? Or is there a good cause for all the hype? There may be, in which case I want to know what it is. 350 words. Are you comfortable with this?” The answer was no. No, I was not comfortable writing this piece. But, at that point, I thought that I would be able to turn the piece around, to write about why there is “good cause” to the publicity of the issue. It should also be noted that the posters he referred to are the green fliers placed in restrooms by the SAOC alerting students to resources available for survivors of sexual assault.
In my first draft, which I called “Sexual Assault is Not a Moral Panic,” I had to cut back thoroughly in order to make the word limit. I set out to use numbers, research, and examples because I felt I had to prove my case: rape culture is real. I carefully cited sources to back me up. This draft was thrown out immediately. I received an email that said, “I just read your piece, and it’s fine, but we need to rethink things: I’m less interested in a well reported article than one that is more personal and impressionistic. I want to know what you think on the so-called war on rape.” He then continued on to give me his skepticism on assumptions “baked into the conversation about sexual assault” in order to “raise questions about feminist orthodoxy.” Some choice quotations include, “If heightened awareness were the answer, one would think that, by now, one out of five women would not be sexually assaulted”, and “Of course, one must perpetuate the claim that we are always in a state of crisis if one is to sustain a campaign”.
If the first reframing troubled me, the second made me even angrier, and even rereading his responses now makes my temperature rise. At the time, it also made me feel like I didn’t have the articulation skills necessary to refute the wall of critiques he had handed back to me. I sought help and again succeeded in reframing the angle. I focused on ideologies surrounding rape and sexual assault that upset me, such as the argument that rape is a crime of passion and the cultural tendency towards victim blaming. I tried to make it more personal by talking about sexual violence as not a women’s issue, but a community issue. Tried to make it less academic by taking out the footnotes. This version, however, was also rejected.
This time, the editor asked for a phone conversation. As he went through everything his was looking for in the story, some of which I have quoted at the beginning of this piece, I found myself again unable to defend myself. Against his self-assurance, it was all I could do to refute the details. That the Stubbenville victim-blaming example I had used was not “digging through the news archives” but rather a recent and very public story on CNN in which the network had been complicit. Eventually I stopped giving rebuttals and just let him talk.
I tried to write the piece he wanted. I tried to reframe it a third time to focus on the silence and privacy surrounding the issue (an almost response to his desire for me to share either my own story or that of a friend; though he did prefer the idea of a friend’s story because it would be more objective). Each time I started, I found that I couldn’t get past the introductory sentences. How could I choose to write about someone’s personal story for the agenda of a gritty or edgy post? After about a week, I emailed him back saying that I didn’t think that I would be able to write the kind of article he was looking for.
Ultimately, this experience disillusioned me in multiple ways. But mostly, I was upset that I hadn’t been able to turn the opportunity into one that would educate at least one person (the editor) about an issue that is so personal, so important to me. In this case, I feel that silence was my only response to requests I didn’t feel I could ethically fulfill, but I am left with the regret that I didn’t push forward, respond better, argue more clearly.