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
By Elizabeth Dunn
[Content Warning, Sexual Assault]
I was invited to ‘comfy night’ at the Mill last Thursday, and I was the only Black person there. I was annoyed‒ if I wanted to be surrounded by white people I could’ve just gone to the library, or a dining hall, or class, or my dorm, or really anywhere else on this campus. I was hyperaware of myself, keeping up a frantic internal dialogue ‒ does your smile look real, are you taking up too much space, would these people respect your love for Solange or is she too mainstream, do they say the N word when it comes up in songs? Why are you thinking about this, why can’t you chill the fuck out? Why is it such a big deal for you? Get over being the only Black girl at this kickback, get over being the only Black girl in your Lit class, get over that white guy confusing you for T, get over the white guy who told you he ‘loved chocolate’ on Tinder, get over those white guys who called you and your other Black friend sluts when you wouldn’t talk to them, get over that white guy who took you back to his room freshman year and bragged about the rum he got straight from Puerto Rico as he poured too much of it in your cup ‒ get over it.
The next day I found myself crying and hugging a group of three other women in the atrium outside of Wilson Hall where Princess Nokia had just finished performing. I was crying over something that had happened two and a half years ago, and asking myself why I could only acknowledge that I am a survivor because someone else brought it up first. In addition to that concert and the Mill kickback, I have also cried after a couple Coltrane parties, a couple PALANA parties, the Evolution show, etc. I’ve normalized crying; when I go to party spaces that’s just what I do. I drink, smoke, hang out with friends, and cry because I can never really stop thinking about how many people have been sexually assaulted in events like these, and how many more might be before the night is over. I can’t separate party spaces from the collective trauma they induce.
I try to do what I can to combat rape/party culture. The week before, I stood in my underwear in the stairwell of Atwater suites as a part of an anti-rape performance art protest group; I was holding a sign that said “Sexual assault leaves a mark.” As we were leaving, one girl stopped me and the two ‘bodyguards’ I was with. She told us that what we were doing was important, that just half an hour before a guy had been trying to pull her out of the party, and not listening to her as she refused. She said that if she’d had a couple more shots she might not have been able to say no. Her story is familiar, and not just because she was also a woman of color. Like her, I had a guy try to pull me out of a party. Luckily I had amazing friends who tracked me down once they realized I’d left with him, and they came and got me before anything ‘really bad’ happened. Nothing that I considered filing a report over, especially when many of my friends are survivors as well ‒ they’d gone through much more than I thought I had. I got off “easy” as far as being sexually assaulted goes, so why can’t I get over it?
(Hint: Because assault, no matter the ‘degree’, leaves a mark on a person regardless of the specifics of the experience)
I searched for the answer in history, thinking back to the days of slavery. Black women were viewed as property, objects-not humans- that were useful as workers for white people, reproduction, entertainment, etc. That mentality may have changed form in the decades since, but it never really disappeared. Black women are still viewed in many senses as property- and how could property express individuality? How could property express pain? And more personally for me, how could property be assaulted? There’s a clear line between humanity and property. It’s the reason why a person is robbed and a house is burglarized. Why a person is murdered, and an object is destroyed. And for too much of this country-and this college’s-history I and other women/femmes like me been on the wrong side of that line. That’s part of the reason it’s so difficult for me to validate my own experiences-because I’ve internalized the message that Black women are unrape-able.
Even when I was crying with other survivors outside of Wilson, even when I was reclaiming my personal autonomy in a space like Atwater suites, I found myself experiencing a peculiar sense of double consciousness ‒ as someone who had been hurt, and something that could not experience pain. Then I felt guilty‒ it isn’t Stairs/Stares’ fault that most of them are white, that two fully dressed white people standing beside a Black woman without clothes is an image weighted with a baggage none of us intended. It isn’t the Mill’s fault that most of their members are white, and that this leads to uncomfortable undiverse events. I know people in both of these groups have worked hard to make the protests and concerts here more inclusive of non-white experiences, much harder than other groups on campus. Was it their fault that it wasn’t enough for me?
The answer is no. I don’t expect anyone to do everything, and I have no problem with those who do what they can. However, I do have one with those who don’t: the vast majority of people at this college do absolutely nothing to combat institutionalized oppression. If more people at this here actually gave a fuck about Black women, especially those of us who are queer, gender-nonconforming, fat, survivors, poor, darker skinned, etc, it would make a difference. Yes, the college itself needs to make structural changes to address these issues, but they’ll never do that without pressure from students. If the burden of existing at the intersection of these identities was addressed by more than a handful of white people, especially straight white male athletes, since they’re usually at the very top of the Middlebury hierarchy, progress would be swifter and more effective. Middlebury as an institution centers it’s decisions around this demographic, and thus they have a responsibility to work to undo that imbalance.
It’s difficult to envision a Middlebury in which white men are willing to be vulnerable enough to accept how complicit they are in these systems, and actually try to change themselves rather than act defensive or continue to live their lives as if they have no modern responsibility for the historical legacy of racism and misogyny. All the same, even though my expectations are low, and even though this piece is full of more pain and anger than most people would prefer to deal with, I really can’t get over any of the racism, isolation, assault, and other things that I’ve experienced since I’ve come to this college, and I refuse to let that go unaddressed. I am valid, and so are my experiences.