Editor’s Note: The author’s name has not been released due to the nature of this letter. This letter contains discussions of rape and sexual assault. Resources for sexual assault survivors can be found here. The University has since accepted the author’s proposal for the revised academic requirements.
I am a student at the University of Massachusetts, but my graduation date is unclear. I hope to graduate in the fall of 2022, but after running from office to office on our large campus, I’ve had mixed reviews. I was a freshman in the fall of 2018, but dropped out for the spring semester. I think context is important to this story.
I had a hard time acclimating to college. As an accomplished high school student, I took many AP classes, captained my hockey team for two years, and held several jobs over the years. I am more than happy to provide references. I took a year off to live in South Carolina and compete with my horse, then went back to school. I discovered that I was lonely, depressed, and not well versed in adapting to academia; however, I didn’t have many options to find help for my mental health. I was told that the school therapists are booking in three months, that I should just work things out with my roommate instead of moving out, or that I should withdraw from some of my tougher classes. All of these recommendations were made without enthusiasm and without any support. I turned to my only friends as I began to bend under the weight.
We went out a lot, like struggling freshmen do. Everyone says I’m lucky these details are fuzzy; I don’t remember the exact night we went out, but I remember the important parts. I remember leaving with a guy I thought I trusted (judgment of a teenage girl, right?), being brutally raped and going back to my dorm. I got home at four in the morning, lay down in the shared bathroom shower stalls, sobbed my broken heart and passed out. I came to, went back to my room, soaked and bruised, and slept another ten hours. I spent the rest of the weekend being the butt of many jokes. My friends laughed at the bruises around my throat, and I laughed with them. Where would I have learned better coping skills?
I stopped accepting invitations to go out with my friends. Everything reminded me of it. Their laughter reminded me of that night, being at the party, going away with him. I stopped going out. I thought I saw it on campus, in my classrooms, in my dorm. I spent most of my time at my horse’s stable, which I had to cycle 30 minutes one way, and frequently in the dark. I stopped eating. I took night shifts in my catering job just to get off campus, out of my dorm, and out of my head. I started watching Game of Thrones masochistically, rewatching the violent sexual assault scenes. I lay awake in my bed at night, sweating as I went in and out of nightmares. Where would I have learned better coping skills?
I still continued to take my classes! I listened to the values of Kant and the sociology of the family, I lived on my math teacher’s office hours and I slaved away on biology. Sometimes I would sit in class and jerk back into my body, like I never came back after he took it from me. I was throwing up in the bathroom, trying to get the big chunks of vomit out of my hair and going back to class. Did you know the whole Brett Kavanaugh nomination was happening at this time? I followed it like a religion.
I started out as a chemistry student, but I’ve always been drawn to this fickle thing we call the legal process. It was the academic interest of the nomination at first, but my following of the events degenerated into a morbid fascination. We’ve all watched the TV edition of what happens to abused women who come forward. I remember Christine Blasey Ford’s name better than my own on some days.
Watching Brett Kavanaugh scream, cry, and throw a general tantrum broke me a little more. I hadn’t cried over what had happened to me since some guttural sobs on the shower floor right after. And here is a grown man, using emotion to seduce his audience. Dr. Blasey Ford lost. We as a country have lost. We have a man (two, really, with Clarence Thomas) on the Supreme Court who got away with sexual assault. Brett Kavanaugh will soon hear arguments about the Texas abortion ban. Do you think he is impartial when it comes to women’s rights?
Did you know that Dr. Blasey Ford’s life is ruined?
So I stopped going out and went to my classes like my life depended on it. At the end of the semester, I took my last biology exam before senior year. It was snowing when I went out at 9 p.m. I had been studying non-stop for three weeks – memorizing the biochemicals really makes you forget what it’s like to wake up to someone having sex with your body. I was exhausted and hadn’t changed my pants for four days. But I passed! I finally decided to accept an invitation from my friends to “go out and have fun”. Their idea of pleasure went to a fraternity.
Fast forward a few hours and I incoherently try to tell someone to stop having sex with me. My God, I always end up here! Maybe it’s the true nature of girls, or the fraternity culture or some UMass thing. My friends think I was drugged, but who’s to say with teenage girls? After what felt like an eternity of trying to lift my head, I managed to walk out of the room, without keys, shoes, or dignity. My legs gave way as I walked to the porch, and I fell in the snow. After a moment or two, I dragged myself to the porch, where I lay down. There were boys on the porch, but why would they help me? It was already a great sight with a barefoot, scantily clad girl falling in the snow at their feet. Two older girls found my body.
They took me inside where I vomited for two hours. They took me home with no shoes, no keys, and still inconsistent. They told me the best thing to do was to forget what happened to me. It happened to them, and it happens to UMass all the time. I never even got the boys’ last names.
I could no longer study. My little island of safety was dragged underwater by another boy who wanted to fuck my comatose body. It was the first time I had been out in two months, and this happened to me? I had to ask, absolutely beg.
Anyway! I took my exam, which took me a Herculean effort to get out of bed, and I put my things away. I dropped. “If this is what it takes to be a student at UMass, I don’t have it,” I thought to myself. I took my pretty little 2.3 GPA, a diminished sense of self-worth, an irreparably damaged perception of confidence, and a freshly healed throat, and got angry all over again in South Carolina. Imagine being 19, violently traumatized, and watching Dr. Blasey Ford get eviscerated by the general public for coming forward. If you expected me to report what happened to me, do you think you could? Do you think you could have handled this situation admirably at 19?
I know you probably love a comeback story like everyone else, so yeah, I came back to UMass. I received a 4.0 each semester I came back and currently have a 3.7. Here is the real reason for my bloody story: I tried for years to come back from those five worst months of my life. I qualify for an incomplete medical exam, but I would have to attend the University for another semester to resume classes. I can retroactively pass/fail a class, but not a gen-ed. Or I can take my GPA and face what I’ve been treated to.
However, I’ve changed since being fucked in a pool of my own vomit at a fraternity. I am now a dual degree major and foreign language minor. I’m going to law school and hope to graduate after that. I want to practice law and I want to be the best. I want to go to a great law school, but it’s almost impossible without the right GPA, among other things. I am confident in my ability to provide everything else for a law school application to one of the top ten schools.
Let’s review my options. I can continue to fight against this straitjacket that I surround myself with in pain after being raped. I can erase it from my record, but work twice as hard to get a $12,000 overhaul and try to pretend it never happened (but it’ll still be a neat reminder of what those boys gave me done on my transcript). I can take my modest GPA and go to a reasonable law school. There’s nothing wrong with any of these options; however, the message I get is that it is my responsibility. I’m responsible for what those boys did to me. I have to get out of this hole, alone.
So I ask for a way out of this hole. I request a pass/fail for each of my courses starting in the fall 2018 semester. If the University has the means to allow the pass/fail of gen-eds and major requirements during the 19″, I expect the same courtesy. I am happy that my psychiatrist is writing to support my proposal and I am happy to explain my reasoning in more detail.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Anonymous UMass student