Take Back the Night

 

I sit in a chair, ankles crossed, knees clamped, arms crossed.  I spoke at this event last year, so why do I feel that black sludge of shame, doubt, guilt, and questions knocking at the back of my throat?  I thought I was ok.  I haven't thought about it in months.  Then again, I don't think about much anymore besides school, body, and sleep...and maybe Netflix.  

"I wasn't going to speak tonight," are the words that start off many of the stories.  They're the words that started my story last year.  I stare at the people who come up to the podium to talk.  Some of them bounce up, some flip-flop up, some shuffle.  Most everyone leans on the sturdy wooden podium, microphone adjustments are made and stories come tumbling forward between hiccups, giggles, tears, and tentative "um's."  I've never heard such eloquence, and I say that sincerely.  Davidson students might be fantastic at class presentations, and sounding inspiring, intelligent, and strong.  But these are the strongest presentations I have seen since... well... last year's event.

There are more stories here this year of experiences that happened outside Davidson's campus, and boundaries.  International experiences are detailed, showing me that Bursting the Bubble had some impact on our campus.  One woman stands and says that she won't pretend everything is ok when it's not.  She says it doesn't have to be ok.  With anything.  I crouch smaller somehow.

Secondary survivors and survivors of experiences before Davidson share the effects of these experiences on their lives here.  Now.  They live with the hurt and the pain, internalizing messages of severity, authenticity, and shame.  So many people spoke about they had told themselves it was their fault for some reason, and most every one of those people chastised themselves for saying that and validated themselves.  In those moments the strength and simultaneous chagrin lit up these speakers' features.  

There was another spark that lit up more faces than last year- the spark of anger.  A sense of lonliness, powerlessness, and resentment fueled some of the comments.  In light of the topsy-turvy year this campus has had regarding sexual assault, it is no surprise that these comments were more common this year.  It is the opinion of this writer that these comments, and directives to this school are well-deserved.  But I will also say that we are lucky to be here, in a place where we have access to the people in power.  Many were there, albeit for a very short time, to hear our stories.  

I think about my own experience once in a blue moon.  Typically I follow the Davidson mantra of "it's fine becuase I have a lot to do" and I don't think about it.  But this day made me realize how deeply I had internalized what happened to me.  I'm going to follow the company line here and say: It wasn't that bad, I'm not sure what even happend, and really, I'm ok.  But I realized today that my experience had caused me to embody the message that I am an object, something for someone else's use.  I may not truly think this, but after years of subtle media messaging and social norming and then this- I started treating myself like an object for real, doubling down on efforts I had half-heartedly been pursuing.  I realized that's why I was sitting in a ball by the end of the night.  The stories and the insights that these brave people had shared spoke to me, each in a different way.  I can only write about that experience because I don't want to speak for others, and I certainly will not share the stories that aren't my own.  

This was one night on campus, and I would say we took it back, but as one of the speakers said "we need to take back all the nights."  I agree.  We need to take back the nights before things happen, reclaim the nights after things happen, offer help and love instead of diminshing pain, and for the love of God (or whatever diety or all-knowing being or idol) we need to watch out for each other-- before and after the fact.