I’m scared of Ann Arbor
cw: sexual harassment + bodily harm
My hands start shaking when I think of going back to campus. Trembling with fear and anger. I can’t help but be angry when I realize how naive and unprepared we all are as newbies trying to grapple with what is called the “college experience”.
It all started with staring. I really wanted to make new friends after the welcome week, series of parties and formal events for arriving students at the beginning of each school year were scattered around campus due to COVID-19. When a student asked me to sit with me for dinner after I felt his eyes boring into my diaphragm in the dining room, I hesitantly said yes – I had to start meeting people and making friends.
It’s no secret that sexual harassment and assault are rampant on college campuses. The documentary “The Hunting Ground” examined the experiences of two former students with sexual assault and the failure of their university to help them. Every year the University of Michigan publishes numerous reports highlighting worrying statistics on the subject. From July 2019 to June 2020, there were 157 reports of sexual assault and 135 other harassment, misconduct, or stalking. While these statistics are revealing, they are incomplete – only 20% of female student victims report their experience to law enforcement agencies. Even so, I always thought with certainty that I could tell if I was in an inappropriate situation … right?
After staring, the inappropriate questions came within just an hour of meeting and seemed so harmless at the time. Wow, I thought, I’m finally making adult college buddies! So I talked to him again.
You are probably thinking, “Why should you put yourself in this position?” I ask myself this question too. All I can tell you is that I was isolated. I didn’t have a roommate and due to the housing restrictions of COVID-19, the only souls I saw were workers in the dining room and the group of silverfish scurrying across the floor of my room at 4 a.m.
Then the more I hung out with him, the more I noticed the jokes. I saw the smile he exchanged in the group of our mutual friends after he asked me: “Tampons or pads?” Everyone laughed. The guy I thought was my friend made comments on my face across my chest, and eventually he forced me to “hugs” and tried to feel me while standing still in shock. I finally realized what was going on. Once or twice a week I would have to decide: Should I continue to live in complete isolation or be harassed?
People act like harassment, which you will notice immediately. That is not always true. In your desperation to understand what happened, you try – and sometimes you succeed – to convince yourself that it wasn’t that bad. Our parents’ generation went through this stuff all along, right?
Confused, I made myself talk to mutual friends about the subject. They were eager to excuse him and told me that “the boys just didn’t know how to treat girls”. What ever. Angrily, I confided in a close friend who I believed would support me. “Oh,” she replied. “That is not that bad. Like it’s a little bad, but not terrible. “I suppose my friend was trying to say,” I’ve heard worse “or” You will get over it. ” She wasn’t shocked or concerned about hearing about so many similar experiences. I shut up.
If no one believed that what I experienced was worth talking about, what was it about to make a fuss? I didn’t have the energy to make a fuss. I stepped inside myself and didn’t leave my bed until the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. My ubiquitous fear increased tenfold every time the people I thought were my friends called me in the middle of the night or knocked hard on my door. Lessons seemed to be far away; I couldn’t convince myself to work between my multiple tear attacks every day. While the silverfish swarmed on the bottom, I fell further and further into a spiral that never seemed to end. Embarrassed by my terrible grades and disaffected with my classes, I wriggled.
I went home after the fall semester. When I was younger, I didn’t get on with my family – our opinions hit everything under the sun. I couldn’t wait to go to college and leave the lonely suburb where I lived. But at the moment I’m just grateful that I’m in my nursery and living with people I feel safe with. Ultimately, what helped me move on was the critically acclaimed episode of Sex Education where Aimee’s friends help her deal with her attack. Your friends insist on taking the incident seriously. When I watched the episode again, I started crying. Our colleagues can break us, but I will never stop believing that they can build us up too.
But that doesn’t change what happened this year. I’m sick of college. I know it may sound ridiculous that the newbie who hasn’t been here in a year has complaints. But I’m tired of trusting the University of Michigan and believing that everything will be fine.
The fact that countless professors and administrators of the university have been accused of sexual misconduct, or that the director of the Office of Institutional Equity, which handles sexual assault cases, has faced multiple cases of mistreatment, does not surprise me. Stories of assault among the few people I met at university are rife. In the short online seminar required of all freshmen, incoming students are “warned” of the dangers of alcohol use, burnout and toxic relationships, but the subject of sexual assault is barely addressed.
When things fell apart for me, I had no idea where to start – I wasn’t sure if I wanted to report the incident, and even if I did, I had no idea where to go. My head spun as I looked at the endless forms on the university’s website – I had no idea where to start or what each option entailed. Overwhelmed, I stopped looking. There needs to be a better contact system for those who have been sexually assaulted. However, this would require the university to accept the ubiquitous culture of sexual misconduct throughout campus, which seems unlikely.
With the university’s desperation to maintain its reputation, they ignore problems plaguing their student body. Before my experience in the dormitory, I defined myself as a risk taker – now I no longer know exactly who I am.
I just want to feel safe again. I want to be able to get some fresh air without being approached with comments about my body. I want to be able to fall asleep without worrying when people who touch me without my consent knock on my door. I want to feel supported. I worry that I won’t find that support at the University of Michigan.
Ann Arbor residents, I’m sorry I can’t love your beautiful city. Given the university’s damaging choices that affect the student body and its consideration of a prevailing culture of sexual assault, it’s honestly hard to believe that I could ever feel safe in Ann Arbor.
Meera Kumar is an opinion columnist and can be reached at [email protected]