Trigger Warning: Rape, Gross Administrative Negligence
To the Administration of Vassar College,
I’m a first-year student here. Vassar was my dream school. It was the first college I ever toured, and I immediately fell in love with the campus, the people, and the spirit that permeated every facet of the college. When I moved in, I immediately felt at home and was beyond excited to start the adventure that I’d been looking forward to ever since I was accepted. About two and a half weeks into the school year, that all changed.
It was a Thursday night, the first Mug Night of the year. A group of us decided to go; there was a show that some friends of ours were attending. We started drinking in my friend Liam’s* room around 9 pm, and by the time it was 10pm and we finally made it to the Mug, I had consumed one full water bottle of vodka, far too much for me to handle.
My friends realized this and soon after arriving I left the Mug with Sarah* to return to Liam’s room. This is where I began to black out. We were walking across the Quad until suddenly– nothing, my mind was completely blank. Next thing I knew, I was being propped up on Liam’s bed. I had somehow made it back, yet I had no recollection of how. My vision was fuzzy, and my body felt limp and weak. Something smelled. I looked down, and Sarah was sitting on the floor, scrubbing at the duvet. I didn’t understand what she was doing until my inebriated brain connected the dots, and I realized she was scrubbing away at vomit. My vomit. I became hysterical, fearing that Liam would hate me for ruining his bed. I vomited again, and slipped back into a blacked out state.
The next thing I knew, Liam’s roommate, someone I considered a good friend, was on top of me, having sex with me. I could hear him say something, and I would have screamed if I could have found my voice in the back of my throat. My head felt so heavy, my body was out of my control. Nothing made sense, it was just pressure and pain and terror. I wanted to die. And then, as if my drunken brain understood all of this and wanted to save me from all the pain I was feeling, I once again slipped back into a blacked out state. I remember afterwards standing far from the bed, shaking, crying, and screaming, begging him to stay away from me. I remember him trying to calm me down, and then we were sitting on his bed talking and I started to forget why I was so sad. I was intoxicated beyond cognizant awareness, and thus it was easy for my mind to forget about the horrific event that had just occurred. Then there was once again nothing, a gap in my memory so to speak, and the next thing I remember I was back in my own dorm, frantically searching for my bedroom so I could fall asleep and put the whole night behind me.
The next day was filled with confusion and pain. I woke up feeling sore and perplexed. I talked to Liam that morning at breakfast. I apologized for having vomited on his bed and promised to clean it up. He told me about the previous night’s adventures, who he’d seen at the Mug, and we laughed and talked like normal. Then I told him that his roommate and I had had sex the night before. Liam was floored. He explained to me what had gone on the night before, and helped me fill in the gaps in my memory that led me to the conclusion that I had been raped. After I got sick, Liam had specifically told his roommate that I had vomited on his bed, and that I was far too drunk to go back out or even make it home, so I was going to sleep in their room. Liam then explained to me that when they left me, I was asleep in bed. His roommate was completely sober.
I didn’t understand. None of it made sense to me. If I had been that drunk, why did he think it was okay to even get in bed with me, to have sex with me? How could someone know that I had vomited, seen me passed out, known that I was extremely intoxicated, and still decide it was okay to do what he did to me? I didn’t know what to do. He had hurt me, yes, but he was also my friend. I wanted to feel safe and okay on this campus, but I didn’t want to do anything that was going to ruin his life or hurt him. Maybe he just made a mistake, I reassured myself. I’m sure he would never do something like that again.
I spent the rest of the weekend having incessant panic attacks, vomiting constantly, and crying, screaming and hyperventilating for seemingly endless amounts of time. Come Monday morning, I realized I had to do something to make myself feel better, or at the very least safe. I decided to report what had happened to the school. Perhaps it was naïve of me, but I truly believed that Vassar was a victim-centric school, and that the people here, especially the student body, would support and believe me. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
Most of my friends here who know what happened have been absolutely incredible. They are so supportive and deal with my many emotions and mood swings as I struggle to cope with what happened. However, there have been particular groups of people that have severely disappointed me. Young men here who I was formerly friends with decided to take his “side,” and now completely ignore me. Young women here that I did not know as well did the same, which breaks my heart given that I know if another woman ever came forward with a story like mine, I would support her unequivocally. It deeply saddens me that there are people on this campus who would believe and support a rapist over a survivor.
I have been waiting two months to feel better, to feel safe, to feel okay, and I am still waiting. Our school is small, and I see my perpetrator and his friends on almost a daily basis. Every time I do, it is a struggle to hold my head up and not break down crying. I have had multiple occasions where I have seen him and all of his friends in the dining hall and have had to rush to the bathroom to vomit, my body’s way of reacting to the fear they instill in me. I have fallen behind in nearly every class, and was forced to drop a course I really enjoyed because for the first two weeks after the incident I could not even bear to drag myself out of bed to attend classes. My relationships with different friends have been strained immensely or terminated entirely, which is painful beyond belief. I have been going to counseling once a week every week since the incident, and though it helps, not a day goes by where I don’t picture the moment when I came to and he was on top of me, inside of me, violating me.
This incident is not a part of my life; it is my entire life. It permeates every second of my being. Whether I am in class, at a party, eating a meal, doing homework, it is always there, on my mind, incessantly. It makes me sick to my stomach to even think about it now.
I spent two months meeting with a variety of administrators, investigators, counselors and advocates and I was treated in mainly two ways: coldly and heartlessly. I had to meet with DB Brown, the Vassar Dean of Students, to discuss an unrelated incident involving alcohol, and even though he briefly acknowledged the fact that I was in the process of an investigation, he focused far more heavily on the fact that underage drinking is unethical and wrong. While perhaps a normal conversation for him to have with a student, this was a horrible thing for a victim of sexual assault to hear, especially as I was grappling with the role alcohol played in my assault and struggling not to blame myself. The fact that he acknowledged that I was in the midst of this process and then chose to ignore that and make the entirety of the meeting a lecture about drinking was confusing to say the least. Is underage drinking a bigger issue on this campus than rape? The whole meeting was over in five minutes. I had gone in expecting comfort and support from the person who is charged with the protection and well-being of the student body, and instead, left sobbing. In reaction to this, I met with Julian R. Williams, the Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. I let him know what had occurred and how deeply it had affected me, and when the friend who came with me to the meeting asked Julian if it would be possible for me to not meet with DB anymore, he quite literally laughed in our faces. The administrators most deeply involved in this process do not treat victims like victims. I was never once asked if I was okay, how I was coping. There was no Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention (SAVP) coordinator available to help me through this crucial process, and as a recent Miscellany News article well pointed out, there is no hurry on behalf of the administration to hire one. By not placing this at the forefront of their agenda, something that would help alleviate the pain that victims of rape and sexual assault experience, it sends a lasting message that these issues are unimportant. Everything about this process was ultimately cold, sterile, and terrifying, and I reached a point in the process where I had to ask myself: am I more afraid of my perpetrator or this school?
After two months of these re-victimizing meetings, the day of the panel finally arrived. Though I tried to prepare myself mentally as best I could, nothing could ready me for the terror that rushed through me when I had to hear my perpetrator’s voice for the first time in months, or the shame and sadness I felt as the investigator emotionlessly read the summary of the investigation.
Despite the fact that there was an overwhelming amount of evidence pointing towards his responsibility, and multiple witnesses attesting to the same, the panel found him not guilty.
After reviewing the panel’s decision, it was clear that the question was not whether or not I had been assaulted, but whether or not there was enough evidence to prove that my perpetrator was aware that I was incapable of consent, which they deemed there was not. Not only was this an outrageous decision based on the evidence available, but it perpetuates a truly disgusting idea: that someone cannot be held responsible for sexual assault if they weren’t aware that what they were doing was sexual assault. Being sober, he was the only of the two of us blessed with awareness at that moment, as I was unconscious.
After the decision was read, I ran out of the room, sobbing hysterically. I was followed out by the chairman who thanked me for coming and asked my support person if I would be okay. That was that.
I appealed this decision, but based on prior actions, I have little hope that Vassar will at this point do what is necessary to ensure my safety in an environment that has been falsely portrayed as welcoming, supportive, and safe.
I say this because I have zero reason to lie or fabricate, whereas a perpetrator of sexual assault has every conceivable incentive to lie. I have been overwhelmed with guilt by even reporting what happened. I endured an awful two-month long investigation process after reporting. I faced scrutiny from a multitude of people, and was forced to retell what happened to me over and over again. Never in a million years could I fathom why anyone would choose to endure the pain of this process if something this horrible did not actually happen to them. This is my story, this really happened, and anyone who chooses to believe his side of things over the truth of the situation needs to reevaluate why, and take a good look at their understanding of what consensual sex is.
Through this decision, Vassar College is telling my rapist and the entire student body that sexual assault is okay, that rape is okay, and that those who commit such acts will not be held accountable. As first-year students, we participated in countless orientation activities that focused heavily on the idea of consent and what that means. It is painful and absurd for a school that tells its students that consent is enthusiastic, clear, and sober to then not hold him accountable.
According to Vassar’s own policies regarding sexual assault, as well as state and federal laws: what happened to me was rape. Based on Vassar’s definitions of consent, incapacitation, and guidelines regarding sexual misconduct: my rapist should have been held responsible for his actions. The SAVP website, in fact, has a picture-quote (below) that addresses and supports my case, and yet they can’t practice what they flagrantly preach. The administration cannot and should not continue this convenient guise of caring, when ultimately people who explicitly violate these guidelines are never actually held accountable. Lulling students into a false sense of safety and then kicking them to the curb is as toxically painful and frustrating as it is hypocritical.
I am writing this letter to implore you to hold my rapist and yourselves, the administration, accountable for all the promises you make to the members of this community. This institution “prides” itself on its victim-centric and zero tolerance approach to sexual assault, yet rarely is this crime on our campus. or any campus for that matter, brought to justice. This is only my account of sexual assault, I cannot and do not speak for anyone else who has experienced such a horrible experience. I do, however, hope that by putting my story out there, I will be able to raise awareness of the severity of this issue on Vassar’s campus, and help create a safe space where others can share their own stories in order for everyone to understand their gravity. I am writing this letter so Vassar College can recognize the negligence with which they have handled my case, and ask the administration to seriously reevaluate the nature of the evidence and the the way they interpreted the facts available when looking at my appeal. I am calling Vassar to action, and implore that the right decision is made by removing a sexual assailant from this campus, making this a safer space not only for me but for all female-identifying students who could fall victim to him as well. If Vassar fails to do so, then it is not only perpetuating and condoning a falsified image of security for its students, but allowing a rapist to freely roam its campus as an innocent man.
*Names have been changed
**As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I did not include the name of my rapist. It is not because I don’t wish to disclose this information. I have no interest in protecting the individual who has destroyed my sense of well-being, my happiness, my life. However, based on the way certain students have reacted prior to my public account of this story, I fear far more backlash if I do release his name. I have made this decision in reaction to the unsafe space I feel I am in and in order to protect myself and my friends.
UPDATE AS OF 4:35PM MONDAY, DECEMBER 1ST:
Ellie’s appeal has been rejected. Below is a copy of the document sent to her to break the news.