What It’s Like to Start College With Kavanaugh’s Trial in the News

The beginning of college can be a confusing and overwhelming time, especially when every headline is a sexual assault trigger.

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Sean Gladwell
Sean Gladwell

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“You shouldn’t apply to that college, Georgia. I’ve been here over three years now. And, don’t get me wrong, I love it, but I would never allow my little sister to step foot on this campus.”

I distinctly remember receiving this piece of advice from a brother-like figure as he spoke about his own top-tier university, which shall remain unnamed.

It was the fall of my senior year, and the stress of college decisions was weighing on me. I didn’t even realize sexual harassment and assault was yet another thing to consider amidst the chaos of application season. I felt naive, then I felt guilty that I should even blame myself, and finally I felt mad that I knew I had to worry. I don’t think he necessarily intended to make me feel these things, but the cool detachment with which he gave his “advice” shook me to my core — even more so than the actual warning itself. He looked me dead in the eyes and identified a problem in a culture, a culture that he was a part of. And regardless of intentions, he showed me why it’s so much easier to approach social problems through a lens of apathy and disconnect. When we talk about injustice as a faceless act, it morphs into normalized practice, and its facilitators no longer feel responsibility or remorse.

“What were you wearing?” “How much did you drink?” “How were you dancing?” “Did you walk home alone?” “Were you flirting?” “Did you ever say ‘no’?”

This is the only way in which society invites victims out of their silence. And, let’s not sugarcoat it, these questions all really boil down to one thing: “Were you asking for it?”

In my first year of college that kind of rhetoric feels like routine. It’s that same toxic inaction which drives injustice into the mainstream. So at my first frat party the drink everyone was drinking was called “jungle juice.” When I asked what was in it, people thought it was cute. I realized it’s because no one really knows. It’s just a sugary mess of a mix of whatever the brothers have on hand.

And just a few days after this first party, I read about Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. Then just the thought of all the sugar in the jungle juice made me sick to my stomach. I thought about how I am the same age as Kavanaugh was, and I know the definition of consent: Youth cannot be an excuse. I thought about how I’ve made so many male-identifying friends, and they are self-aware and kind. Gender cannot be an excuse…

And then I thought about the environment and the warnings I’d received when applying to college. Witnesses recalled Kavanaugh’s friend group as a “wolfy group of guys.” There again was that faceless misconception of injustice, that cowardice in numbers, that animalistic culture of apathy, and suddenly it all made sense that college parties felt like a jungle. There are predators and prey, and we are taught to believe that this is as natural as the food chain.

After all, “boys will be boys.”

My sister used to tell me about a bathroom at her school where girls wrote down the names of male students who had harassed or assaulted them. The bathroom stalls functioned simultaneously as confessionals and jail cells. Unfortunately, the victim was the only one trapped, and, although the scribbles were liberated warnings, the reality was still unwelcoming to actual justice.

Sexual assault is unforgivable, and I feel so sad hearing all the excuses in the news. I’m sad that men are involuntarily having their identity used as a scapegoat and that females are arbitrarily being made to feel voiceless as a result.

Accountability should not be a thing of the past. Silence gives license to perpetrators. So, as a young woman in her freshman fall, I am grateful for Christine Blasey Ford, who has courageously called out injustice. I am grateful for every victim, who has scribbled her truth on the bathroom stall. I am grateful to have allies, to have a voice, and to have hope.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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