Erika Buiter–Staff Writer
Dordt’s campus is beautiful in the late summer. The trees are still in their full-but-fading summer glory and freshmen are getting a sense of the campus. Everyone is excited, anticipating. I love feeling that excitement in my classes and in conversations.
At lunch early on in the semester, I met some new freshmen. Bright-eyed, a little bit unsure, but totally confident—excited—that this is the place they should be. We talked about the Show from WOW week. They said the actors were funny even though the skits dealt with tough topics. And they thought the consent video was funny.
It’s not the word I would use to describe a lack of consent. It’s not the word I would use to describe the tense, sick feeling I get when I pass certain spots. It’s not the word I use when I pack pepper spray, a whistle, and a pocket knife into my backpack. A 2015 report by the Association of American Universities states that every year “23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males experience rape or sexual assault [in college] through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.” That’s just undergraduate students, and it includes private colleges.
My freshman year, I found out that my friend became part of that 23.1 percent.
It was a weekend night. I knew my friend was hanging out with a guy and a mutual friend. I got some incoherent text-messages from her, and it sounded to me like she had had sex. I could tell she was drunk from the texts. I was worried and scared, but I didn’t know where she was, so I didn’t know what to do.
The next morning, I came to my friend’s dorm. She told me that the guy made her four cranberry vodkas. She said she drank all of them—she didn’t know how much alcohol that was. She told us she got separated from the mutual friend she was with. Then, she said the guy offered to drive her back to her dorm—but he didn’t. She told us she remembered that he drove her to a distant parking lot, had sex with her, then left her at the door of her residence hall. When she told us on Saturday morning, we knew that her drinking probably meant she couldn’t consent. The next night, her roommate convinced her to go to the hospital to report it, getting the ball rolling for investigation by campus and the police.
After months, she told us that he was expelled and kicked off campus. We felt lucky.
More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses don’t report. And even when they do, it is a long process.
Before this particular student was expelled, we ran into him in the hallways, at a play, on campus. We always made sure someone was walking with my friend. Every time we saw him, I gripped my backpack tighter and held my keys in-between my fingers, angry and terrified and protective all at once.
I still don’t feel safe.
Most days, I walk on campus and see so much beauty. I see wonderful people who are so genuinely kind and welcoming and warm. I see the staff and faculty who work hard to make sure that Dordt is the place it is. I see posters that educate about consent, even pamphlets this year—a marked improvement. But I can’t forget what happened. I can’t go to the place where she said it happened.
Rape, in general, is a hard topic to talk about. Before college, I didn’t know how to talk about it. I veered between internal victim blaming and external silence. It’s hard to understand how rape affects someone. We try to empathize, think—what if it was my sister, brother, friend? Except when you think about it like that, we unconsciously exclude the other—the slut, the loner, the person who we don’t have a connection to. We categorize people thinking we know their story.
But we don’t.
You don’t know what a person has gone through until you listen. Until you walk alongside them, trying to support them through denial, disbelief, anger, depression, fear, apathy, hopelessness, whatever rollercoaster of emotions they are on. You cover for them when they can’t come to class, and you keep their secrets until they’re ready to share. You’ll never fully understand it all—but you try. You listen to the survivors’ stories. You learn.
This is what I wanted to say to those bright-eyed freshmen. But I didn’t. My friend and I shared glances, and my thoughts percolated, and so I wrote this. Why?
Because consent isn’t funny.
Consent will never be funny. Sure, a video comparing it to tea may be humorous. It places it in that context to make you more comfortable. But at its core, consent is crucial for not just college freshmen, but everyone. Don’t ignore the new pamphlets, the posters, the tea-videos, and most of all, the stories. Educate yourself. Educate your friends. Empathize with the victims that you find hardest to relate to. When you meet someone who thinks consent is funny, casual, overstated or unimportant—don’t wait to speak up. I know I should have said something to those freshmen.
I won’t make the same mistake again.