Loud, boisterous activism––it’s seen almost on a daily basis here at Swarthmore from many different groups, unabashedly pledging their allegiance to causes they genuinely care about. It’s not something I was used to growing up around and as a result, the passion displayed by some was a bit overwhelming when I first arrived at Swarthmore. Nonetheless, I am fascinated by the courage that is manifested in the students who take the initiative to fight for their beliefs and guide discussion on campus.
Free speech is most definitely a right, but on this campus, in particular, it’s something special. Here, we have people in positions of power who are willing to support our voices. We have students who will sign petitions in solidarity when they feel marginalized voices are being unfairly silenced. Our ability to speak up is something that I personally view as a privilege, and I am grateful for it every day. Although the limit to which we can do so in light of recent events is arguable.
Despite extreme controversy and student campaigns that ran against my own beliefs, I have never once discounted the efforts of campus activists or their freedom to speak their mind. But yesterday, when I came across a sign taped up in the Sharples bathroom that read “Swat Protects Rapists,” I couldn’t help but feel my heart drop. I’m sure the motives and intentions of those who posted these signs were pure, but the means, to me, seemed to be unfortunately misguided.
At the end of my senior year of high school, I was sexually assaulted by one of my best friends. The event pretty much destroyed me, to the point where I carried it with me all the way across state lines and thought the weight would see me to the grave. It’s a scary thing, coming to college, expecting to start over, only to realize that you can’t run away from ghosts that haunt you from right off your own back.
When I saw that poster, the hurt, the pain, and the anger I had once felt all came rushing back. Except this time, it wasn’t just mine. To the person who put up those posters, I think the emotions I felt were some of yours as well.
People react to the same events differently. After my assault, I chose to drown myself in work as a distraction. With the exception of a few close friends who knew the story, I didn’t reach out to anyone. I craved normalcy, so I did everything I could possibly do in my power to get there, even though normalcy is something I admittedly might never have again.
The person who put up the posters has clearly chosen a more vocal route, and I admire them so much for being able to act upon something so personal because I could never have done the same. But as disappointing as it is, there are nuances to every situation that make it difficult to get justice as the victims would see fit. We have to learn how to channel our experiences into helping to improve the system, especially when we feel like it’s failed us.
Perhaps it was just the wording of the statement, but the phrase, to me, feels accusative and lost. The poster sure got people talking, but, frankly, that’s all it’s done. Context is necessary for discussion that can lead to real action. What are the specific rules that allow people not to face the full repercussions they deserve? What steps can be taken to stand in solidarity with the just side of the cause? How would such a poster impact people who have experienced the same thing? What resources are available for people who feel the same way?
I feel so fortunate to be attending an institution where students have the freedom to demonstrate their points of view in this manner. And I commend the student who felt compelled to ignite important conversations about a topic as serious as this. But this is an issue that deserves more than three words printed on a piece of paper. It’s more complicated than this campaign lets on. This situation is more personal than it is politics.
I truly hope justice––in whatever form it may take––is served. My only wish is that we are mindful about how we go about getting it.
Featured image courtesy of Margaret Hughes ’17.