Opinion

Sharing a degree with your rapist

What does a college degree mean when it’s shared with your rapist? This is a question I’ve been asking myself recently. In the beginning of my sophomore year at Macalester, I was raped by a friend and fellow student. It took me a year to report him to the school, not only because it took me months to acknowledge it for what it was, but because I didn’t want him to be faced with the guilt of having done that to me. He was my friend after all, and people make mistakes.

When he found out that I had told some of my friends what had happened, he began harassing me and threatening me unless I kept silent. So I went through the school process, and I was floored at how responsive the school was, how quickly they acted and how serious the limitations that they put on my rapist (we’ll call him Scott here) were. At the bottom of the official decision letter it said in bold: If Scott violates this order in any way, his status as a student will be severely jeopardized. I was so happy. He would have to stay away from me and if he tried anything, there would be serious action.

Or so I thought. He came within the 100 feet limit once. And then again, while staring at me. And then again in the library. I reported all of these back to my Dean of Students, and was repeatedly told that this is a small campus, and things happen. Eventually, he was not allowed to come to Winter Ball. And then at a Kagin, he approached me multiple times, glaring menacingly, blocking my path on the stairs, speaking to me and touching me. I approached the school again. Finally, this case was referred to the Macalester College Harassment Committee (MCHC). Despite my having a witness, nothing was done.

Scott is a graduating senior, so some people may wonder why I care anymore. He’ll be gone soon enough, so what if the school didn’t do anything? When he was first found responsible, I was told that the purpose of these sanctions was to help him learn from this. It is clear to me he hasn’t learned anything, and that scares me. When he gets his diploma, he will officially be a representative of what Macalester stands for, and I fear that he will represent my school as a place that protects rapists at the expense of the people they victimize.

If I return to Macalester for my senior year in the fall and get my diploma next year, I will also be representative of Macalester. For better or worse, I will be tied to Scott forever. I will also be tied to what I see as a pattern of survivors of sexual assault who are forced to watch their school choose to protect the future of criminals over their own safety. My fear is that if I stay, I will become a silent accomplice to rape. Not just to my own rape, but to the future people I believe Scott will victimize.

I love Macalester. In my Early Decision application I wrote the school a love letter. No, I’m not joking or speaking metaphorically. I proposed to Macalester College. This feeling has not changed. I know that Macalester handles sexual assault much more effectively than most colleges. But being better than the worst can’t be enough, and it is not enough for me. It shouldn’t be enough for any of us to let our school tie us to criminals. I want my Macalester degree to be associated with the amazing people I see everyday, but when we allow predators to graduate without having to learn from their mistakes, we are ensuring that our school’s reputation will be determined by their future actions.

Whether or not I stay at Macalester, I still have the power in my relationship with Scott. The difference between something that is private and something that is a secret is fear. Scott is going to live his life afraid that someone will find out what he did. And so I want to say a few things to Scott: You’re graduating soon, and the police aren’t pressing charges and you may think you’ve gotten away with what you did to me. But wherever you go, I need you to know that I know that you raped me. Wherever I get my degree from, I will look at it with pride. Your Macalester degree will always be a reminder of what you’ve done, and of the woman who is out there, surviving and talking about it with no shame, rigidity or antagonization.

May 3, 2013

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