Rape: A true story

By Thuto Thipe

With the exception of my RA’s bulletin board, I don’t remember seeing any information about, or resources related to, sexual assault throughout my freshman year at Macalester.Based on this, I thought it was safe to assume that rape was something that just didn’t happen here. I assumed that, given the gravity of rape, if it was happening I would be aware of it. I assumed that the college would keep me informed in an effort to protect my safety. In any case, no one I knew at Mac would ever do such a thing. No one I lived with, went to class with or partied with would ever rape someone.

I believed this all until one day the mirage of my liberal utopia was shattered and I was faced with the painful reality that ours is not an exceptional campus but that rape happens here as it does elsewhere.

One Saturday morning a distraught and frightened friend broke down in my arms as she told me about her Friday night. She had been at a party and had some drinks, but afterwards didn’t remember more than waking up, naked, in someone else’s bed the next morning. She looked to me for guidance, but I was unable to help.

It sounded like rape, I thought it might be, but I wasn’t certain. For a moment, my desire to comfort and to support her was overshadowed by my own realization of the fragility of our safety on campus, my anger at the institutional blindness that was enabling this violence and my complete bewilderment at what to do in the situation.

Trusting first that Mac would offer us the guidance that we sought, we searched the Macalester homepage for ‘sexual assault’ hoping to find the resources we needed to discover how the college defines rape and what we should do in the event that what happened was rape.

After over an hour of searching the college’s website we were as lost as when we had first started. The most relevant information we found was that there were only three reported sex offenses at Macalester the year before, an extraordinary figure given the national average that one in every six college women is affected by sexual violence. The maze-like search for resources on how to respond to rape gave the impression that the college was under the same illusion I had been. That, “we don’t need to talk about, or provide information about, rape because it doesn’t happen here.”

But it did happen. I had proof in the form of the friend I was comforting and holding. This could not be denied. In a final act of desperation, we turned to Google to provide the information that the college had not. We quickly discovered that what happened to my friend was clearly defined as rape.

My friend decided that she would go to Winton the first thing Monday morning, trusting that there she could get the medical help that she needed and also find out about the college’s policy regarding such crimes and the options that she had available to her.

I cannot imagine how difficult those two days must have been for her when Winton was closed and she thought that she had no other option but to wait for regular office hours to resume. Having braved through the weekend, desperately in need of help, she made her way to Winton, Monday morning, only to be met with a sign on Winton’s door, “CLOSED FOR STAFF TRAINING.” Confronted with another devastating setback, I remember her explaining how it seemed that the college was “closed” on the issue of rape and how quickly she was losing hope.

Recent activities on campus, hosted by student organizations such as Feminists in Action/Students Together Against Rape and Sexual Assault (FIA/STARSA), have aimed to open the campus to discussion, information, and general awareness on sexual assault. This increased student pressure for access to information, as well as emergency and preventative resources, has resulted in greater student, faculty, and staff accessibility to resources from the college.

Although this year the college’s awareness campaign on sexual assault has been modest, at best, it is still a marked improvement from last year. Student mobilization against, and expressed dissatisfaction with, the college’s weak response to sexual assault on campus has led to promises from college officials to provide permanent fixtures with information and resources for students.

Furthermore, the college has proposed plans to actively support initiatives to improve safety on campus. This is proving to be a cause for hope, an indicator of the possibility for change and improvement that benefits the community at large.

Such change has been made possible because of the expression of student voices, indicating that in order to create the environment so many of us desire, we collectively need to engage in dialogue, promote preventative awareness, and stop denying the pain that affects so many of our friends.

We have the choice, without student engagement, to maintain the facade of complete safety and a rape-free campus, turning a blind-eye to existing vulnerabilities and abuses, or we can claim ownership of our campus to create the type of environment we want.

Thuto Thipe ’10 can be reached at

[email protected]