Author: Anonymous Grinnellian

Fear of Missing Out

How often do alcohol and substance abuse-related problems stem from a fear of missing out? I’m writing this as I’m sitting in my room playing video games instead of drinking on a Friday night. No, that’s not a boast about how innocent and sub-free I am. In fact, as I check my friends’ and acquaintances’ Snapchat stories (whose contact information I’ve mostly acquired in the Harris bathroom), I feel a deep pit form in my stomach. That sensation is fear. Fear that I’m missing out on making friends and gaining social capital just because I’ve decided to have a relaxing night, that I know my introverted and mentally ill self really needs. Everyone on Snapchat is having fun, and they’re having fun without me. Those Snapchat stories probably don’t tell the whole story of a likely average night, but they are a cruel taunt to someone with a desperate need to be liked who couldn’t find the energy to leave her room. Seeing my peers live up their college weekend nights makes me feel guilty that instead of making connections with my classmates (whom I will “forget” to talk to on Monday), I am having a restful night in. That’s pretty messed up.

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What is Home

It’s family weekend, and over the rim of a red solo cup I murmur that my mother is visiting the next day. The face of the girl next to me lights up as she exclaims, “That’s great! You must be so happy to see her again!” Someone nearby turns around and says, “You’re so lucky! I wish my parents could come more often.” After I look down and stammer something about it not being a good thing, he sternly says, “Hey, you should be grateful for this. She’s coming all the way out to Iowa just to see you. Even if you’re sometimes annoyed by her, know that she always loves you.” The girl nods in agreement. Looking at me, she says, “I can’t wait to go home again. Where’s home for you?” My home is Grinnell College, but she won’t accept that as a response. She keeps repeating, “No, where’s your home?” as if I hadn’t answered that already.

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Sexuality

Sexuality is not a phase. It is not a joke. It is as much of a person’s identity as their hair color or eye color, or DNA.

So why doesn’t everyone take it seriously? Or rather, why doesn’t everyone take bisexuality seriously? It’s a minor annoyance, but a valid one nonetheless.

The first time I hear of bisexuality, I am thirteen years old, at the Duke TIP program. My friend and I are walking around the campus, arms linked in one another. When we pass two boys, she separates from me, so they “won’t think we’re bi.” She giggles, and then says “Or maybe they’d like us better if we were.” The word instantly possesses a negative connotation. I don’t know what bi means, or is. I do not ask.

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Anyone

I don’t know how exactly this began. Maybe you said you liked my shirt, or maybe I offered to grind on you or maybe somehow, the Harris crowd pushed us together to dance, in that strange, serendipitous way that it often does. But here we are, and you’re holding me and I’m pumping my hips against you, feeling you harden beneath me as I stroke your face.

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On the Purchase of the Golf Course: A Treatise on Administrative Obligations to the Student Body

Who among you has paused to contemplate the nature of this institution we call home? Surely, Grinnell would not like to think of itself as an ambling ambiguity. This place must have some reason for existing, some purpose to fulfill, and consequently, insofar as it aims to fulfill this purpose, it must have some awareness of that purpose. Indeed, the College does claim to have this awareness. It boasts of its academic rigor and its commitment to social justice. Perhaps you have never paused to speculate over this institution’s function, or its obligations, or whether our College succeeds at satisfying its function, its obligations. But that is dubious. Certainly you have taken at least a moment—in between class, or in the few minutes that precede your nightly slumber—to entertain this most important of questions. And, undoubtedly, you will agree that among the multifarious obligations this establishment has, it has an inexorable commitment to its students; not only to your education, or to our housing or safety, but also to our well-being. Would it be presumptuous to assume that there can be none among you who will disagree? One should hope not.

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Sad, messy, angry truth

by anonymous student

image by Clare Roberts ’16

cw: sexual violence

Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror in my bathroom before I take a shower. I pull the towel aside and I look at myself and I try to like what I see. I try to be okay with my body and its scars – which sometimes only I can see. And then I try the words out, I whisper them: I was sexually assaulted. I was sexually assaulted last summer, and I was sexually assaulted a few years ago, the summer after my senior year of high school.

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A Look to the Future: What Happens When SAs Go Away

*The authors of this piece wish to remain anonymous in order to avoid retaliation from the administration and their supervisors in Residence Life.

 

Let’s be real, the proposed changes to the SA contracts, while absolutely abhorrent, have been a long time coming. Certain administrators don’t really like the way substances are used and abused on our campus—and to be honest, neither do I. I’ve been a Student Advisor and an involved community member who has seen a lot of bad things happen to a lot of good people because of substances, but I recognize that the reason we have so many problems is that we’re not addressing the underlying causes of the extreme substance abuse on our campus (along with every other college campus, for that matter). We don’t have adequate mental health care in Grinnell, especially not if you’ve been a victim of trauma. We don’t have resources for identifying and helping students with substance abuse problems (not appropriately trained resources, at least). What we do have is a new Dean of the College whose actions demonstrate that he believes that destroying students’ best resource—the SAs—is the way to solve these substance problems.

The SA contract change is about nothing more than clamping down on drug and alcohol abuse, particularly illicit drug use. It’s not meant to bolster “the community”, as the name “Community Advisor” might suggest. Rather, the change is meant to turn our SAs into every other college’s RAs—people mandated to ‘write-up’ first and ask questions later. The contracts are worded vaguely enough that the folks in Student Affairs and the offices that they report to can effectively deny that this is what is actually going on. The changes should be viewed in the context of actions Residence Life has already taken to impose cultural change through the SAs.

In the fall of 2014, Residence Life announced that SAs & House Coordinators would be mandatory reporters starting in the upcoming school year, meaning that they would be required to report students for drug offenses if they saw or smelled marijuana in their residence halls. The reason this policy did not go into immediate effect was because SAs and HCs refused to comply. But Residence Life has communicated a clear interest, both this year and last, in making Student Staff mandatory reporters for marijuana, and at SA training this year they refused to give a clear answer as to whether SAs & HCs could become mandatory reporters in the next year or two. So despite the neutral language of the contract, emphasizing “walk-throughs,” and an “on-call” rotation system, students should keep firmly in mind that there is a more destructive precedent set by these responsibilities. If Student Staff members accept these changes, the impacts to the community could compound quite easily.

We all dreaded this day since we first arrived at Grinnell: a place where you could ask for help without fear of reproach, of punishment. A place where we could talk about our issues with our SAs and know that they would help us, not report us. It was a crucial part of self-gov that drew me, and many of you, to our little oasis in the cornfields. But it is an oasis no longer.

Times have changed. You may not see it yet, but next year we are going to return to a completely different school. Any sense of trust and community that SAs worked year after year to foster will be gone. Trust in the community will be replaced with fear and paranoia at the realization that the person on your floor who is supposed to help you is contractually obligated to write you up if you step out of line. Who is going to come to these new CAs for help? Not me, that’s for sure. How can you be honest with someone whose job it is to punish you for the exact problems for which you might be trying to seek help?

As if that’s not damage enough to campus, the advent of CAs will cause parties to move off-campus, away from the people who are supposed to help in a crisis. It will increase chances of people getting busted crossing 6thAve., or worse, getting hit by a car while stumbling home drunk because a High Street party was the only place their CA couldn’t write them up. It’ll mean that more and more people are going to get into dangerous situations without an SA to help them—to make sure they get home okay or to walk them through their resources when something bad happens. How many of you have been on the receiving end of an SA’s tireless devotion to keeping people safe? How many of you got water or food or condoms at parties during NSO from SAs who were only there because they care so much about this campus that they’re willing to volunteer their time and abstain from their own fun just to be sure you’re all right?

That kind of dedication is dead come next year. The minute SAs turn into CAs, that kind of support is no longer possible. SAs won’t be able to be the caring, self-gov-practicing Grinnellians that they want to be. They’ll be locked in to a contract unilaterally proposed by administrators without the help or consultation of the people it will actually affect. And make no mistake, this will affect all of us—no matter where you live, the choices about substances you make, or the actions you engage in. The sky isn’t falling yet, but there is a clear trajectory to these changes that makes the future role of Student Staff members opaque at best, and, at worst, a permanent departure from the principles of self-gov and mutual trust that have made Grinnell special.

If any of this bothers you, SA or non-SA alike, I urge you to reach out. Get mad. Email [kington], [latham], [conneran], [moschenr], [rolonjoe], and [sgaprez]. Share your concerns, your outrage. Make your voice heard while you still can. I challenge each and every one of you to stand up for the Grinnell we want to be living in. Don’t sit back and wait for someone else to save it. This will take all of us, united, if we are to have any hope of saving our self-governing community.

{Editor’s note} the new contract can be found here: https://secure.grinnell.edu/sites/default/files/documents/Community%20Advisor%20Contract%202016-2017.pdf

Trauma with a Capital “T”

CW: sexual violence

 

“Have you ever experienced Trauma?”

The words reverberate around the small room where I sit across from my new therapist. I’d just summarized my laundry list of diagnoses from previous mental health professionals. She looks at me, head tilted and brows furrowed, waiting.

I try to formulate an answer. Trauma? No, I wasn’t abused as a kid. I haven’t been in a war zone. I have great family, and great friends. Some stuff has happened, sure, but there wasn’t anything that qualified as real Trauma, with a capital “T.” Yet here I was, in yet another therapist’s office because I couldn’t deal with the overwhelming fear, the obsessive thoughts, the suicidal ideation, and the detachment from my own body.

Fragmented memories from my 21 years of life start drifting into my mind like daydreams.

That one time during recess in kindergarten. Three first grade boys pin me up against the portable, suspending me in the air by the collar of my puffy purple jacket. I’m confused and scared, unsure what they want from me. Are they going to hit me? I don’t have any money. I remember them laughing. I remember them saying no one would believe me if I told on them. I remember thinking, everyone gets bullied sometimes.

In fourth grade, at my friend’s house for a play-date. She suggests we play a game called “boyfriend and girlfriend.” I say sure. She kisses me and rubs her hands on my body. I grab a piece of paper on a nearby table and put it between our mouths. She says no, it’s better without paper, let’s not use it. I drop the paper silently and she replaces her mouth on mine. She was always the boyfriend, and I was always the girlfriend.

Age 11, Thanksgiving. My sister returns home from her first few months of college. We exchange tearful hugs and excitement, and my sister goes to see my mom. My dad laughs uncomfortably and raises his eyebrows at me. He mutters, “Wow, she sure has put on some weight, huh?”

Age 12, sixth grade. A boy in my class tells me he bets I can’t touch my elbows together behind my back. I think to myself, my strong, flexible shoulders from years of gymnastics will totally prove him wrong. I try it. His friends erupt in laughter as their eyes consume my chest.

The locker room before practice, age 13. An older girl says how gross it is if you don’t shave off all of your pubic hair. “Boys won’t sleep with you if you don’t shave,” she says.

In California, age 14, at the reception after my grandmother’s memorial service. I walk past my uncle. He’s had 8 beers that afternoon, with a ninth cracked open and perspiring in his hands. He grins, peering at me through his sunglasses. He says, “You’ve got nice, perky oranges.”

Age 15, kneeling on my bathroom floor, toilet bowl white and shiny in front of me. The shower water runs loudly. If I could just get all the bad out, I’d be clean. I’d be pure. I’d be good. A finger down my throat. Why isn’t this working? A toothbrush. Lots of coughing. I hope the shower is loud enough to cover me. Tears sting my eyes. Is this blood from my fingers or my throat? I make a mental note to trim my nails.

The first Harris party, my first year at Grinnell. Having not partied in high school, I’m not used to being this drunk. I dance near the edge of the crowd for a couple of minutes, and laugh a lot. It’s really dark. A guy comes up behind me, grabbing my hips and pulling me into him. We dance. His hands start creeping up underneath my tight black skirt, touching me eagerly over my underwear. This is moving faster than boys did at my high school, I think. He spins me around and aims his face at mine. I dodge my head to look the other way. I tell him my name, and ask for his. He places wet, hard kisses on my neck. Then his lips are on mine, his tongue forcing into my mouth. I realize I don’t even know what he looks like. I haven’t worn that black skirt since.

Age 19, my second year at Grinnell. A senior from my sociology class is in my room after we’d danced at a Harris party. I’d drunk a lot that night. How did we get to my room? He kisses me. I kiss him back. He takes off my clothes. A sinking, guilty feeling creeps into my stomach as he puts his mouth on me. I’m supposed to want this, right? I better make it seem like I’m enjoying this. An obligation to reciprocate; I’d be a bitch and a tease if I don’t. Then I wake up on top of him, having passed out. He rolls out from underneath me and leaves. I text him the next day, apologizing for being sloppy. I must’ve wanted it on some deeper level, I think to myself. My roommate isn’t speaking to me because I hadn’t answered my phone when I’d locked her out of our room the night before. I feel so dirty. I run to the bathroom and vomit. It’s not from the alcohol.

A friend’s beach house, age 20. On a couch with a guy I hardly know. It’s 4am and my friends are asleep in the next room. His hands tug at my waistband, but I push them away. He tries again. I murmur, “Hey…stop. I’m seeing a guy at school who I really care about.” “So? He doesn’t have to know,” he replies calmly, smirking. He shoves his hand down my underwear. I don’t do anything.

Age 21, this past summer, before my senior year at Grinnell. Two friends are asking me about the guy who’d slept over last night. “It was fun,” I say. “He was really respectful and kind; we talked about consent. I think I enjoyed it. But I did that disassociating thing again while we were hooking up, and afterwards I couldn’t sleep at all.” My friends look at me with sad eyes. My head starts feeling dizzy. My breathing gets shallow. Oh shit. Fuck. Not now. I sink down to the floor and try to pull myself back into my body, to slow my breathing, but it doesn’t work. My fight or flight response has short-circuited, and I’m flying to the door, desperate to get out. To just get away, out of my skin. Who is making those awful screaming noises? I fumble at the lock on the door with violently shaking hands. Why can’t I open this fucking door? I realize that sound is me. The door finally flies open and I collapse into the grass, tears and snot mixing with the dirt I’ve smashed my face into. You’re safe. You’re safe. You’re safe. These words feel false but I repeat them anyway, until they sound like jumbled sounds.

* * * * * *

Have we really come to the point where transgressions on our bodies and minds are this normalized, internalized, and even expected? As if it’s just part of being a woman (or any person, for that matter) in society? And we wonder why rates of eating disorders are at an all-time high, why young people struggle with self-esteem, why people who we thought were “smarter than that” may stay in partnerships with their abusers.

Bodily violations don’t have to fall under the category of sexual assault, or Trauma with a capital “T,” to have the power to shape our relationships with our bodies, our sexualities, and other people, or to teach us on a visceral, instinctual level that our bodies and psyches are not safe.

The fact that the Title IX office didn’t validate your experience with disciplinary action for your abuser doesn’t mean you aren’t hurt. You don’t have to identify as a victim-survivor, to be diagnosed with PTSD, or to have even reported anything to be justified in feeling that damage was done. The reality that violations of our bodies and minds happen every day does not diminish the pain you feel. The fact that your body responded while your soul cried out, or that you didn’t actually “say ‘no,’” does not mean you wanted it. The fact that worse things have happened to other people does not mean that what happened to you was okay. You are not being dramatic.

* * * * *

“Have you ever experienced Trauma?”

“No,” I say to the therapist. “Nothing that really counts.”