Last August the College of Charleston suspended alcohol related activities for fraternities and sororities. Last September CofC's Alpha Epsilon Pi was closed after rape allegations. In December the alleged rape victim sued the fraternity; this June the charges against the two men accused of sexual assault were dropped.
It's August again.
The start of a new semester always reminds me of rainy afternoons in Charlottesville, Va., where I tip-toed my way into adulthood by way of too much booze and too little class. That's a generalization, of course. I went to the classes I really liked; I wrote lengthy Dunkin Donut-fueled papers on the stories of Percy and O'Connor.
I didn't drink as much as I think I did, either. Nostalgia clouds my vision but I know there were just as many nights spent tucked under the covers with snacks as there were in bars with tequila shots.
I had been out of college two years when a UVA student, Hannah Graham, was kidnapped, raped, and murdered. I sobbed when I heard that they'd found her body on a nearby farm; buzzards were circling.
If any of my college experience is a blur, then it is a blur. But I wonder, now, in my 26th year, if maybe I could have been spent my time a little more wisely.
Maybe between rushing to my 9 a.m. or stumbling across the train tracks — not a metaphor, that 15th Street shortcut is now blocked off by a tall fence — I could have stopped to think, as I do now, about what goes on behind college doors, even as I was behind them.
I never asked anyone, "Are you OK?" No one asked me either. It was assumed that we were tired or moody or drunk or waiting for him to text back, but we didn't discuss the heavier shit. At a liberal arts school full of very smart and open-minded people, no one ever talked casually about all of the casual sex we were having. No one ever stopped to worry.
We didn't ask each other, "Did you consent to sex last night?" We mumbled and we talked around it and we said things like, "Yeah, it was really good."
In my first year of college I participated in a "grown-up" scavenger hunt. We got drunk in a stranger's apartment. I climbed into a dryer to get our team points. One girl went in the bathroom with a guy from our dorm. For that, she got more points than I did. I left early. I didn't think I could keep up the way they were going.
The next year I was at a crowded bar and I saw a friend's boyfriend pin another girl against the wall. I saw her squirm away. He and I made eye contact. I tried to look away.
What year was it when the girl I barely knew grabbed my arm in a bathroom, begged me to believe her when she told me that she'd been raped by my friend? When was it that I decided she was being dramatic? And when was it that I regretted that reaction so deeply that I felt karma had come to get me?
I talk, flippantly, now, about my experience with booze and binging and boys in college. I feel the dark underbelly of those experiences, though, as I see fresh-faced kids step onto campus. You can see a ton of them if you spend just a few minutes downtown. They are so fucking eager. I love it. It scares me.
What are the dangers of college? Well, you can have your heart broken, you can drop out of school, you can turn into such an anxious ball of worries that even the school's mental health services ain't gonna cut it. And you can be raped. You can also be accused of rape. You can turn a blind eye and allow those things to happen.
They said that Hannah Graham's killer drove a cab. I close my eyes, think about the cab I got into one night. It was outside of everyone's favorite underage bar, Coupe's. God knows I was still using a shitty fake. I jumped in the backseat. Two men in the front — why were there two men in the front? — started laughing. They drove a little down the crowded side street. I told them "Wait! I forgot my purse!" I jumped out and hid behind a bush.
They felt dangerous.
But what if I hadn't been thinking about danger?
So here's some unsolicited advice for college kids: Live with your eyes wide open. If you don't want to chug vodka, no matter how much those eyes on you are telling you to, then don't. Do not stand by when a guy is assaulting a girl in a bar. Do not make jokes about rape. Listen more than you talk, and when you talk, talk so that you are helping, not hurting someone, or yourself.
Talk louder, act more often.
It's August again.
What can we do to make sure we don't repeat the same story every year?
What can you do that I didn't?