Twenty Five Years Later
It has taken me 25 years, in a way, to write this essay.
The past few weeks—scratch that—the past few years have been triggering for many women. Most recently, at Harvard, a bunch of powerful professors closed ranks around one of their own who was accused of sexual harassment. In the sociological research around rape victims, the data suggests that “institutional betrayal” —when colleges participate in various forms of protecting the assailants — increases rates of sexual dysfunction, anxiety and depression among victims. Let me also venture that for victims of less violent but still consequential forms of sexual harassment, institutional betrayal is a big part of how the harm goes down.
It has taken me twenty five years, in a way, to write this essay. The institutional betrayal at issue here happened to me in high school, and I’m now a college professor and a mother of daughters. I wrestle on a day-to-day basis with how to care for my students while also advocating for myself in the increasingly shitty realities of academia. My experience of sexual harassment and institutional betrayal as a teenager did not make me into someone who went through life always knowing how to stand strong with the sisterhood. In fact, I internalized the harm in ways that contributed to its perpetuation. That’s what I’m writing about here...