Dear University of Chicago

Note: this post contains sensitive topics. Please read at your own discretion.

To the University of Chicago;

Hello! This letter may seem a bit out of place as I have never been to the windy city, and, quite frankly, don’t plan on being there any time soon; I opted for the rainy city for my college days. However, I came across something that rather upset me, and I figured I join the conversation, especially seeing as how you all “fost(er) the free exchange of ideas..

Now, your letter to the freshmen class seemed well and good enough. If you, as a place of higher learning, are simply saying you won’t withhold or censor individuals for holding opposing, even controversial, perhaps difficult, viewpoints, then I applaud you for that commitment. The first amendment is a crucial part of the Constitution and an imperative part of our society (not to mention something I utilize often right here on this blog).

It isn’t your stance that’s concerning me – it’s your diction. And, frankly, through no fault of your own, the reaction to it.

Trigger warnings exist for a reason, yet I do understand the challenge they pose. I’ve said myself how impossible it is to account for every possible trigger, something this comic may help explain. However, blanket disregard for sensitivities your students face is upsetting. Worse, though, I fear you may be distressingly naive to the world some of your students live in.

I don’t need you to tell me the world isn’t a “safe space”; I’m perfectly aware. When I was held down in a park on a cold January night, a man sucking greedily at my mouth, grasping hungry at what’s supposed to be a very safe space, I’d venture to say I knew just how unsafe the world could be. When I wake up seemingly each day to another rapist that’s gotten off free because the court system doesn’t want to “ruin an individual’s college experience over one mistake,” I fully understand how unsafe the world is, and I’m betting the women and men who are victims get that too.

I have friends, multiples in fact, who have, watched their father or their sister or their mother, ejected from the car they were in, and seen their loved one splattered on the pavement, never to move again. I’d venture to say they understand that the world isn’t a safe space.

Does this mean that we, as a community of educators, should continue to enforce this notion, as it will make little difference as to what our world consists of? If the world is already ugly, does it matter if we remove the barriers that trick us into thinking it’s safe?

See, your very concept of a safe space is flawed. In your eyes, this is somewhere people go to seek refuge from big, scary ideas, and can continue to live in their prepubescent bubble of security and happiness and familiarly. In truth however, the concept of a safe space isn’t as big and scary as all that. A safe place is a space in which I’m free to reconcile my experience with the world, with new information, in a way that’s psychologically safe for me to do so. That, I’d say, requires a high level of cognition, and I don’t see the harm in it. I can understand how, to someone who has never seen trauma or been affected by it, it’s difficult to comprehend the flashbacks and body memories associated with trauma, that make safe spaces so necessary, and sensitivity so crucial.

Imagine the worst day of your life – or picture your worst fear if you can’t come up with anything. Picture holding your dead child’s body, in vivid detail, every day for a year. Imagine how he felt in your hand, how stiff and cold and unlike itself, and relive it every day for a year or two years or ten. Then imagine finally burying him in your head, getting him locked away so that the memory of his dilated, lifeless eyes staring up into you feel more like a bad dream than a reality. And imagine seeing a child who looks like him at the park, or reading about it in a blog post, and being right there, feeling his weight in your arms all over again.

This is what it’s like to live with trauma, to need a sort of place you can go and decompress and seek refuge from a world that tells you you’re not open to discussion and knowledge because you’re a weak person who had something bad happen to you; a world that has the arrogance and ignorance and privilege to imply you’re stuck in a childhood fantasy when you are intimate with the world’s darkness and you carry it with you like a dead thing in your chest.

To the university of Chicago – if you’re saying that the world shouldn’t be censored to comply with previous knowledge and experiences, edit your implications and continue on. If you’re saying that people who have lived through hell need to stop being so pacified and consoled, kindly remove “University” from your title; your ignorance is boundless and you have so much left to learn.

A Lack of Air Conditioning, 90 Degree Weather, and A Major Reassessment

(Warning: This post contains some minor graphic descriptions)

About five and a half hours ago, I was backing out of my driveway, complaining about the lack of air conditioning in my car, already sweating in the 90 something degree day. I was stressed about work and school. I was consumed in my day to day. I turned onto the large street near my house and began my hour long drive to work.

About five minutes later, I’m stuck in traffic, thinking about the long night of work ahead of me. I slow to let the car in the right lane over. He slams on his breaks to let the car ahead of him over. That car changed lanes abruptly – no signal, didn’t look, just came over. And that’s when everything I thought mattered: school, work, no air conditioning,  dissipates.

In the right lane, a few feet ahead of me I see a man face down on the asphalt. He’s bent up, with his butt in the air and his legs like jelly. His bicycle is maybe a foot in front of him, on its side. There are three cars on the shoulder. A woman in a maxi skirt and sunglasses is kneeling beside the body gently tapping the man’s shoulders. There’s a man in cargo shorts behind her, standing, but with bent knees. His hand is covering his open mouth.

A woman – no, a girl – gets out of her driver’s seat trembling. God, she’s so young. Looks to be about 16. I turn my head further to look at her; I haven’t fully absorbed what’s happening. I feel cloudy. I know what I’m seeing isn’t correct, I know something is seriously, seriously wrong but I… I can’t place it. The girl’s eyes lock with mine. I realize I’m smiling, mid laugh about the traffic.

Then, it hits me.

The body. The girl. The woman in the maxi skirt.

I bite my lip and my heart skips one beat. Then two. Three.

I won’t forget what I saw for a while. Neither the maxi skirt woman, the man, or the young driver will forget for a lifetime. The biker, if he’s alive, will remember every moment from this day every time his grandson rides a bike or he sees someone riding one when he’s driving, his heart will start to race and tears will build up and he’ll feel his heart racing a million miles an hour.

Five and a half hours ago I thought I knew what was important. I was pissed about my motherfucking air conditioner. My air conditioner. Five minutes later I’d see a dead man on the side of the road.

Hug someone you love today.

Remember what actually matters in life.

And, please, wear a helmet and drive safe. Someone out there needs you.

 

A Transgender Individual Walks Into A Bar

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A transgender individual walks into a bar and, because of “liberal socialists,” robs the innocence of a young girl and her protective mother.

If your Facebook is like my Facebook, maybe you’ve seen this photo pop up on your Newsfeed.

 

And this is a legitimate concern. I don’t want our kids falling victim to creepy perverted men either.  As a Charlotte woman, Pam Burton, said “I’m not scared of transgenders. That’s not what I think the problem is. Sexual predators are not good people; they don’t do the right thing” (Domonoske, 2016). And I have to agree! See, the bathroom bill isn’t about transgender people it’s about the possibility of our children getting hurt. So let’s, for arguments sake, pretend as though this bathroom bill has nothing to do with transphobes shaking in their boots, the same way racists shook when they painted “Whites Only” on bathroom doors. Let’s just pretend that our concern for our children is the driving force in such measures.

If this was really about fear for our children’s safety, then why do only 2 of every 100 rapists serve time (RAINN)?

If this was really about fear for our children’s safety, then why are 1 in 5 women victims of rape by men? Why do we, as a society, allow this to happen through spreading rape myths, objectifing women at every turn, and telling our men that aggression and violence against women is normal (Hildebrand et al., 2015, p. 1059-60)?

If this was really about fear for our children’s safety, then we wouldn’t have a national epidemic in our college system that forces our daughters, on their own for the first time, to be raped and raped and raped again (Gray, 2014, p. 20-7)

See, here’s the thing. If we, as a nation – if we, as North Carolinians, truly care about keeping our children safe from potential dangers, we had better start by safeguarding them against actual ones.

So, no, Pam Burton. No, John Buchanan. No, Ben’s Facebook Friend and the 79,000 people like you: you’re not afraid of our nation’s kids being victimized. You’re not scared of the big man dressed as a woman robbing your child’s innocence. Why? Because it’s already been robbed. It continues to be.  And instead of doing anything about the real problem, you’re busy marginalizing an entire group of human beings who, by the way, just want to pee. Here’s the truth: You are transphobic. You are ignorant. You are the problem. And you don’t even have the decency to admit to it.

References

Domonoske, C. (2016). North Carolina Passes Law Blocking Measures To Protect LGBT People. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/03/24/471700323/north-carolina-passes-law-blocking-measures-to-protect-lgbt-people

Gray, E. (2014). The college town of Missoula, Mont., saw at least 80 reported rapes over three years, earning it the name America’s Rape Capital. But the nickname has it wrong. Missoula isn’t special; it is fairly average. The truth is, for young women, America’s campuses are dangerous places (Cover story). Time, 183(20), 20-27.

Hildebrand, Meagen M., and Cynthia J. Najdowski. “The Potential Impact Of Rape Culture On Juror Decision Making: Implications For Wrongful Acquittals In Sexual Assault Trials.” Albany Law Review 78.3 (2015): 1059-1086. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

RAINN. (2012). Reporting Rates. Retrieved from https://rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates