Dear University of Notre Dame,
One was too many a long time ago.
I recognize that you are trying to step up your game—pledges outside dorm doors, posters in academic buildings, a website with a grayscale picture of a haunting dome. You may be making other efforts as well—streamlined procedures, new case manager hires, making more information available to the students; who knows what is going on behind the mask of the Main Building.
I wish I knew. I wish I had some proof that you were addressing this issue from its sources (pornography, the hook-up culture, rape-prone gender relations on campus, and many more) instead of applying band-aids to the problem in the form of cards for students to sign. I have faith in you. I think you are trying to change. I just wish I knew.
See, I have a vested interest in stopping this problem. I know you do too. I know everyone on campus does, whether they realize it or not. But I have my own interest. It’s an interest that is mine but not mine alone.
I became a victim before I came to this campus. For 7 years of my earlier life, I stayed that way. Those 7 years are etched into my mind even more strongly than they are etched into my body. The day after I turned 18, I moved away from all of it. For a few months, I existed in a state of limbo, waiting to determine the rest of my life.
The day I received the acceptance letter was a day like none other. Everyone talks about the joy, the enthusiasm, the hollers of excitement. I had all that too. I was thrilled, jumping up and down, having a private dance party on the street next to the mailbox. I was just like every other student—coming with both talents and pain to a place that would be my home for the next four years. Also, personally, I was coming to the first long-term home I had ever had, and I couldn’t wait. I downloaded at least four versions of the fight song. I scraped enough money together to pay for season football tickets. I wore a blue dress with a golden bracelet to graduation. I packed up, left my broken history behind, came to Notre Dame, and began what I hoped would be a new life.
Then I started getting the emails. I started hearing stories. I met people. I met victims, sometimes on purpose. I met perpetrators, always by accident. I cried with the first and panicked at the second, little parts of me dying with each encounter as my safety and my home changed color before my eyes. The Golden Dome was turning black.
I came here because, as a professor once told me, college is supposed to be an environment where people can safely face challenges. I came here because this was a home, where most people cared about other people and where treasure troves of knowledge were everywhere and where you can find pizza or rare books at two in the morning and where hugs were just hugs. I was so enchanted by the Notre Dame Family that I lost sight of the fact that you, Notre Dame, are still a human family. Still doomed to the darkness of those who make up your humanity, just like my family before.
That’s my story, but it’s the story of many on this campus, the story of those who came here looking for hope, looking for opportunity, looking for a part of humanity that proved their convictions wrong. And there are those among us who reinforce those convictions whenever they violate basic human dignity by construing silence as a yes or simply ignoring a no.
At graduation, I want to look back at my years here as a time I spent in a safe place that gave me the ability to challenge myself. I love so much about Notre Dame—the football games, the artistic performances, the professors who have entire classes over for dinner, the midnight snowball fights, the fact that you can find coffee at any hour of the day, the dusting of snow on the Dome late on a winter’s night. But for one in four women and possibly as many men, there will be a demon who lurked during their four years here.
Notre Dame is a community. When something affects one of us, it affects all of us. Sexual assault is a monstrosity facing our campus, and as a survivor, I ask that you take it as seriously as possible. In order to educate the minds, bodies and spirits on this campus, I beg you to tell us how you plan to pull out the roots of the presence of sexual assault at Notre Dame. I believe and hope that you have a plan beyond that which we as students have seen. I am asking you to support that belief.
Please make more educational information available as to the policies and procedures surrounding the too-frequently-mixed issues of alcohol, parietals and sexual assault. Please follow up with students who signed cards and, in the lucky case that their dorms did not simply run out, received pamphlets. Please actively investigate those persons on campus using Notre Dame’s internet network to view pornography, a source of inspiration and inadequate consolation for rapists or simply unhealthy sexual individuals. Please provide more self-defense and rape defense classes than the two currently offered. Please reevaluate your efforts to curb the rampant hook-up culture on campus; the pervasive acceptance of irresponsible consumption of alcohol and of casual sexual encounters on this campus forces you to encourage bystanders in the situation to “intervene”—to be the judges of what is consensual and what is assault. Please realize that when you ask students to stop potential sexual assaults in the form of drunken hook-ups, you ask them to go against the social culture of the campus. Please assess your response to that increasingly dangerous culture.
Beyond all of that, please prove to us that you are taking action. Please share with us the number of sexual assaults that are reported by your students, not only the number reported on campus. Please tell us not just the number of perpetrators who are found guilty of assault or rape throughout the year, but also what punitive measures the university took against them so we know whether rapists still live among us on this campus. If the numbers of assaults and perpetrators are decreasing, you will give us a sense of security we currently lack. These numbers will only scare us if they are increasing. If this is the case, we have a right to know how safe or unsafe we really are.
One was too many a long time ago. The scars that line the inside of my thighs remind me of that every day. I hope this letter serves as a reminder to you.
Please take off your mask so our perpetrators have to take off theirs.