An SMU Alum and Rape Victim Responds to the Daily Campus' Victim-Blaming Op-Ed
Jennifer Gerson, a 2007 SMU graduate and rape survivor, passed along her response to the Daily Campus' recent victim-blaming alcohol-and-rape op-ed, which she sent to SMU president Gerald Turner and other school officials. We're running it here in full.
Today I am ashamed to call myself a graduate of Southern Methodist University. Kirby Wiley's article titled "Women: Prevent Sexual Assaults, Drinking Responsibly May Reduce Risk Factor" in the November 1 issue of The Daily Campus brought tears to my eyes, and I don't cry easily.
In 2007 I walked across the SMU graduation stage with a degree from a prestigious university -- something I have considered the greatest accomplishment in my entire life -- and today I bow my head in shame.
Millions of women graduate from college every year, you might say -- but not millions of women like me. I am a survivor of poverty, divorce, domestic violence, rape and drug abuse, all before the age of 20, and I put myself through college with blood, sweat and tears while holding down a full-time job. I possess inner strength and determination you cannot imagine, and SMU is lucky to count someone like me among its alumni.
Let's go back to the "survivor of rape" part. I was raped in 1988 during my senior year in high school. Two boys who called themselves my friends -- friends whom I had seen and spoken to a thousand times in class, at lunch, during track practice, at football games, and yes, at parties where drugs and alcohol were widely available - picked me up from work one night under the pretext that they were taking me to a party several other friends were going to. Instead of a party, however, it was a party of three. You might guess what happened next. The following week at school, the rumor mill was abuzz with stories of my "escapades" even though I had told no one (this was the late 1980s, before victims were widely encouraged to report date rape as a crime.) For months I lived with the shame of having been branded a slut, and the day after graduation I moved to another state.
That night was a quarter-century ago, and its memory is still as vivid as it was the next morning. I vowed never to be held down again, and remained true to my word. The next time a boy tried to force himself on me, I flew into such a rage that I -- a 110-pound, 19-year-old girl -- chased him out of his own house.
I came to realize, of course, that what happened that night in 1988 was not my fault (although Kirby Wiley, it seems, would disagree) and I no longer feel shame for having been victimized - but the anger... oh, the anger. I would spare your students that cancerous anger.
SMU's own Dr. Rick Halperin pioneered an academic program in Human Rights, the front page of which declares, "There is no such thing as a lesser person." Today, Kirby Wiley has declared female students lesser persons - and you, Dr. Turner, have allowed him to do it.
I am NOT a lesser person, and neither are your students. They are your own wives, sisters, daughters, nieces and grandchildren, and they deserve your respect. They deserve Kirby Wiley's respect. By allowing this misogynistic, vitriolic, blame-shifting hate speech to be propagated under the guise of journalism - with or without its classification as "opinion" - you have stripped your students of that respect.
This morning I cried. Now I rage. Consider my graduation from SMU the first of many steps I will take across many stages as I rage against what you have allowed.
I. Will. Not. Be. Held. Down. Ever. Again. And so help me, neither will the women of your once-prestigious institution.
Class of 2007