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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Letter to the Editor | Survivor’s perspective on negotiating desire

Content Warning: This article includes descriptions of sexual violence, some of which include graphic detail, and includes discussion of themes of sexual violence. 

On Aug. 31, 2022, I published an article in The Tulane Hullabaloo entitled “U Up Rn? A Meditation on Hookup Culture.” In an extension of an independent study I conducted sophomore year, I troubled Tulane University hookup culture’s reservation of kindness for monogamous relationships, its facilitation of emotional coldness between sexual partners and privileging of male orgasms. 

In this article, I also acknowledged that I was a participant in hookup culture. 

In December 2023, a former friend of mine who assaulted me on the night of Sept. 2, 2023, submitted my article to support his case that he had not assaulted me, in my own bed, while I was intoxicated. 

I surmise that he hoped that in the investigator’s eyes his allusion to my promiscuity and participation in hookup culture might negate the fact that he had penetrated me without my consent. 

On Jan. 25, 2024, after a six-month-long investigation, he was found responsible for his actions. 

And so, the six-month-long nightmare concluded. He would be suspended for six months and required to attend counseling sessions. I appealed the decision and implored the university to expel him. My appeal was denied. Throughout the entire process and within his appeal, he maintained that he had done nothing wrong. 

While the excavation of alcohol receipts, text message exchanges, my own bedsheets and competing narratives of that night ended on Jan. 25, my own obsessive reexaminations of that night’s details were far from over. 

I’ve chronicled that night in Notes apps, Word documents and on paper, but no arrangement of words can quite capture the feeling of being a prisoner in your own body. 

My own bed, room, body and memory became a crime scene that was scrutinized, interrogated and probed by nurses, doctors, police officers and lawyers. 

I opted not to hire a lawyer. I knew that considering the respondent’s financial situation, this would likely mean I would be up against one of the nation’s “premier” attorneys for those accused of sexual misconduct. 

I was right. 

Acting as my own defense was one of the more strange, out-of-body experiences I have had thus far in my life. I attempted to detach myself from the personal stakes of the case and adopted the role of a secondary, critical observer of details and finder of argumentative discrepancies rather than a survivor arguing my own sexual misconduct case. 

It is rather difficult, however, to maintain critical distance from a text when the text in question features a former hallmate’s response of “BAHAHAHA” to my assailant’s admission that he was aware I was in tears. 

As I compiled my defense, I became especially attuned to the respondent’s invocation of images of my desire; he made sure to describe the “silky” night shirt that I was wearing — it was, in fact, a cotton tank top — made sure to comment on what he perceived as “slower intimate songs” that were playing in my house and made sure to include an article I had written which included my nod to participation in hookup culture, as evidence that I was sexually active. 

While navigating the subject of desire within my own case, I also sought out scholars’ discussions of desire within 21st century discussion of sexual violence. I parsed through a myriad of articles, books and journals pertaining to issues of power-based violence and was specifically struck by Katherine Angel’s “Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again.”

At the beginning of Angel’s work, she discusses two premises she believes have emerged in the past years for individuals to have adequate sex: consent and self-knowledge.

Expanding on her discussion of consent culture, Angel writes that within this culture, “women’s speech about their desire is both demanded and idealized, touted as a marker of progressive politics.” 

At the same time that women are expected to exude an all-knowing, confident knowledge of their desires, Angel writes that their desire is also manipulated to disqualify them from protection from violence and is used as evidence that violence was not, “in fact, violence (she wanted it).” 

Angel also brings up the question of whose invocation of desire, or lack thereof, is construed as meaningful — the sexuality of women of color, she writes, is still recognized through “colonialist and orientalist fantasies of animality and exoticness.” Recent studies Angel mentions illustrate that Black women are less likely to be believed. 

How are women meant to know what they want and to exude a confident sexuality that supposedly protects them from violence when their very invocation of desire also places them at risk of harm? 

As soon as I said yes to my former friend’s entry into my bedroom, I lost the ability to say no to further sexual activity. I frankly didn’t know what I wanted to happen when he stepped into my house, and he took the ability to choose away from me. 

Similarly to Angel, I challenge a post-feminist take on consent culture that privileges a fully-formed, all-knowing sexuality. I don’t believe that women should possess expert knowledge of their desire in order to protect themselves from violence; that would be, as Angel puts it, “to hold sexuality hostage to violence.” 

Desire is mutable, and it emerges from unique social, historical and political contexts. Alongside Angel, I advocate for a sexual ethics that respects the mutability of desire that is conversational and offers mutual exploration and curiosity. 

I wasn’t afforded the option for any of those things on Sept. 2, and that night is something that I will have to wrestle with for the rest of my life. 

Although my specific story and survivorship journey are unique to me, many women at Tulane have experienced and will experience sexual assault during their time here. 

For those who have been violated, you are not alone. For those who have been violated, it is not your fault. For those who have been violated, no matter what you initially thought you might want to do, or said yes to at first, it is not your fault. 

Disclaimer: In discussing female survivorship from a heterosexual perspective, my references to “men” and “women” are not meant to exclude the experiences of male survivors or perpetrators, or to overlook the diverse identities within the survivor community. Sexual violence does not discriminate based on gender, and there are male survivors and perpetrators, as well as survivors and perpetrators who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color or LGBTQ+.

Resources are available for Tulane students who are victims of sexual violence. Contact Sexual Assault Peer Hotline and Education‘s 24/7 Peer Run Hotline at 504-654-9543 if you need help. 

Tulane Emergency Medical Services can be reached at 504-865-5911. TEMS is a free, student-run service. In addition, Tulane University Police Department’s non-emergency Uptown number is 504-865-5381.

You can also reach out to Case Management and Victim Support Services at 504-314-2160 and they can offer support and help you file a report.

RAINN: Rape Abuse + Incest National Network provides resources that are LGBTQ+ inclusive and can be reached at 800-656-4673.

For Tulane students in need of mental health support, contact Counseling and Psychological Services at 504-314-2277. The Counseling Center is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday–Friday. The Counseling Center provides mental health counseling and other related services. 

Students in need of additional support can contact the Residential Adviser on call in their residence hall. Students may also call the on-call Case Manager at 504-920-9900.

For LGBTQ+ students, the Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to those under 25 and can be reached at 866-488-7386.

The Employee Assistance Program is available for faculty and staff seeking counseling or support. Information about Employee Assistance Programs can be found at https://hr.tulane.edu/benefits/employee-assistance-program.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.

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