"Me too. It happened to me too."
More than one in five women and 5 percent of men are sexually assaulted while at college. Some survivors are coming forward; others are not. In We Believe You, students from every kind of college and university—large and small, public and private, highly selective and less so—share experiences of trauma, healing, and everyday activism, representing a diversity of races, economic and family backgrounds, gender identities, immigration statuses, interests, capacities, and loves. Theirs is a bold, irrefutable sampling of voices and stories that should speak to all.
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About the Author
Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino are co-founders of End Rape On Campus, an organization dedicated to survivor support, education and policy reform. They attended The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where they both majored in Political Science. They were two of those who filed Title IX and Clery complaints against UNC. Their stories are prominently featured in the documentary The Hunting Ground, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. We Believe You is their first book.
Read an Excerpt
Six years ago, I tore the blue seal of the large envelope that held my acceptance letter to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). I came from a tight-knit Cuban family that had never had the opportunity to even consider college. I was going to be the first one in my family to make it, and I loved everything about Carolina.
— Andrea Pino, survivor who attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
To understand our journeys of healing and survivorhood is also to understand that we live in a culture that warns us to avoid the moment when sexual assault will break us, as if we could avoid that moment — a culture that tells us what clothes to wear, what signs to give, what signs not to give, and what not to drink, as if by making such personal adjustments we might have the power to avoid the violence done onto our bodies against our will.
Even before sexual assaults occur, we live betrayed by a society that blames us for any violence that might happen to us — and blames us for our gender performance or for our lack of femininity or masculinity, and blames us for our willingness to challenge these rigid social expectations, as if these facts about us, as if these qualities inherent in our identities, warrant violence.
Before sexual assault, we were children told of the adventures that awaited us in college — "the best four years of your life!" We were courted by pristine, colorful brochures that invited us, encouraged us, to ask big questions and to contribute to a community that wanted us.
Before sexual assault, there was an element of innocence within us, an innocence that bought into the belonging that the colleges and universities advertised.
We were customers, but we were also dreamers.
Before we were sexually assaulted, the colleges and universities sold us trust, love, and safety; and we bought in with our tuition dollars and our hearts.
I grew up in Hickory, North Carolina, below the mountains. Surprisingly, I didn't do mountain things. I ran track all four years of high school, but I was mostly into music growing up. I was involved in all kinds of music — percussion in middle school and high school; the band in high school; and singing. I was in church choirs, and in school choirs in elementary, middle, and high school. I didn't have a favorite musical activity — just anything.
My dad teaches fifth grade, and my mom is a school social worker. Growing up, I also enjoyed spending time with family and friends. I have a younger sister.
I always saw myself attending a small college in North Carolina. Also, I have mild cerebral palsy on my right side, so it was easier to be closer to home for all those doctor appointments. In January of my senior year of high school, my dad came home one day and said one of his coworkers went to High Point University, so we pulled up their website. They had small classes and a small school environment, which was what I wanted, plus, they were about an hour and a half from home. I applied and got accepted and did this thing called Summer Experience, where freshmen can come early and take classes. That's where I met Marie, my best friend. I started there in the summer of 2008. I was eighteen.
I was very involved at High Point. I did campus activities, was pretty much your normal college student. I loved hanging out, was very social, very involved, and had a great group of friends.
My assault happened my sophomore year — the spring of sophomore year — toward the end of finals, when I was nineteen. It was the last week of the semester.
The guy who assaulted me had been an acquaintance. We had the same friends. It made it interesting, after it happened, to see who was really there for me and who wasn't.
I was raised in a very open and nonjudgmental household in Lincoln, Rhode Island. My mom taught me to dream big and to respect others; my dad made sure we had semirealistic goals that would provide for us through life.
Special education was my life dream. I knew that in special education the smallest lessons can help a person communicate with others and become a participating individual in society, and I wanted to be responsible for making sure that happened.
I was a free-spirited teen who wanted independence and the chance to be unapologetically "me." A chance to explore who I really am. College meant growing up and making my own choices. I could choose to stay out all night, hook up with strangers, or drink until I had to be hospitalized and my mom or dad couldn't tell me no. In reality, I didn't do much of anything, because I am not a partyer, although I had fun in my own ways.
Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts, was always the school I knew I'd go to. While researching possible schools, I knew I couldn't get into obvious fantastic schools because of my learning differences and grades. I have ADHD and executive function disorder. Curry has a program for "special needs" individuals in the mild to moderate categories to help them through academics and even the social aspects of school.
I am the unicorn who is from Washington, D.C., and came back to D.C. after college.
D.C. was actually a really great place to grow up. I went to a great prep school and saw a lot. I carpooled to school and took the Metro back home after school, gradually expanding my reach with my parents' approval. By eighth grade I was able to establish some independence and explore the city a bit. I'm glad my parents gave me free rein. D.C. is a city divided, economically, and I got to see that. The divide was something I became increasingly interested in and studied at Brown. I got a degree in urban studies. My dad works in historic preservation, and my mom is a retired teacher. So conversations about place and why communities matter were conversations shared around our dinner table. It's no coincidence my twin sister and I are going into careers that focus on helping people. She's interested in psychology and social work.
It was incredible having my twin sister go through all the same stages of life with me, always having a friend to play with. When I came out of the closet, we actually got a lot closer. I don't think it really surprised her.
My dad says they knew I was gay. I quit figure skating because it was getting in the way of my singing. We still joke about that.
I'm really glad my parents gave me the space to explore who I wanted to be and didn't give me any prescriptive ideas about who I should be.
Why attend Brown? I really wanted to save a lot of money on Sharpies by not having to write my name on a lot of things. Actually, the best joke I heard was my friend who said, "Sounds like it's got your name all over it!" At Brown, whenever I got a letter from home, between my address, which was Brown Street, and my name, and the return address, it would have the word "Brown" on there about four times.
But seriously. I enjoyed getting to know adults who went to Brown; it was clear they had pursued passions they had long held, and Brown gave them the atmosphere in which to pursue those passions. The curriculum has no core requirements, so it encourages you to learn what you want to learn.
I declared a major right away. I had known I wanted to do urban studies when I got there. I almost did a double study and included music. Music continues to be part of my life. I started out as a chorister at the National Cathedral before my voice changed. I sang in college — opera, musicals, revues.
I grew up in Texas with my sister and both parents at home.
From age four, I was a ballet student with a Russian teacher who was incredibly strict and really focused on discipline. She was relentless, but I progressed quickly and grew to love dance. I learned you have to give your best. Throughout my life, people have always said to me, "Calm down, it's not the end of the world." But I would view any kind of failure as unacceptable. You give it your all, or you shouldn't even try.
I really didn't have any aspirations academically, other than to graduate. My goal was to be an Olympian and that is one of the main reasons I chose Southern Methodist University, in the University Park section of Dallas. I don't really feel comfortable stating which sport, but they had a smaller team that would be able to offer more individual coaching and more opportunities for me to compete at a Division I level.
I was looking forward to going to college and seeing if I could do it academically and athletically. Actually, I knew I could, because I don't give up. Athletes don't give up.
Monroe Township, New Jersey, is suburbia. It's a middle-class town, quiet, small. We had two hundred graduates each year in my high school. The town is predominantly Caucasian. I'm African American.
I lived with my two younger sisters, my mother, and her mother, also two female cousins, one older, one younger. They came when I was eight or nine. Other cousins came and stayed for a bit, too. So we had a full house of mostly women for the majority of my life from the time I was twelve up. After my grandfather passed away when I was sixteen, it was pretty much all women.
My father wasn't really involved in my life. I only recently reconnected with him, in my late twenties, and now we have phone calls. He said he was just a kid himself when I was born, and didn't want the responsibility of rearing a child at the time. He was about twenty.
I have forgiven him, but there are times when I wonder if my life would have been different had he been present. Would I have chosen different relationships? Sometimes I wonder if I would ever have had any contact with the man who raped me if I'd had a father. Those things come up from time to time. When those moments pop up, I reframe them and realize that they're part of my history.
I was raised Baptist. My grandmother was the matriarch. She died three years ago, in November. She coparented me. And she was Baptist, a devout Christian. No makeup, no music, no cards or games with dice. If the game had dice we would hide it or we'd have to wrap them to hide the dots and write the number on the dice. I'm not sure why.
Our church was within walking distance of our house. We were there every Sunday. It wasn't until I was an adult that I was allowed to go to church in pants. You had to wear a dress and patent-leather shoes. I was in the choir until I left for college, and in all the Easter plays.
I stopped going to church when I was in college, but I really rebelled when I was in grad school. I was almost a nonbeliever in grad school. Partly because my mentor at the time wasn't religious. So I lost my faith for a while. It came back around.
As far back as I can remember, it wasn't a question of if I was going to college, it was a question of where. As I approached college age, I could feel it coming, finally, freedom! Dating wasn't an option while I lived at home. Absolutely not. And because I was chubby, academics was my strength.
Cornell was my dream school. I was really heartbroken when I got that rejection letter. Writing was always my thing, but I didn't pursue it because it didn't seem glamorous.
I got accepted into Rutgers and decided to be a biochem major. I started school there in August 1996. I was seventeen. I wanted to find a cure for AIDS. Or be a geneticist, helping to find a cure for genetic disorders.
I thought, "I'm going into a place that celebrates being smart." I was so excited about it. There was also that freedom — my own dorm room. Also, because I didn't consider myself to be very attractive, I guess I was hoping that the experience in college would be different. Younger kids can be so cruel. I was thinking college would be different. I could re-create myself. Finally, I'd be able to date. And find people who would celebrate me no matter my physical appearance.
When I got there, it was good in the beginning. A couple of my good friends were attending also, and I met new people. The first year was good.
One time in my sophomore year I was walking around, still kind of chubby, walking across campus, and someone opened a window and started making mooing sounds at me. It was awful. I was so distressed. I was the only woman walking across the courtyard. That was the only time I felt ridiculed about my appearance.
Mostly, being at college was freeing.
I came to college because I wanted to learn but also because that is just what girls like me do. I was smart, financially well-off, and from a competitive public school in the Northeast. Back in high school, no one ever questioned that I would go to and graduate from college. I'd heard that people took more than four years to graduate, but girls like me finished in four years. Girls like me went to the most competitive school they could get into and they succeeded. College was the next step on a staircase I'd always been climbing. Each year, I went up; there wasn't an option to go back down or move sideways. There wasn't another staircase. Girls like me graduated from good colleges.
After my senior year of high school, I went south to a competitive, well-known institution. I liked the way people spoke in the South. I thought that saying y'all was grammatically efficient. I liked that people nodded as they passed each other on the sidewalk, instead of looking down like they did in the Northeast. I liked that the winter would be mild. I liked that when I graduated, I could tell future employers I went to an impressive institution. Some people are in love with their college; if anything, I was in love with where it could get me.
Going into college, I wasn't sure what my major would be, maybe political science, maybe psychology. Once school started, I moved toward the psych route. The million-dollar question is, what will I do with my degree once I graduate? Originally, before I destroyed my GPA, the plan was to go to grad school and become a clinical psychologist. I wanted to take some time and be involved in research; I fell in love with research. Things haven't exactly gone the way I wanted them to.
Even before I went to college, I had a history of depression. That part of the equation doesn't fit into "girls like me." My high school therapist said I have a "Barbie" version and the "real" version of my personality. When I'm in Barbie mode, I accept endless workloads and push myself to the limit. Barbie me is miserable and stressed, but she pulls it (and my résumé) together. "Real" me used to be very depressed. That version of me failed tests and didn't turn in papers. The dual performances followed me to college. I kept them in balance for the most part until my junior year. Then all bets were off, even for Barbie me.
Barbie me knew how to manage regular depression (wanting to sleep all the time, low mood, forcing myself to get to therapy, etc.); she had no idea what to do about PTSD.
So during junior spring everything got sidetracked, majorly.
I was born in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 1, 1994. We left Venezuela in 1999 when I was five — my mom and dad, sister, and me. I speak Spanish fluently, and a lot of my parents' friends speak Spanish. Venezuelans are a very family-oriented culture, not go-go-go like Americans. Caracas is a chaotic city, with a lot of noise and street vendors, but it has a lot of beauty to it, too. Beautiful beaches. Everyone is so welcoming — their house is your house within thirty minutes of meeting you. I hung out with my cousins all the time. I miss the positivity of it.
I'm an American citizen now, and my mom's Italian, so I have a dual citizenship with Italy. But my roots are Venezuelan. And that's how I identify myself. I definitely identify myself as a Latina.
We left because of the political tension, the crime rate. My dad had more opportunities in the United States. He owns his own tool company and makes a lot of tools for auto companies. That's why we moved to Michigan. Lake Orion, Michigan.
It was so different. I knew some English, but there was a still a language barrier. When we got to Michigan, it was snowing. I had never seen snow. I loved it, though. I always wanted to be outside, to make snow angels. My sister and I had seen that in a movie.
My mom was unhappy. She was used to having a lot of friends, and my dad was traveling. School was difficult for me. I was shy and not answering questions correctly. My mom would pack my lunch of black beans and rice and I'd get "Ooh, what is that?" so I told her to not pack me that lunch anymore. After that she packed me peanut butter, and I hated it. But I wanted to be like the other kids.
From middle school to high school I went to the same school, and things got smoother. I became very outgoing. I learned to adapt.
Excerpted from "We Believe You"
Copyright © 2016 Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Our Stories—Elise Siemering, Lauren, Andrew Brown, Anonymous S, Aysha Ives, Anonymous V, Fabiana Diaz, Anonymous XY 7
From “The Elegy of I”—Sari Rachel Forshner 18
I’m Going to College—Andrea Pino 20
II—How It Happened
Our Stories, continued 35
The Attacker: A Chorus 44
Assaulted by Strangers, Twice—Zoë Rayor 54
Dear Abuelita—Andrea Pino 61
I Startle Easily—Anonymous A 64
Star Wars—Johanna Evans 69
Blackout—Abbi Gatewood 71
Gang Rape at Oregon State—Brenda Tracy 72
A Letter to My Daughter—Anonymous K 74
Right After 78
III—Trauma and Betrayal
Our Stories, continued 85
Friends: A Chorus 102
The Surprising Bravery of Others—Anonymous V 103
Code Switch—A. Zhou 106
Parents: A Chorus 112
Rape Culture: A Chorus 114
From “The Elegy of I”—Sari Rachel Forshner 115
Tennis Was My Life—Elly Fryberger 117
People You May Know—Kevin Kantor 123
The Punishments: A Chorus 128
Betrayals—Andrea Pino 130
Untouchable: Being a Trans Survivor—Princess Harmony 133
The Dangerous Myth of the “Ideal” Survivor—Princess Harmony 138
Anger: A Chorus 141
Unaccepted Students Day—A. Lea Roth and Nastassja Schmiedt 142
IV—Healing and Everyday Activism
Our Stories, continued 160
My Dog, My Best Friend—Zoë Rayor 186
Our First Conversation—Annie Clark and Andrea Pino 188
Speak Out—Julia D. 191
If It Happens to You: A Chorus 197
Accepting Entropy: How My Dad Used the Second Law of Thermodynamics to Teach Me How to Survive—Liz Weiderhold 199
Again—Regina Gonzalez-Arroyo 202
Relationships After: A Chorus 204
Olivia Benson Believes Me—Anonymous H 206
The After—Sari Rachel Forshner 210
Slowly, You Start Forgetting—Anonymous V 214
ƒ(Survival): A Function of Survival—Aditi 216
I Believe Myself: On Creativity and Healing—A. Lea Roth and Nastassja Schmiedt 223
My Own Lingerie—Abbi Gatewood 226
“Lux Libertas”—Andrea Pino 228
Women’s Studies Built Me—Stephanie Canales 231
The Teal Forks Timeline—Fabiana Diaz 237
Then Came Activism: A Chorus 242
The Professor: Some Notes on My Experience—Katie Rose Guest Pryal 245
Songs for Survival: A Playlist—A. Lea Roth and Nastassja Schmiedt 256
I Am a Phoenix—Brenda Tracy 258
V—Declarations of Independence
Statement from the Artist on Doing a Self-portrait About Rape—Chloe Allred 277
Tattoos—Annie Clark 280
Reclaiming College—Lilly Jay 282
School After: A Chorus 284
Dear Harvard: This Fight Is Not Over—Ariane Litalien 287
An Important Event—Sofie Karasek 292
I Write On—Annie Clark 296
I Have Been Told That My Skin Is Exceptionally Smooth—Regina Gonzalez-Arroyo 304
Dear Emily Yoffe—Kamilah Willingham 310
How to Become an Activist—Annie Clark and Andrea Pino 322
Rights and Resources
Help 101: What to Do Immediately After Experiencing Violence 327
Resources: Our Top Picks 329
“Why Didn’t You Go to the Police?”—Annie Clark 333
Title IX 335
Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights 336
A Note on Representation—Andrea Pino 337
Our Fuller Dedication 346