My freshman year at Stanford, I went to a party and was drugged and raped.
As the Title IX and SARA offices will tell you, everyone who has been raped is affected in different ways and has different needs in addressing their trauma. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. For me, it felt like what had happened to me became an unshakable part of my identity. I felt like I wore that identifier as a stain everywhere I went. Every thought I had, every action was colored by my awareness of it, and a voice in the back of my mind always asked: Is this really me? I lost who I was, how I used to define myself, how to untie that experience from myself as a person.
Because of this intense awareness and self-consciousness, many of the traditional resources on campus only made these feelings worse. Any outlet specifically dedicated to talking about sex, talking about assault, talking about bodies — while excellent resources for so many students — only made me feel more exposed, like the stain was more vibrant. For me, they implied that discussing these issues outside of these places was wrong, and validated the hyperawareness, self-consciousness and pervasive shame that I felt. It became increasingly difficult to interact with my peers in my dorm or my classes.
There was only one community on campus I found that made things better instead of worse, and that was the LSJUMB.
The reasons for my comfort there were twofold. First, the people I was surrounded by genuinely cared about me, just because I was there and had chosen to be a part of the community. Many people have commented publicly about how Band is a home and a family to them, and though I felt that too, other people have stated it better than I ever can. The second reason, though, was that Band’s atmosphere was exactly what I needed. The very things that OCB has cited as examples of sexual hostility were the things that helped me achieve peace with myself and feel comfortable again in my own body. Spelling the word “sexion” with an “x,” making sexual jokes, having suggestive signage in the Shak and dancing with hip thrusts were all part of a sex-positive culture that helped me overcome my trauma. They normalized a word that previously made my heart rate jump and my thoughts spin out of control. They reduced the guilt and shame I had when thinking or talking about sex, because the neutral and frequent use of the word made me feel like sex was not a taboo subject. They empowered me to reclaim my body and feel good about the fact that I ultimately choose how I move and why. And I came to realize that Band’s culture wasn’t just about irreverence and breaking expectations. Band’s culture ultimately promoted one thing — being comfortable and confident as yourself in your own skin, whoever that is.
Indeed, sex-positivity was just a single aspect of a community that stressed radical self-acceptance and self-expression. The wacky, colorful rally gear, the funky and freewheeling dancing and the music itself were all part of the judgement-free atmosphere that encouraged us to shed our self-consciousness and express our true selves. The value of nonconformity led to a promotion of individuality. The rejection of societal norms encouraged us to think independently, and to question authority and standards that we subconsciously took to be true. The fact that Band was student-run empowered every single one of us to shape the organization in our own way, while preserving the culture and traditions that we found to be important. The total lack of membership requirements sent a message to all current, former and future members that they were welcome as they were, no matter who they were.
Band encouraged and helped its members to become their truest selves. I’ve heard so many people say that Band helped them figure out who they really are. And I can say that Band helped me become myself again. Over time, Band helped me separate what happened to me from who I am, and live without feeling every moment like my life had been commandeered by someone whose identity, to this day, I still don’t know. Because of Band’s culture, I was able to shake the feelings of anxiety and shame that had consumed me and remember how to be happy. My life was my own again, and I had Band to thank for that.
Watching Band be dismantled slowly over the past two years and then be legitimately ended last Friday has been hard for me. It’s been hard watching the place that I’ve called home for so long disappear. It’s been hard watching the hours and hours of work I put in toward making Band a better place be dismissed with the conclusion that the University’s demands “have not been taken seriously.” But mostly, it’s been hard for me to see the University invalidate the very aspects of Band’s culture that helped me find myself again and in doing so, also invalidate my recovery. It’s been hard being told that those cultural aspects — the only things that made me feel comfortable being myself again — should actually cause me to feel uncomfortable and ashamed. It’s been hard being told that no, this brand of sex-positivity is wrong, and that sex is necessarily a big deal and not something you should feel comfortable talking about without a specific forum and plan. It’s been hard being told that “sex” is a bad word. It’s been hard being told these things from the Title IX office — the very same office that should theoretically be standing up for people who have been through what I have been through.
I feel like I have been made into an example and used by them as a weapon against the organization that took care of me. I feel like by condemning the foundations upon which I rebuilt my life and myself, they have told me that my experience and my being are wrong, that I’m less worthy of happiness and stability, that my identity is tied to my rape, that I’m not myself, that I should be ashamed. And I do feel shamed. Because of the actions of the Title IX office and OCB, I am experiencing a lot of the same feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness and shame that I felt right after I was raped.
The decision to suspend Band does not just affect me. It will displace all those people like me for whom Band has been a home, a sanctuary, a place of healing and a place of joy, when nowhere else is. Others have pointed out the timing of the announcement on the Friday before finals week is also very troubling, as the administration has demonstrated yet again that it either has no comprehension or no concern that the emotional impact of this decision is affecting Band members academically, and that perhaps the timing was an intentional ploy to reduce students’ ability to respond. They’ve also pointed out the potential intention to deflect from the bad PR the administration has faced as a result of attempting to bribe rape victims to drop their charges.
But one thing I haven’t seen pointed out is that even in the recommendation letter to Greg Boardman that he cited in his letter to Band, the OCB panel didn’t try to pretend its recommendation came from a place of concern for the students — the concern they cited was about “the risk and liability to the University community and to Stanford’s reputation.” In a way, it felt good to see them drop the facade of pretending to care about students and confirm in writing their real motivations.
I know that I am not alone in feeling disregarded and diminished by the very same office that is my supposed resource and representative. They have invalidated my experience, they have shamed me and they have undermined so much of the progress that Band helped me achieve. I do not speak for Band. I can only speak toward how I feel — how Band made me feel and how the actions of the University have made me feel. Band has the chance to appeal the decision that was made, and the administration will likely prove, once again, just how far students’ mental health and well-being have fallen on its list of priorities. After two long years, I’ve learned better than to hope for a surprise.
The author wished to remain anonymous due to the discussion of her sexual assault.