Editor’s note: The Observer does not typically allow Letters to the Editor to be signed anonymously; however, in this case, the Editorial Board granted anonymity to the author as we consider the letter important to conversations in the tri-campus community. This letter includes mentions of sexual assault.
Dear members of the Notre Dame and tri-campus communities,
In light of other students sharing their sexual assault stories on social media this week, I felt that staying silent wasn’t an option. To show my support and solidarity while remaining anonymous, here is my story:
On November 19, 2021, I was sexually assaulted at a dorm party by a relatively well-known classmate at Notre Dame. I felt violated, trapped, powerless and afraid of what might happen next. Only being able to escape when my best friend (male) entered the party, I am so fortunate he got there when he did. Barely three months into my rest semester of college, I was overwhelmed with emotional pain I never thought I would ever experience. I don’t think it’s possible to fully describe the impact the incident and its aftermath have had on me. Still, I will try to give you a glimpse of what the eight months following the night of the assault looked like for me.
After taking some time to process, I submitted a Speak Up report regarding the night of the 19th. I met with the Title IX Deputy Director who took me through every option I had on how I wanted to proceed. I led my formal complaint and was told that by doing so, I could later choose whether I wanted an administrative or alternative resolution. I felt reassured that there were many ways I could get the justice I needed and that this decision was entirely my choice. Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be the case.
By the time I filed, it was finals week and Title IX told me they would not address my case until after winter break. So that first week of the spring semester, I patiently waited for an email from somebody in the Title IX office. The whole month of January came and went. I was devastated that I never heard anything back.
Like November 19, February 5 is another date I’ll never forget. That Saturday, I woke up and checked YikYak to find post after post about my assailant and my incident. Rumors started, and my friends were slowly putting pieces together. The whole campus was talking about it. Student Government and Callisto began to take action. While I was grateful that my assailant was finally getting the backlash he deserved, it was so lonely and nerve-wracking being a part of the conversation with very few people to go to for support.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that on Monday, Feb. 7, two days after the whole campus was angry and taking action about sexual assault at Notre Dame, partly because of my incident, I finally got an email from Title IX asking if I’d like to proceed with my formal complaint. After replying yes to the email, this should have been the point where I was supposed to go in for an “initial assessment,” according to the Title IX Deputy Director at my meeting in December. I had not decided what course of action I wanted to take yet. Instead, I received a notice of investigation letter a week later without anybody asking me what resolution I wanted.
The Title IX process was almost as traumatic as the assault itself. It made me deal with my buried trauma head-on. The loneliness, the anger, and the sadness only multiplied. It became hard to do anything else but think about what happened to me on Nov. 19. And after three months came the most challenging part. For over eight hours, I sat in a zoom call staring directly at my assailant’s face as he spewed lies about the night in question. Title IX gave me no choice but to be questioned for two hours straight and be present for my assailant and all twelve witnesses’ testimonies. I should have had a choice.
We are finally at the one redeeming quality of my story. The hearing board did determine that my assailant violated University Policy. Still, it becomes less of a triumph when you see that all he got was a slap on the wrist. As a part of the sanctions given by the hearing board, my assailant would receive an oral reprimand. Kindergarteners should receive an oral reprimand for pushing a classmate on the playground. Your parents might have lectured you for refusing to share your toys with your sibling. A verbal reprimand given to a grown adult for sexual advances on a woman without her consent should not be considered fair punishment.
My Title IX process ended July 12. The better half of a year, almost eight months, two hundred and thirty-five days and most of my time at Notre Dame have been consumed entirely by the incident and the Title IX process.
I understand I am one of the lucky ones. I thank God every day that my best friend got there when he did. I am grateful that the hearing board found my assailant guilty. But that being said, it doesn’t change that the Title IX system needs so much work.
My assailant got a warning and got to go back to living his everyday life. After what I am sure was a very impactful oral reprimand, he was still able to get an internship with a very reputable company this summer. He still has a job on campus. As far as everyone can tell, he is living far too comfortable of life for someone who has been proven guilty of being a sexual assailant.
But I will never be the same. The brave people to share their stories will never be the same. The women that have been assaulted but are rightfully terrified of what might happen if they speak up will never be the same. Why is the Title IX process so brutal it discourages survivors from reporting? Why does the Title IX process favor the assailants? Why am I the one still suffering when I didn’t do anything wrong?
I have been sick the last few days over how many sexual assault stories have been coming to the surface and how many talk about the University doing nothing. It feels gut-wrenching to go to a school that doesn’t consider the well-being of vulnerable students.
Lastly, I wanted to share a portion of my opening statement that I gave at my hearing back in May that I still feel rings true today: “Now, looking back at my first year at Notre Dame, the people I met and the memories I made are not the first things that come to mind. What comes to mind instead is the feeling of being powerless, feeling trapped in the corner of a dorm party, unable to move and feeling helpless. What comes to mind are the nights I spent crying myself to sleep because dealing with the aftermath and the investigation process was too overwhelming for me to handle. The emotional toll this took on me is what comes to mind, and it is incredibly upsetting to know that the majority of my college experience thus far has been ruined by the inconsiderate actions of a fellow classmate.”
With the ball now in Notre Dame’s hands, I really hope our administrators will do something with it. People’s lives and well-being are in danger and cannot continue.
Notre Dame Student
Class of 2025
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.