9 things I’ve learned about harassment

First, an update on me: The anxiety caused by this whole ordeal is still really strong. I still do not feel safe around this individual, and that has extended from the classroom to the department to the campus to the greater city area. Now, I am getting that part under control a bit. I am noticeably less nervous when I am out shopping now, and working on feeling safe on campus. I’m trying to get off my diet of airheads and gummies, but typically a meal and half is the max I can do on a good day. I’m still not sleeping the best, but I’ve been so exhausted from this that I do sleep hard. I just miss my old schedule of 10:30-5:30, rather than 12+ to 6:30 (aka my alarm — something I haven’t needed since, like, May).

I’ve met with the Title IX investigator, and am working with the coordinator and my professors on accommodations so I can stop missing classes. (For at least one of them, it means skyping in.) I’ve also requested a no-contact order, which the school is in the process of doing for me. But as I said previously, this is all still on-going so I’m not going to get into the details. However, that said, through all of this, I have indeed learned a good deal about harassment/hostile environments and dealing with it.

1. It is not your fault.
I did not initiate the conversation. I did not steer it towards that topic. I explicitly stated that I was not comfortable and was leaving the conversation. As much as I know it is not my fault, it’s really hard to let myself know and understand this. I’ve probably called myself much worse things than anyone else could. We live in a society that unfortunately blames the victim often. So while I hear the voices in my head tell me I’m a petty bitch for threatening this person’s academic career with this investigation, I just tell them to fuck themselves because no. I did not choose any of this. He chose his actions. And they were not called for and should not be tolerated.

2. Make your feelings explicit.
I’ve had to get to the root of what was it about this interaction that bothered me. Mostly because this helps me focus on something specific, which can be good for healing from the event. However…

3. You have the right not to share about this event.
I have a small grad cohort, the program itself is small. People talk. But I do not have to share any details with anyone I am not comfortable doing so. Granted, since I am pursuing an investigation, there are certain times when I just have to. Also, with this, while venting can be extremely cathartic and all… you kind of have to be careful with whom and where you do this.

4. Find your support team.
Mine has included friends, family (distantly, they do not know the details but are supportive regardless), faculty, university administration, and also a professional psychiatrist. All of them have different roles. I get comfort from the university administration just in knowing that they are looking into this, and the assurance that they take these reports seriously. Since this is an intradepartmental issue, the faculty sort of need to be unbiased, but I have found support in them as well. One in particular gave me a really great reassurance, which has become my “this is why I need to be strong” reminder. These can be the safe people you can vent to. I will also admit: having free counseling on campus is an amazing perk. I’m doing individual sessions now, and will likely start group ones in the spring.

5. There is no magical switch to make things better.
This is probably the most important one. You can’t just magically be better. Yes, I do indeed wear a mask a lot to hide my true emotions, but it’s not the same, and also not a longterm plan of survival. This is something your support team needs to understand as well. Though I love my friends, and I know they are well-meaning and want the best for me, one said “you need to come to class.” I know I need to, but I also need to not be in an environment where I feel absolutely unsafe. Hearing that sort of stuff just makes you feel like they don’t get it (which, on many levels they won’t and can’t). And you sort of have to speak up and say “I’m doing my best” or possibly “this isn’t supporting me in the way I need it.” → something I need to get better at saying.

6. It won’t feel fair.
I feel like I am being punished for someone else’s actions. I’m the one missing classes and work. I’m the one not sleeping right. I’m the one not really eating. This person is just going on like nothing happened. It’s not fair. This is why I’m working with the university. I’m getting accommodations, like skyping, for my classes. I’m going to counseling so I can develop methods to feel safe on campus even if I can’t feel safe in our department yet. I’m doing what I can to just feel like me again. (Which involves a lot of naps, comfort foods, and kitty cuddle time. And also maybe a new cardigan.)

7. You have options.
Yes, in the “real world” outside of campus, I will experience harassment again. But as my professor said, you have the option to just not deal with it, you can leave. I can’t just leave grad school. (Ok, I can, but again it’s not fair for me to give up my goals and academic gains just because of the actions of someone else.) In this case, I have a whole wealth of options through the university. So I’m pursuing them. As the same professor reminded me, I fought hard to get into grad school, and they voted me in. I am not just giving this up. I deserve to be here.

8. You have no obligations to anyone but yourself.
I’m a nice person. I tried to connect with this person, make them feel included in our cohort. I did not owe them anything. At most, to be professional, maybe polite — maybe. But that is it. And really, I don’t owe them to be professional, I owe myself. A lot of this feels antithetical to my Midwestern, Quaker upbringing… but sometimes you just have to take care of yourself first. And obviously, that’s not a right to go out of your way to be rude or mean to anyone. But I don’t have to smile, be overly nice, or be friends with anyone I do not choose or want to.

9. It will take time.
Just like there is no magic switch to flip… these things will take time. Either with your own healing or through the official processes of getting it reported, etc… And unfortunately, that is an aspect that sucks. Sometimes strength comes from seeking help, from doing the hard things. And I want to come out of this so much stronger than before.

Ok, so this is sort of #10, but: If you feel harassed, then you are. It’s a direct quote from my wise professor. Don’t let the process of this, your own doubts, or any words or actions from others make you feel crazy. Your emotions are real. They are valid. Do what you need to do to be whole again.

I have no idea what the university will rule. They did ask what I would want if I was totally in control of the situation — which, would be for that person to be removed from my classes. But I don’t know how likely that would be. I am not opposed to mediation, but only if this other person can understand their actions and why they were not ok in any way. I am not unreasonable for wanting either of those outcomes. At most, like my professor said, I do not deserve to let this take away my academic career and, most importantly, I should not let it.