Haverford College, my alma mater,
went coed in 1980. This was considered a
bold and controversial move at the time, but one that the school embraced as
necessary for the way forward as an institution of higher learning.
Shortly after this change in
admission policy (between 1980-1981), a young female freshman found herself
intoxicated at a campus party. The
degree of her intoxication is hard to ascertain and has been debated many
times, but the reality is that it should never have mattered. Given her state, some older male
upperclassmen saw what they thought to be an opportunity. One began to flirt with the girl, whom he
then ushered to a more “private” room, and one by one this group of young men
raped this young woman repeatedly. The rest of the story follows like the
script from a cliché Lifetime film: she was “drunk”, female and Puerto Rican so
clearly she must have asked for it; the boys were “good and upstanding” and
said she consented; the situation became their word versus hers, and she is
said to have left the school before her freshman year was over.
Google it as you may, you will not
find this story posted on the web. It is also not the administration of the
school that makes new students aware of its existence and only a handful of
professors choose to share it with their classes. It is the student body, year after year,
generation after generation, who keeps its memory alive, tying our beloved
school’s own sordid past with the ongoing efforts to eliminate violence against
women from happening on our campus, our community and our world.
Many argue that Cayman is at a
crossroads and that we need to decide, here and now, what path we will
choose. The truth is that the choice has
already been made. The fork in the road
has long passed, and this is the path of complacency.
This is not a choice made solely by
our leadership- political, religious and private sector, though they have had a
role to play. It is not even solely our,
the people’s, decision via our failing to hold said leadership accountable
when, through their words and deeds they perpetuate the problem. It is a choice that we make, loud and clear,
through our inaction and silence. In
other words, the choice is not made “for” us but “by” us.
Do not misunderstand: there
certainly are those among us who try.
Yet year after year they find themselves preaching to the
converted. Year after year they find
themselves listening to the same empty promises, the same grandiose statements,
watching the same show. They struggle
to keep the fight alive, quietly on a day to day basis, but more loudly one
month or even one day of the year when it is “acceptable” or at least
convenient for the community to turn its attention to one particular
cause. Our excuse is that there are,
after all, “too many issues” and to consider each often is simply too
overwhelming and depressing.
The cost of apathy is not
unfamiliar. Acts of unspeakable violence
have touched us all, deeply, but while our memory is long our outrage is short. When we lost Estella (Scott-Roberts), for we
all lost Estella in some way large or small (even those who could not claim her
as a close personal friend), we found- albeit briefly- our voice and proclaimed
to all those who would listen: “Never again!”.
Yet two years later we find
ourselves here, choosing silence once more. We have added Sabrina (Schirn) to
our list of lives hijacked, and countless other assaults have been reported
steadily since. The echoes of a
community united in grief and outrage fades.
The family and friends of those
women who lost their lives will never forget their loss, and neither should we.
I called the Women’s Center at
Haverford this week to find out from a student there if she knew the
story. She did. She said it was told to all freshmen by their
student leaders as part of the first week “path” activities which focuses on
campus life and includes sessions on sex, sexuality, sexual assault and
rape. She will be graduating in 2012, and
there are no words to convey just how proud I felt of my Haverford community
for keeping its memory alive.
Ten years since my graduation from
that very institution I can finally understand the importance of this story,
how it is told and by whom. It defines us.
It defines us as a group of people who own our history in its totality,
triumph and loss, rights and wrongs, in an effort to ensure that we play a part
in making a better future for those who come after us.
Today, as a community, we the
residents of the Cayman Islands are defined by our silence.
Silence is a choice. Left unchecked, unquestioned and unbroken it
turns certainty (“Never again!”) into doubt (“Never again?”) and then the norm