September 1, 2016

GUEST ROOM | Campus of Cowards

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“I’ll make you cum.” Two weeks into college I found myself locked in the bathroom, sobbing uncontrollably. His vile words lingered in my mind, adamant and uncompromising, insisting we were going back to his room to have sex and swearing he would bring me to orgasm. I thought of how little my voice mattered. How my pathetic, intoxicated protestations were no match for a strong will and forceful grasp. Undeterred, he continued to shove his tongue down my throat as my words glanced off of him. I shuddered at the thought of what might have happened had someone not seen me struggling and pulled us apart.

Although it has been years, my memory of that night is still fresh and the wound still raw. The actions of my aggressor, though, are only partly to blame. More than anything, it has been the consequent actions of my peers that have made this experience so hard to come to terms with. The night I was almost raped marks the beginning of an ensuing blight that has infected my love for Cornell and distanced myself from some of my closest friends.

Of all the horrible emotions I endured that night, an overpowering loneliness hurt the most. Since I had only just arrived, I didn’t feel like I had anyone to talk to. My assailant, Jake*, was my floormate — essentially everyone I knew knew him as well. The one person who I felt comfortable enough telling at the time shrugged it off with a “that sucks,” and left. He didn’t care.

Later that night another girl from my floor found me and started comforting me. She walked me to my room and wished me goodnight, and while still shaken, it was such a relief that someone genuinely cared.

Or so I thought. For all the feelings of trust and gratitude that she had evoked in me that miserable night, I experienced a very different set of emotions when the very next day I saw her and Jake sitting snugly together, ordering pizza and engaging in cheerful, almost flirtatious discussion. A feeling of bitterness and betrayal quickly overtook me. Had everything he had put me through last night mattered so little to her? But anger slowly faded to a dejected resignation as I thought back to my conversation with my first “friend” and it dawned on me that, yes, it really didn’t matter to them at all — perhaps it wouldn’t to anyone.

It was only then that an insidious rationalization began to creep its way into my thoughts: what had happened the night before must not have been a big deal — I was overreacting. So I resolved to be mature about the whole incident and keep it to myself — going so far as to establish a casual acquaintanceship with Jake (despite his inability to apologize) and act as if nothing had happened. I think that a large part of me knew that I was right to be angry and what he had done was unforgivable, but I didn’t have the support I needed to pursue another course of action. And although I could’ve tried to reach out to others, ultimately I was scared that they, too, would disappoint.

For the remainder of freshman year this issue lied dormant in my head, rarely, if ever, coming to mind after the initial shock. It wasn’t until a year later when things finally started to change. Slowly at first as I was confronted with an increasing number of women who shared similar experiences with Jake, until finally reaching a boiling point when I found out that my friend Emily had been raped. Furious, I decided that I could no longer stay silent.

But things were not better this time around —  they were far worse. My words were met with a crushing lack of credence from my peers, the reactions a combination of disbelief, indifference and even outright hostility. One, who previously flaunted his victim advocacy for a friend of his who was raped, protested that he had met Jake several times and that he did “not seem like the type of person capable of something like that.” Another yelled in my face, dismissing my accounts as mere “hearsay” inappropriate of being “spread around.” Others were more credulous and seemed to acknowledge the seriousness of what was being told, but then proceeded to interact with Jake as if nothing had changed. A sorority “sister” of Emily’s went from being her staunchest victim advocate the night of her assault, telling her that what had happened was indeed rape and that she should report it, to inviting Jake to date night — all within the course of a few weeks. Beyond these feelings of indifference and disbelief, Emily herself was heavily criticized. I was asked to explain several of Emily’s actions the night of her assault, as if something she had done had brought the assault onto herself. I was told that Emily should keep quiet as failing to do so could result in serious consequences for Jake. As my peers lamented over the fragile state of their accused friend it dawned on me that in their eyes Jake, not Emily, was the victim.

To them, this story has a happy ending. Emily ultimately decided she didn’t want to recount her story over and over again under such scrutiny and face severe repercussions to her social life, and Jake remains a thriving member of our Cornell community. Looking back, I cannot find the words to describe the sense of profound bitterness and disillusionment I now feel. At the most basic level, the actions of my peers seem to defy fundamental principles of compassion, friendship and morality — much to the expense of victims such as Emily and myself. Worse still, they contribute to a hazardous atmosphere where rape and other forms of sexual aggression are tacitly sanctioned by a complete and utter lack of accountability. That such apathy, moral weakness and malignant conformity exists in a purportedly intelligent and “caring” community is not only confounding, but absolutely unacceptable. Where is the outrage? If we can’t even bring ourselves to stand up for our own friends and peers who are hurt by people like Jake, all we really are is a campus of cowards.
*names have been changed

Vendela Norman is a student at Cornell. Comments may be sent to Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

  • John Doe

    Incredibly brave piece. Sickening.

  • Jane Doe

    “much to the expense of victims such as Emily and myself”
    Do you want to identify as a powerless victim? If not, why do you say you were a victim when you were not, in fact, raped?

    Does “rape” mean where two people are drunk and have sex, but the girl wouldn’t have done it if she’d been sober? Should that be called the same thing as forcible stranger rape?

    We should not be a campus of cowards. We should be a campus where people are guilty and treated as pariahs and expelled as soon as someone accuses them. If some people are accused by someone who wants attention … well, that’s never happened and never will.

    • You’re an idiot

      Without even talking to her, I can guarantee you that Vendela Norman had no desire to identify as a powerless victim – she was one that night and is retelling what happened. What else do you want her to identify as?

      And to your next question – do you think you have to actually be raped to be a victim?

      Your third question is so poorly worded it’s hard to deal with. How is it relevant to this article? The hypothetical you described is not rape, but why do you bring it up? This article never deals with that hypothetical. Did you immediately think of that scenario when you read the word ‘rape’? Why did you jump there so quickly?

      Clearly your first instinct when you hear of a girl talking about rape is that she wants attention and is lying. Why do you distrust them so much? 10% of undergraduate women at Cornell say anonymously that they have been sexually assaulted here. Are they all lying? How many of them chose not to report because of people like the ones Vendela Norman describes in the article, or people like you?

      • Jane Doe

        I don’t distrust girls. But I think the campus culture defines behavior as sexual assault that is not necessarily sexual assault, and that makes a mockery of the term. If someone kisses you when you’re both drunk, maybe he’s just interested. It doesn’t necessarily mean he wants to rape you!, and it doesn’t mean he’s a rapist. No wonder the statistics are so high, when they’re defining sexual assault that way.

    • Ew

      Fuck off, don’t you have a Donald Trump rally to go to?

  • Chris S.

    There’s something fishy here if even the person’s own friends seem not to believe her story. I’d like to hear “Jake’s” side of the story.

    • ?

      Nowhere in the article does it say that her friends didn’t believe her, read it again. It says they heard her out and decided they were better off not doing anything because their life would be easier without the drama.

      Also, you say something is fishy here… is this story really so implausible? Do you really think it’s more likely that Vendela Norman made this entire story up just to post it under her name and call out all of these people around her, knowing full well assholes like you would accuse her immediately of lying? What would she have to gain from that? What part do you think she made up?

      It’s a little weird to me that you can read this detailed, well thought out, and heart-wrenching article and your first instinct is to blame the author. That type of accusatory mentality is exactly why rape is so grossly underreported in the U.S.

      • Chris S.

        I’m not saying she made the entire incident up. I’m saying it’s possible she misinterpreted or exaggerated it and saw the intention of rape where that didn’t exist. After all, she said he “almost raped” her when in fact all he did was kiss her. Unless there’s something she left out.

        I don’t know, but neither do you.

        Her type of “accusatory mentality” (as you say) is why innocent guys are being accused of sexual assault. If you think you and your friends are safe from that, you’re fooling yourself.

  • Daniel Weiner

    It is entirely possible that sufficiently consenting intercourse may occur while intoxicated whereafter either party regrets having partook. But that characterization bears little resemblance to the account at hand. Here, a human being utilized physical inequity to rob another person of agency. Of course the claim is not the proof itself; but the presumed veracity of essentially any single aspect of her larger narrative is. Whether it be the fact that a third party came across Ms. Norman and Jake and was so incensed as to “pull” them “apart,” would indicate a blatantly unacceptable interaction and behavior on Jake’s part. If it is the case that two individuals essentially dismissed someone in a vulnerable state claiming sexual victimization, the due proof is there. If it is so that multiple other female students were subjected to identical sexual assaults, then there is more than a mere red flag — there is sufficient cause for a community response, what Ms. Norman calls for. That involves students being alert, responsible, and compassionate, not dismissive, apathetic, and inhumane. If we do not heed such overwhelmingly compelling voices who speak out bravely, then we have to ask to what end do we ignore such basic obligation? Why do we act in line with the words we type as Jane Doe, not as our names true? Vendela Norman staked her name on the behalf of others’ wellbeing in the future, and that defines her identity, certainly not the imposed status of victim by someone who is most certainly a coward.

  • Cool Story Bro

    1) If someone did pull you and Jake apart, then wouldn’t that person be your friend/witness? Why did you not go to the JA’s office? He would’ve been expelled. Oh let me answer the latter question for you: it did not happen.
    2) Your parents and Emily’s parents are not concerned? Did they reach out to the appropriate officials so their daughter wouldn’t have to see her rapist on campus? Well, let me also answer this for you: they are not concerned cause their daughter was not raped.
    3) The “friend” who listened to you at first started being snuggly with Jake even after knowing he is capable of hurting girls for pleasure? Cool story bro.

    Most probable scenario: Jake and Vendela both were at a party, probably both were dancing and then maybe Jake tried to kiss her to show interest, and then Vendela went to her friends and told “OH MY GOD, did you like see that guy? He was like totally into me, and literally wanted to take me home. I was like not into him at all, but he like tried to kiss me, so he is like literally a rapist.”

    • This guy sucks ^

      This guy sounds super defensive.

    • Objective

      You are completely oblivious to the intention of the author and it is actually mortifying to see your response in this thread. It’s clear that literally individuals like you are the symptom of our culture that Vendela is describing in this article. All of your points are void to anyone who can see past the fact that you’re simply trying to distract from the realities associated with the issues she has recounted. She is brave for posting this article and you should be ashamed by how unable you are to take in any train of thought that you haven’t considered/doesn’t concur with your assumptions. P.S. I’m not PC police or even a liberal, just a regular person who is against hurting people and a culture that fosters that.

      • Chris S.

        The PC police are also unable to take in any train of thought that doesn’t concur with their assumptions.

      • Cool Story Bro

        All of you bunch of shitheads are missing the point. If Vendela went to the court or the JA’s office, the burden would have been on Jake to show that he didn’t commit the alleged crimes. You could exhaust all the adjectives in the dictionary to show your feelings about my comments, but the justice system will remain neutral. While my previous comment asks the validity of Vendela’s claims, if she had taken the case to court or the JA, my stance would’ve been the opposite and I would’ve questioned the validity of Jake’s claims (assuming he denied the allegations).

        • Daniel Weiner

          You below state that Cornell judiciary boards follow standard legal practice but then said the accused would be saddled with the burden of proof. Your train of thought just seems discordant and contrarian rather than constructive or worthwhile. Look, you’re obviously a troll with neither the intestinal fortitude or basic discursive courtesy to put your name behind what you say, which is fine. But it’s just bizarre that you’re not even offering a semblance of an argument. You post a complete contradiction of Vendela’s account that is nothing other than in no uncertain terms saying she was not sexually harassed. Then you follow up by saying we’re missing he point of there being a neutral justice system? Wut. An utter non sequitur. And I’ll tell you what, you have the balls to put your name behind what you say and I will, mark my words, pay you $100.00 immediately. That’s how confident I am that you’re nothing but a troll.

          • Cool Story Bro

            You obviously misunderstood. Read before your pathetic self feels the warmth of a new $100 paycheck. Cornell’s judiciary system is for judicial purposes, which doesn’t follow the standard legal practices. But nevertheless Cornell’s JA is still a judicial system and Vendela could’ve easily gone there. She would’ve been provided with services from the Victim’s Advocacy Center and also have Jake investigated. Summary: Cornell’s JA possesses the rights to investigate students upon receiving allegations, and provides no hearing to the accused ones. So no, it is not a standard legal practice.

        • Dylan Madoff

          If you are so confident in what you say, then you won’t mind standing by what you say with your real name. I’ll throw in another $100. You’re nothing but a troll.

  • This guy sucks ^

    Man, Cornell Police need to hire this dude! He comes to conclusions so quickly and easily! Better than Sherlock Holmes!

    • Cool Story Bro

      What part of my comment gave you the identity of my gender? According to the PC, sensitive and whiny culture that you (and obviously Vendela) are a part of, assuming someone’s gender must be a crime!

      We may both agree that a person capable of assaulting at least two women shouldn’t be allowed on Cornell’s campus or anywhere. The allegations Vendela makes are very serious. Because of the severity of the issue she addresses, I just can’t help but wonder why in the world Vendela went to publish her name and recall her story in a newspaper while she could’ve also recalled her story to the JA’s office and gotten JUSTICE while also keeping her identity secret?

      Take a dose of NyQuil and dream about it. Maybe you are more capable of being rational in your dreams than when you are awake.

      • This guys sucks ^

        This article does a pretty good job of explaining the reasons rape is so underreported in the United States and on college campuses. Read the article again.
        And I don’t think you know what PC means… PC is not recounting a story of a time you felt victimized and isolated. If you think the issue of rape culture and apathy is PC, then you are more lost than you realize. When does the article ever mention censoring speech?
        Anyways, like an earlier comment said, go fuck off to your Trump rally.

        • Cool Story Bro

          Actually, no, Vendela doesn’t accurately present the proceedings of sexual assault allegations. While in the past, the idea was to sweep sexual violation allegations on college campuses under the rug, at present Cornell takes very drastic measures in response to sexual assault allegations. When a person is accused, Cornell takes off all the due processes that a regular court system would provide. While a simple Code of Conduct violation would grant a Cornell student a right to a hearing, for more serious matters like sexual assault, the accused doesn’t even get a hearing. What has been the outcome of this? Cornell liberally suspended or expelled guys and is now facing at least three lawsuits for wrongfully (allegedly) handling the issues. Now that you have some idea about how things work, you can go make cookies for Vendela to show how much of a brave soul she is for sharing her story and not seeking justice, and I’m going to enjoy my soft-serve ice cream and my middle finger is there for your pleasure.