The Real Version of the 'Michigan Difference' at the University of Michigan
I sat comfortably on my friend Connor’s* couch until I noticed his Trump Flag hanging above me. I froze in my seat and was instantly transported back to being violently raped the night of March 22nd, 2018. Then comes the panic. The heart palpitations, the heavy but short breaths, the sweating, the tears, the ache in your heart for the life you had before the rape. Put yourself in my shoes or the shoes of anyone who has been raped or assaulted or hurt in some way. The idea of someone you love and trust supporting a president who said “grab her by the pussy” and has committed numerous other serious offenses, including crimes against women such as Jill Harth, Summer Zervos, and Stephanie Clifford. When I recovered from my nightmare flashback, I returned home to cry myself to sleep.
I would think if I couldn’t be safe from the flamboyantly offensive political views of men my own age, I could at least avoid them in an educational environment. While no male professors have shared the details of their political views with me, they didn’t have to. While they may not all be Trump supporters, they don’t disagree with his actions when they act the same way. These adult men feel entitled to the bodies and attention of young female students. For example, I was in office hours getting help for a final paper, my professor closed the door to his office and leaned into me so close I could feel the heat of his stale cigarette breath on my face. He then placed his hand on my bare leg to which I pushed him off and left immediately and never came back. He then hit on me at a bar over a year later. My other professor made me take a two hour exam alone with him in a locked room. Another whispered to me after class, “stop being so sexy.” I will stand by no longer and take this abuse.
Last year, when I tried to tell to tell one of my professor about my rape in order to receive extra support in the class he said I shouldn’t let my personal affairs interfere with my school work. He ended up passing me despite my inability to keep up with the class due to the mental health issues I was experiencing but at what cost. I may have gotten the grade I needed to get but he attempted to make me feel like I was the problem. Like I was the one getting in the way of my own future. However, almost a year later, I’ve finally realized I am not the problem. Men like him and my rapist are. This behavior exhibited by my professor enables rape culture. While he may have thought he was simply giving a student the necessary tough love they needed to succeed, he only rubbed salt in my already unbearable wound. The real “Michigan Difference” is the sense of superiority men feel over the women here. And this goes beyond a sexual superiority over women, although I believe that is the primary issue. They boast like they’re smarter than all of the women here, tell them that they’re going to make more money than them when we’re all out of here and unfortunately, they’re probably right. And for what reason will they make more money? Societal norms that continue to perpetuate male dominance and specifically male dominance over females. While a lot of work is being done to fight the hardships women face on a daily basis, there needs to be more. We need to rally together and show the men who’s really boss.
This past year of recovery has been a time of incredible pain, growth, suffering, major highs and low-lows. With that being said, I wouldn’t change what happened to me. I get to give back to my fellow women with my openness in my ability to share my experiences and vulnerabilities. While it can be scary at first, I can confidently say I can talk about my experience to almost anyone who is willing to respectfully listen without breaking down. And to see how far I came in a year is amazing. At the end of last school year when I got home, I wouldn’t even leave my house because I was so scared of the outside world. I just came back a few days ago from spring breaking in Cabo with all my best guy and girl friends and had the time of my life. A year ago when this happened, I would have never been able to say I would have the emotional, mental and physical capacity to handle a place as intimidating as that. While I still have a long way to go, happiness is finally in sight.
I knew I had to stop letting my rapist take away my happiness as soon as he wrote me a note apologizing and saying he would go abroad just to make me feel more comfortable at school. Little did he know even holding a piece of paper with his handwriting on it would send me into a panic attack. It was in that moment that I finally understood that I couldn’t let him have this much of a hold on me. Despite him going abroad per my request, I still spend everyday in fear. I speed walk everywhere, am always on high alert, I take street fighting and boxing, amongst other self-defense classes, I walk with mace and keys in my hands at all times, I’m a workaholic, an insomniac and a recovering/relapsing anorexic. But I’m also the risk manager of my sorority as a way of giving back to others who may be struggling. No one is perfect but what is most important is following your own happiness and choosing how to deal with your pain. While I don’t condone things like being a workaholic or an anorexic, these, amongst other things, are the ways that we attempt to control the things that we can not control. So in the meantime, if you’re struggling, with anything, just know that these are all choices I choose to make because they help me cope, grow and learn. They are a reaction of my experience but they have made me into the person I am today. Happiness is finally in sight for me because I have taken control of my life and recognized my flaws have nothing to do with him or what he did to me. I want to be able to protect not only myself, but others as well, if a dangerous situation were to occur. And more than that, I want to change the stigma surrounding rape, sexual assault, harassment, abuse, stalking and more. It isn’t embarrassing for you. It’s only embarrassing for the person who committed the act.
It is all worth it to alert the women of Michigan and beyond of the harsh reality of our seemingly tame and quaint Ann Arbor college town. And I am sure Michigan is not the only school that perpetuates these values so subtly but so blatantly at the same time. I hope my speaking out encourages and inspire others to share their story and reach out for help. Sexual, physical and verbal misconduct should not be tolerated by anyone and right now it is tolerated and promoted by people we should be able to know and trust.
By Magdalen Rivas
*Names Changed for Privacy