Midway through my penultimate business trip of 2011 (ONLY ONE MORE WEEK OF TRAVEL! YAY!) I gave a talk at my grad school. It's a school. In Connecticut. Ok, it's Yale. Now normally I don't give details about myself away like that, but I bring it up because Yale is in the midst of a huge investigation for the way that they handle (or in many cases don't handle) sexual harassment on campus. And I bring up the investigation because I was someone whom the system failed. I won't go into details because it isn't important. But, it was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life--not only the incident itself, but the process of handling it officially through the school.
I swear to God, my grad school had more corners than any other building ever created. You can't walk for more than a few steps before having to turn a corner. And when you're trying to avoid certain people, it's incredibly anxiety-provoking to have to turn a dozen corners to get from point A to point B. It got to be so bad that eventually I left school for a month before returning to finish my final semester. And I made my presence on campus as minimal as possible. For someone who'd been active in student life, it was a blow to my sense of self to disengage so abruptly.
Since moving away from Connecticut, I have stepped onto campus twice. The first was for my friend L's wedding, which was in the summertime when the school is mostly empty. The second was last week. I'd done a talk at Drew Seminary in New Jersey and was staying with an old friend in Connecticut before leaving for Ohio for another talk. I'd had one of my colleagues contact me about doing a talk, and I figured, what could it hurt? It's another thing for me to report back to our funder, and since I was already going to be in town, it was potentially a good use of what would otherwise have been down time.
I imagined what it would be like to run into my perpetrator. Or the people on the committee who heard every word about the incident. Or anyone who would trigger that anxiety in me. The turnover in grad school is so fast, I hardly recognized a face. It felt weird, to be a stranger in a place I'd spent three long, difficult years. I passed by the hall of class photographs, finding my picture. My eyes looked dead. In fact, a lot of the photos from those years are like that.
I must've been surrounded by some kind of grace that day because I was spared any of these potentially awkward run-ins. It helped me to focus on why I was there--to talk with students about what's next for them, how they can do great things in the world to help others, to encourage them that life post-Yale can be amazing. I met with a few old friends still in the area, and much to my surprise had a really great day. Who would've thought?
Walking out of the school, I felt a huge sense of relief. I'd been back, I'd done my thing, and I was ok. I'm stronger now than I was then. And I'm thankful to be leaving that place behind...again.