In a few weeks I will be leaving East Carolina University, but I cannot help but feel that I’m leaving this university with unfinished business. I’ve investigated stories which have led to change on campus, but there’s still so much room for improvement at ECU.
This campus should be a safe environment where students are able to feel safe and comfortable. I’ve tried to cover stories to highlight how sexual harrasment and assault and discrimination are handled through ECU, but I haven’t gotten a response from anyone in the administration willing to talk about this.
I think I’ve felt the need to investigate these stories because I felt I didn’t get justice in my own life. While I still don’t fully understand what happened to me, I’m working to overcome this.
At 17, I trusted my professor. At 17, my professor called me pet names. At 17, my professor asked me about my romantic partners. At 17, my professor told me I had plagiarized and I was being investigated, but he was going to help me and he wanted to meet me after next class.
I didn’t know how to tell my mom I was about to get kicked out of ECU. I didn’t know how I had plagiarized, because I hadn’t. I didn’t know who the board was that was investigating me. I didn’t know any of this because I was lied to about being investigated.
I didn’t have boundaries at 17. I didn’t know what was okay and what wasn’t, I just knew I was uncomfortable. When I told someone what happened, I was told “nothing happened.” Even now, I don’t know if I’m overreacting or if something actually happened when something happens.
Maybe ECU’s hands were tied and there was nothing they could’ve done. I don’t know. Telling me “nothing happened” was the worst thing they could have possibly said to me. Maybe they could have told me that they needed to look further into this or something else.
It’s hard to believe that “nothing happened” when my mom calls me out of health class to the Dean of Students Office where I have to tell them everything that happened when I’m still petrified that I’m going to get kicked out of school for plagiarism. It’s hard to believe that “nothing happened” when my family can only contact the school through its lawyers.
It’s hard to believe that “nothing happened” when I have panic attacks entering my classrooms and meeting my new professors on the first day of classes every semester since then.
I’ve had far worse things happen since then and I have gone years without telling anyone because I’m terrified that no one will believe me.
I know that what happened wasn’t illegal because North Carolina state laws don’t protect 17 year olds. Regardless, it was wrong. It is a school’s job to protect its students and ensure that they can learn in a safe and comfortable space. Maybe it’s too hard to treat women and girls with respect, but no matter what location they are in, they should feel safe.
Threatening to take something away from someone else or humiliating them in front of their peers and coworkers is not something we should just sit by and let happen.
There needs to be a change. Things aren’t okay because someone is a “student,” a “stranger,” or a “reporter.” What happened was wrong, but without action we’re just left knowing that it was wrong.
I don’t know who to tell when bad things happen. I tell my friends who tell me to tell authorities who can do something about the bad things. One thing I’ve learned about those people is that it’s easier to protect the bad people than it is to help me.
I’m far less naive now. I’ve gone through far worse by now. I’ve learned how to build boundaries and the difference between what is okay and what isn’t okay.
Despite me growing as a person and keeping everything buried deep inside, I know the response to this is going to be something about how I lied. Well, I didn’t and that’s my only defense.