• Bludgeoned by Joy

     

    All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.

    —Toni Morrison

     

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    Dear WRITER,

    First of all, I want to thank you again for writing this beautiful piece for the magazine.  We all love it and, as you can see from the attached, the edits are mostly pretty minor. We did have to remove two of the named examples you gave, however, due to the ongoing legal situation*. Please feel free to add alternative examples, although I think it still works very well as it stands.

    We would love to be able to illustrate your article with one of the photographs your father took that you refer to in the piece. They sound absolutely gorgeous — sun-drenched, dreamy and nostalgic. Do you have access to them and if so would you be able to please scan them and send them to us as high resolution jpeg attachments? That would be wonderful!

    Thank you again, WRITER and I look forward to hearing back from you about the edits. I am, of course, more than happy to discuss any of them with you if you wish.

    Kind regards,

    THE EDITOR

     

    * The “ongoing legal situation” refers to a $215 million class-action settlement between the UNIVERSITY, a UNIVERSITY health center DOCTOR accused of misconduct, and hundreds of students. Of the DOCTOR’s 17,000 former patients, 650 report they were inappropriately fondled, photographed, or subject to sexually charged comments during gynecological exams. The UNIVERSITY received several complaints of the DOCTOR’s abusive behavior beginning in 1988, and the UNIVERSITY was guilty of concealing, denying and ignoring these complaints. In 2016, the UNIVERSITY paid the DOCTOR a “substantial amount” to ensure he resigned quietly amid accusations of abuse. In January, 2020, the $215 million was awarded to the survivors as compensation for this abuse.

     

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    Dear EDITOR,

    I’m writing to respectfully decline the major edit you made on my “In My Opinion” piece*.

    At THE UNIVERSITY, I was chosen for my particular fellowship because I write about the health and wellbeing of women and children. At the time I was recruited, my work focused on maternal health in West Africa, but my focus shifted to North America — to the many ways that women and children and are in vulnerable, traumatic situations that can reverberate through their lives in negative ways. My professors and funders believed in this work; they provided me the skills and funding to examine these issues with candor and care. It would be remiss of me to deny that mandate now.

    At THE UNIVERSITY, I was also an international student who didn’t have much choice where she received health services. I depended on the student health clinic; I visited frequently while I was pregnant and recovering from the delivery of my two daughters. In this regard, I feel enormous solidarity with the young women and men who reported abuse at that clinic– particularly in light of THE UNIVERSITY’s covering up, denying complaints, ignoring complaints, and insisting on a culture of silence around these issues.

    This piece was written as a gesture of solidarity to students who reported this abuse**. It could have been me. I am citing names that are in the public record, and in no way am I referring to the legal case, to any named doctors, to lawyers, nor do I name THE UNIVERSITY directly. However, I can’t neuter the message of injustice from the story. The piece was born out of those names. I’m afraid I can’t take them out.

    Can we make good? I believe it is a culture of transparency that will solve this problem at THE UNIVERSITY, not a culture of silence. It is, after all, student journalists who continue to do the hard work of uncovering stories like these. I think these lines are speaking to an ugly truth — but these gestures will help to fix what has been done.

    Please understand my position. If you do decide to move ahead with this “In My Opinion” piece with names included, my dad and I will be more than happy to dig up those old photos for you. It’s a lovely gesture, I think it would be so beautiful.

    My best,

    THE WRITER

     

    *The call for submissions for this particular issue of the UNIVERSITY magazine was “Happiness.”
    ** On the day I was commissioned to write an article for the UNIVERSITY’s magazine, a second doctor was accused of sexual misconduct in the campus health clinic. In this case, 50 male patients complained that a men’s health doctor had made inappropriate remarks, fondled genitals and performed anal exams unnecessarily. In this case, the UNIVERSITY is once again accused of ignoring complaints made by students. A second legal suit is currently underway.

     

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    Dear WRITER,

    Thank you for your email and for taking the time to explain the genesis of this piece in so much depth.

    The first thing I would like to say is: Please know that we are on your side and that we, also, share your concerns.

    We have discussed your piece in some depth and I have good news. We agree that the lines about Vanessa and Ali* should remain. We were erring too much on the side of caution when we removed them.

    I have attached the piece with those lines reinstated. Could you please take a look at the rest of the edits? Again, I am more than happy to discuss any of them with you.

    It is a beautiful piece, WRITER, and we look forward very much to including it in the magazine.

    Thank you again.

    All best wishes,

    THE EDITOR

    * Vanessa & Ali are two publicly named victims of abuse at the UNIVERSITY’s health center.

     

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    Dear EDITOR,

    This is wonderful news. Thanks to you and your team for understanding. It really means a lot. I’ve attached all of my changes — I accepted all of yours and like your notes.

    Meanwhile, here are two photographs he found. Let me know if you need better copies…

    THE WRITER

     

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    Hi WRITER,

    Perfect! These ones work. Thank you and please say thank you to your father, too.

    Kind regards,

    THE EDITOR

     

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    Yay! So glad that they work!

    Please let me know if you need anything else. Can’t wait to see this in print.

    My best,

    THE WRITER

     

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    Dear WRITER,

    I want to thank you for writing a column for THE UNIVERSITY magazine. It was a particularly well written piece.

    Regrettably, however, we were unable to publish it because of the reference to the scandal at the student health center. I completely understand your decision not to remove it when we requested you to do so. But I hope you also understand that we have final editorial control over the content of the magazine.

    We try hard to publish articles that are interesting and thought-provoking. But in this case a number of people felt the reference was a step too far at a time when so many good people at THE UNIVERSITY are trying to right the wrongs of the past.

    You are clearly a gifted writer and I have no doubt that your career will flourish.

    Best wishes,

    THE SENIOR DEAN

     

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    Dear SENIOR DEAN,

    I’m compelled to stand up for myself on this one. First, I think you may want to rename this section of the magazine from “In My Opinion” to something that more correctly reflects your mandate to stay on brand. You are not asking for real reflection or opinion if you’re asking writers to delete their own beliefs and to instead reflect the views of THE UNIVERSITY.

    By killing the story, you are perpetuating a culture of silence around sexual abuse on THE UNIVERSITY’s campus. You’re not helping anyone “right the wrongs of the past.” *Student opinions may not entirely line up with THE UNIVERSITY brand, but THE UNIVERSITY is large and diverse enough to represent all voices.

    Finally, I can’t help but feel personally connected to this issue. As a student, I visited THE UNIVERSITY student clinic multiple times, before during and after the birth of my two daughters. I was so vulnerable to this kind of abuse, and the climate of silence both within the clinic and with higher ups like yourself did nothing to protect other students like me.

    Can we make good? Short opinion essays like this expand the discourse. They reflect multiple points of view. They speak for the vulnerable, those who don’t always have a voice. They serve as a kind of healing, looking deeply at what went wrong and addressing it. I hope you’ll reconsider. It could be a real gesture of reconciliation.

    THE WRITER

    * During the first civil suit, THE UNIVERSITY hired a lobbying firm to actively oppose a state bill that would temporarily extend the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse specifically in campus sexual abuse cases. The law states that students subject to their first gynecological exams are not always aware of what is considered abuse, and don’t always report immediately. The UNIVERSITY actively lobbied to oppose this law, essentially protecting the doctor and attempting to reduce the number of victims who could testify in court. They were ultimately unsuccessful, the law was passed and approved by the Governor in 2019. As a result, all 650 survivors were permitted to testify.

     

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    Dear WRITER,

    I think you raise a valid point about the way in which the university confronts not only sexual abuse but any difficult issue. I think reasonable minds can disagree about the extent and manner to which we address these. There are those who feel the university has gone out of its way to address sexual abuse and who are anxious to move on — keeping in mind that we now have a far more rigorous process for preventing abuse. And there are those who feel the university needs to do even more to own up to its transgressions. Both opinions are understandable and valid.

    I also think you’re right that the column needs to be renamed, though at this point we’re going to suspend it.  Though we have final editorial control over the contents of the magazine, I don’t want to put anyone else in your position.

    Lastly, I hope you don’t mind if we hold onto to your article in the event we may be able to publish it in the future, though we would ask your permission to do so first.* As I wrote in my first email, it’s a beautifully written piece.

    THE SENIOR DEAN

    * Is it actually a “beautifully written piece” or are they complimenting me in order to easily kill the story? Did I try to challenge the UNIVERSITY by writing it? Would this outcome be different if they’d offered to pay me for this piece? Will my professors disdain this essay? Am I making enemies at a UNIVERSITY where I was treated with respect? Were the victims of these crimes treated with respect? When should I remain silent? When should victims remain silent? Would an article like this help anyone? Would the survivors see this essay as gesture of solidarity? Am I exploiting their experiences by writing about it? Should I let the essay die? Is it already dead? Should I tweet the President of the UNIVERSITY and suggest I have a campus free-speech issue? Is this a free-speech issue? Is this worth my time? Is this worth the reader’s time? Should I instead volunteer my time at a women’s center? Does writing affect any change, ever? Does it matter that the EDITOR who understood my reasoning and agreed to publish the essay is a woman and the SENIOR DEAN, her boss, the one who ultimately killed the story, is a man? Am I getting fucked over by the patriarchy? Aren’t the victims of these crimes getting more fucked over by the patriarchy? Is the patriarchy winning? Did the patriarchy already win a thousand times over and over until we all die?

     

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    COLUMN: “In My Opinion”

    STATUS: Unpublished/Killed

    TITLE: “Bludgeoned by Joy”

    In the photos, we are children. It’s dusk at the farm. The summer afternoon has been long: our faces are grimy, we’ve kicked up a scrim of dust and the sun is so low it casts the whole scene in gold — gold on our kid faces and gold on the wheat, the barn a glowing red against a flame blue sky. In the photos, we are in motion. Our bodies are lithe and little. The clothes are back in style now so they are extra charming on our 80s kids bodies: striped Ts and cut offs and jelly shoes. Out of the frame, my mom laughs her signature laugh. Around us, my dad snaps these photos with his old timey camera, shooting roll after roll of real film, the click click of a shutter as the sun dips down and away.

    I imagine a place where we are all happy like this—sprinting through gold, my mom with the laugh, my dad with his removable lenses. I have been horrified to learn how many childhoods are not happy. Often — way too often — children do not even get joyful moments. It is devastating, the numbers. Whatever dislocation, starvation, violence or torture you can inflict on an adult — a child too is victim. Many happy people have told me of their childhood trauma, and many unhappy people too, people who never recovered. Happiness is not universal. We do not all win that prize.

    Still, I imagine a place where are all, in fact, happy. For Rupinder it is the campus library and her mother’s kitchen in Punjab — both places, impossibly, at the same time. For Tyler, it is in church with his father, never in prison, not dead, but giving a speech at his wedding in suit he fills out in the chest and shoulders. For Magda, it is the minute before she is deported, before her factory is raided, before she complained that her supervisor was following her to her car, and way before that — before she left her home city with her daughter because another man was following her, this time with a machine gun. For Vanessa, it is visiting a campus doctor who is safe. For Ali, it is the minute before he visited one who wasn’t.

    We are never bludgeoned by joy. Pain is too swift, too sudden. Magda will never be happy until we return her to her daughter. Ali deserves justice. Tyler deserves his wedding and Rupinder needs a visa. What I am saying is that we need to recognize the millions of factors that made it possible for some of us to have happy childhoods when so many other people cannot. What I am saying is, we need to imagine that place, and build it.

    Can we make good? Can we agree on the basic ways we can keep a kid safe and happy, so that it reverberates through their whole lives, and instead of generations of pain we get joy, ringing through their bones and teeth?

    I have two daughters now. We have all kinds of little poofs of happiness between us. My one-year old is learning to speak and every time she says a new word the two of us fill up with it, we hug and dance and say the new thing again and again. Or maybe it’s just me, ringing with joy because she’s safe, for now, I’m doing what I can. Now when I look at the photos from that childhood farm, I see through dad’s lens and mom’s laugh. That is the gold pouring over all the photos, their happiness, how they were building that for me. We need to build it for Tyler. For Rupinder. For Magda. For Vanessa. For Ali. For John Doe. For Jane Doe. For their babies. For your babies. For the sake of us all.

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