“A fistful of my hair jerks me back. There’s a slabby male figure leaning over me, pants bunched around his hips. I screech into the blackness…”
The audience in Castleton’s 1787 room seemed not to blink or breathe as Laura Gray-Rosendale read from the opening chapter of her memoir, College Girl.
The author and professor of English was the victim of a brutal sexual assault when she was a student at Syracuse University.
“He nearly killed me,” she said. “In some ways he did kill part of me, the college girl.” But her attacker couldn’t silence her voice.
In her book, College Girl, Gray-Rosendale tells the story of her fight to recover, her highs and lows and her search for justice and peace.
“I found that I had to tell, to break the silence surrounding sexual assault,” Gray-Rosendale said during her presentation to Castleton students, staff and faculty on March 4.
Gray-Rosendale spent the day on campus speaking with students, staff and faculty, visiting classes and taking part in a memoire workshop that Melinda Mills, director of Castleton’s women and gender studies program, called “moving and transformative.”
Mills organized Gray-Rosendale’s visit as the conclusion to women’s history month, which Mills says was “an ongoing effort to draw attention to issues of gender violence and social justice.”
“Her testimony, her writing, can be understood as a way to heal from trauma. Telling such a traumatic story can trigger others (readers who are survivors of sexual violence), but ideally it also reminds survivors that there are other survivors out there,” said Mills.
One student who attended Gray Rosendale’s presentation is a survivor and is now a member of PAC (Peer Advocates for CHANGE) at Castleton.
“I have a huge interest in women’s rights,” she said. Her experience here at Castleton and as a member of PAC has helped her heal, she said.
Another student who attended, Sierra Boxberger is a criminal justice major and came to Gray-Rosendale’s presentation because of her interest in victim’s rights.
“Although it’s a specific story about me, I hope that they also get the sense that it’s a universal story … one that a lot of people can identify with even if they haven’t been through that particular kind of trauma,” Gray-Rosendale said.
Mills agrees that it is about more than just sexual assault.
“Her talk invites us to think about how we can reimagine a world where we can all live free from violence and oppression, or anything else that imposes limitations and restrictions on us,” she said.
College Girl was assigned in in several classes including Race, Ethnicity, Class, and Gender, Introduction to Women and Gender Studies, Writing Non-Fiction, and Sexuality and Intimacy.