The brutal aftermath of a sexual assault at Wake Forest

In some cases, students need to relinquish their privacy to receive accommodation from their professors


Katie Fox

A protest on Aug. 28, 2021 led to increased conversations around sexual violence on campus.

Lauren Carpenter, Staff Columnist

On the morning of Saturday, Aug. 27, I was sexually assaulted and left on the sidewalk in front of the unaffiliated Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) house.

With no phone or ID, I was left alone to get back to campus and somehow into my dorm building. Without the help of the people that found me, I do not know what else would have happened to me. The post-traumatic stress responses I have faced have made it nearly impossible for me to continue my life at Wake Forest, and they were worsened by the university’s lack of a student-to-professor liaison.

Sexual abuse on college campuses is devastatingly common, and the aftermath of sexual assault ruins a college student’s ability to thrive, let alone make it through a day free from the harrowing stress that stems from the event. 

According to a 2019 Campus Climate Survey conducted by the Association of American Universities (AAU), 13% of all college students experience sexual assault, and the aftermath can be catastrophic. Wake Forest is no stranger to these instances. In the 2021 Wake Forest University Campus Climate Survey, 16.3% of all respondents experienced sexual assault. Post-traumatic stress is prevalent for many survivors and severely impacts life on campus, engendering devastating side effects. Memory loss leads to rapidly declining grades, neglect of social commitments and a constant foggy feeling of confusion. Focus also dissipates, making it difficult to finish assignments and put enough effort into extracurricular activities. Isolation quickly sets in, as friends who are unable to understand feel more distant by the moment. Recklessness becomes a threat to personal health and safety. Stress involving schoolwork intensifies as any break taken quickly turns into a massive burden. With family often far away from students, support systems feel few and far between. These common side effects of post-traumatic stress often only get worse as the trauma roots itself into survivors. 

This is not a linear journey. Most of my days are poisoned with terrible trauma responses because of what I have been through. But I am very hopeful for the changes that are ahead of us. If you are a survivor of sexual assault, know that I understand you, that I am fighting for you and that spring is coming. 

The consequences of experiencing sexual assault are extremely infuriating to realize. Having a glaring “W” now appear on a straight-A transcript. Being replaced by a professional in orchestra. Working tirelessly to catch up on five weeks of missed classes. Realizing the assaulter doesn’t even remember who he has hurt. Being unable to attend football games in fear of seeing him. Having any sense of security ripped away. Feeling numb. Feeling insane. Becoming panicked in crowds. Falling apart when catching a glimpse of him on campus. 

Having to relinquish privacy in order to make professors understand the situation.

Wake Forest has several wonderful resources to help survivors. The Safe Office has incredible counselors willing to aid students in every way that they can, the Center for Learning Assistance (CLASS) Office helps students create plans and the Office of Academic Advising (OAA) provides ample information about classes. However, for students who have just experienced a traumatic assault, the weight of communicating with professors and managing academics is unbearable. Wake Forest does not have anyone or any office to act as a liaison between students and professors. Accommodations such as extra absences and test time can be given to students, but the reasoning and level behind these accommodations vary greatly between students, giving professors no other insight. Wake Forest doesn’t have a system that can serve as a genuine excuse on students’ behalf. This position simply does not exist. 

As a result, students are forced to give up their own privacy by explicitly telling each of their professors about the assault in hopes of making them understand absences, declining grades and late assignments. Survivors are saddled with this huge responsibility, and there is no one to help them. Emailing each professor with more details than necessary is jarring, panicking in front of them during office hours feels mortifying and facing them in class after having to reveal something deeply personal is horrible. Everything is situational — the survivor can only hope their professors will reason with them, and professor responses vary. 

Carrying the weight of trauma is enough for survivors. Having to manage communicating with professors entirely on their own is exhausting, nerve-wracking, deeply upsetting and extremely unfair. It is one of the many ways that students face “survivor punishment”. Wake Forest needs to implement more formal and discretional — yet genuine — resources that provide students with the excuses they need from professors. There needs to be someone to help students who are barely holding on to begin with. Students are falling apart and feeling as though their futures have been ruined due to their declining academic performance and worsening mental health.

It is never the survivor’s fault, and it shouldn’t be up to them to try and piece their life back together after being assaulted, especially not when Wake Forest has so many other resources and more than enough funding. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at a student panel about campus resources. Sitting in front of President Wente, the Dean and several department heads I explained my experiences involving the lack of resources for survivors. I spoke with passion rather than anger, and I know that those in charge at Wake Forest are genuinely doing their best to listen to students. 

This is not a linear journey. Most of my days are poisoned with terrible trauma responses because of what I have been through. But I am very hopeful for the changes that are ahead of us. If you are a survivor of sexual assault, know that I understand you, that I am fighting for you and that spring is coming.