My nails are always perfect. But on that day they were not, although I’d been sobbing too much to notice. Exhausted, overwhelmed and numb, I walked to a beauty salon just off Chapel Street with my mom, attempting to reclaim some sense of normalcy. Just after my polish was taken off, my best girlfriend walked in and immediately took me in her arms. I cried. She cried. And we got our nails done.
This occurred two days after I was raped at Yale. The afternoon manicure didn’t fix things, but it helped: It made me remember the strength of the love around me. Now, I am writing with my two friends, Ayla and Lorna, to create a more permanent space of compassion for survivors like me at Yale. Too many of us try to heal ourselves in silence.
Simple interactions such as the manicure, women supporting other women in the wake of trauma, are crucial for healing. And they’re happening all the time: over bad cups of coffee in dining halls, on Cross Campus in the middle of the night, on bean bag chairs in messy common rooms and yes, in nail salons.
Conversations between women at Yale often turn to discussions of sexual misconduct, an experience far too many of us share. Together, we work through confusion, fear, anger, guilt and a whole host of other feelings that come in the wake of experiencing sexual misconduct. Sometimes, the mere act of articulating what happened aloud provides a surprising amount of clarity and peace.
These discussions shouldn’t have to happen by accident, and they shouldn’t be taboo. But right now, there are no spaces specifically carved out for this type of dialogue, for creating support networks united by a shared experience. Individuals across all stages of the healing process can benefit from not feeling alone and from knowing that progress, however slow, is possible.
Additionally, there is pressure to present yourself as okay or “fine,” even in the wake of the most intimately violating events. There are times on campus when empathy is noticeably absent, but we think that compassion isn’t nearly as rare here as it can sometimes feel. Students here have an enormous capacity to feel for each other. In spaces specifically designed for empathetic interactions, a shared community can help survivors work through feelings of loneliness and helplessness.
That’s why we are starting the Survivor Support Network, a group that seeks to empower survivors of sexual misconduct through deliberate and ongoing mutual engagement. Students at Yale should not be expected to confront this experience alone, and we have found that being able to speak openly about it with each other has helped us heal.
The Survivor Support Network will meet at 8 p.m. on Monday evenings starting Sept. 18. Counselors from Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education will be present for portions of meetings and will also stick around afterward to talk. Survivors can come as often as they like and stay for however long they need.
We will take measures to ensure the confidentiality of those who choose to participate, and we will insist that participants not name their assailants. The Survivor Support Network is not a vigilante group — our purpose is not to relive but instead to recover, communicate with individuals at different stages in their healing processes and focus on getting better. It is not a replacement for other campus resources. Rather, it is a supplement, geared toward facilitating the sorts of candid and compassionate conversations that emerge from common hardship.
There’s no one way to heal, and the ways in which we grapple with these experiences can and do change. Our group aims to improve the campus dialogue around sexual misconduct while also providing concrete support. And although the Survivor Support Network is only for survivors, the issue it addresses ultimately concerns everyone.
Whether or not you know someone who is a victim of sexual misconduct, you can help by being willing to listen and to speak out. Direct your friends to resources, ask them how they’re doing and maybe take them to the nail salon now and then.
Mollie Johnson is a senior in Branford College, Ayla Besemer is a junior in Pierson College and Lorna Chitty is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org , email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org .