Not in the Pictures

by Anonymous '88

Content Note: This story addresses sexual violence at Williams. 

The RAINN National Hotline is 800-656-HOPE and the website is www.rainn.org

I am a proud Williams’ alum. I graduated almost 30 years ago, but I still have the mug and the sweatshirt and get truly excited every time I meet another Williams graduate. On a trip through New England a few years back with my family (including three young boys), I returned to the campus for the first time since graduation. Our family spent days in the Clark Art, climbing Mt. Greylock and attending the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Colonial Pizza was no longer there (probably a good thing) but The Log was … although quite a bit more salubrious than I remembered!

However, I have never been to a reunion. I have a good reason, and it took Brett Kavanaugh’s U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearing to help me realize that I am not alone. A large number of proud Williams graduates will never attend a reunion of their class. This is not because they have been unsuccessful in life or love. It is not because they do not have friends and former classmates with whom they would love to reconnect. It is not because they do not appreciate the college and the town and all that it means to be an Eph. It is simply because they are afraid.

Every summer, we look at the reunion pictures of the familiar, albeit more weathered, faces smiling back at us. And all of us hunt to see if there is a picture of one person, with his family and friends and purple balloons. And when we spot him, we revisit the same pain and shame that we felt so many years ago. Many of us have careers (typical overachievers) and spouses and children and lives with meaning. Some of us have residual fallout in the form of alcoholism or eating disorders or an aversion to intimacy. But most of us have moved on and refused to let events from our college years continue to cast a pall on who we have become. So we are surprised that we still feel pain – 20, 30 or 40 years later – and we continue to avoid class reunions.

Part of it is because of those smiling reunion pictures. What is wrong with us? Why did we drink too much at that party freshman year? Why didn’t he stop when we asked? Why did no one notice? Why did no one care when we mentioned it, blaming us for drinking or being too flirtatious after we had our third (or 10th) beer? And why can’t we just “get over it”?

I don’t know the answers. I did feel some closure when I mentioned the incident to a college representative when she was visiting my city the day after the Christine Blasey-Ford testimony. I guess I shared because she asked me why I never visited the college, and I told the truth. I waited (more than two years) to write this letter to the Alumni Relations Office because honestly I was not sure how much I was caught up in a collective moment of grieving or a desire to be included in the “Me Too” movement and how much pain I was really feeling. So I let the feelings settle.

But it is reunion season once again, and, as we slowly emerge from the pandemic, in my case feeling blessed to still have health and family and jobs, I am awaiting the pictures and the reminders of college. Therefore, I decided to write to make three suggestions to my fellow alums for this unusual year and for those to come.

• First, to the women who share my experience, it was not your fault.
• Second, to the men involved, if you think you may have caused pain – even if you were young and drunk yourself – it is not too late to call and make amends. That alone might bolster reunion attendance!
• Third, to all of those other classmates, when you look around at reunion and notice, year after year, that there are a few women who are always missing, pause and send well wishes and prayers into the universe. They will be felt and appreciated.

And do keep smiling in the reunion pictures. We are very happy to see almost all of you even if we can’t be there.

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