Dear Dean Gilbert: A plea for forgiveness

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September 18, 2015

10:09 AM

Dear Dean Gilbert,

I am an OA. I am a student leader. I am a member of Greek life, I believe in sexual equality and I have seen firsthand the horrors sexual assault can bring.

And I am sorry.

You came into that room to apologize to us for being crass, tactless. You humbled yourself for us, and we burned you alive for it. You received a trial by fire, and we were wrong. We made it seem like you were there supporting the assaulters and blaming the victims. You weren’t.

“You tried to speak with us objectively about an issue we can only see personally, and we crucified you for it.”

In fact, if there’s anyone on campus who can speak objectively on the issue of sexual assault, it’s probably you. You, who see dozens of these cases a year. You, who can identify the patterns and sense the warning signs a mile away. You, who work the most thankless job on campus, where on a good day you get a predator punished and a kid who might be normal , but on a bad day get a kid who will never ever be the same again. One has to imagine there are more bad days than good. You tried to speak with us objectively about an issue we can only see personally, and we crucified you for it. What we want to hear when this issue comes up is that it’s going to be okay, every predator will be punished and there is never any gray area, even and especially when concerning alcohol. But you told us the truth. And we couldn’t handle it.

I won’t apologize for everything; you were crass. You were tactless. But, unfortunately, you were right. Of course it is never, ever the victim’s fault. But there are ways to make it difficult to become a victim.

“Don’t drink the punch if you don’t know what’s in it,” you said.

“How about we teach men not to rape people!” we replied. You looked lost, and then you lost us. We shouted, we cried, we walked out.

“But we forgot the most important thing: when it comes to sexual assault, it isn’t about what happened to us or our sister or our best friend. It’s about what hasn’t happened to them yet, and making sure it stays that way. You were the only one who remembered that.”

In a way, we certainly were right — sometimes it’s damn hard to talk about these issues. But we forgot the most important thing: when it comes to sexual assault, it isn’t about what happened to us or our sister or our best friend. It’s about what hasn’t happened to them yet, and making sure it stays that way. You were the only one who remembered that. You wanted us to look out for each other, be careful about what we drink and make sure we were safe. You just didn’t say it quite the right way, so we burned you alive.

I watched people I love, respect and care very deeply about misrepresent, tear apart and vilify you, and if I’m being honest, I’m worried they will do the same to me. But I couldn’t sit by while these people — intelligent and respectable adults — refuse to see you as anything but a villain.  I wish I had stood up for you earlier, but I hope to be able to tell you this in person:

Dear Dean Gilbert: I’m sorry.

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