Kalamazoo College's Student Newspaper
By Allie VanHeest Contributor
As a first year, I attended the Community Reflection remembering the Events of October. I learned, somewhat horrified, about the murder-suicide that occurred on K’s campus in 1999. I couldn’t imagine the fear and sadness experienced by Maggie Whardle during her abusive and manipulative relationship with Neenef Odah.
A short forty minutes later, I left the chapel feeling confused and overwhelmed by the story I had heard. But what scares me about my experience in that Community Reflection is how little the content sunk in and stayed with me.
Just over a year later, I found myself in an incredibly jealous, manipulative, and abusive relationship. Despite having been moved to tears by Maggie’s story, I failed to recognize the warning signs of intimate partner violence in my own life. Once I realized what was happening, I lied to myself and the people around me because I was so ashamed; I believed that no one would respect me if they knew that I was being abused.
In the time since, I’ve often wondered how it was possible that me, someone who was educated about abuse and assault, became snared in a toxic and dangerous relationship. I’ve come to the conclusion that I had only learned about abuse in theory; I had heard other people’s stories and had been horrified by statistics about rape and abuse. But what I needed was skill development; I needed to be taught how to evaluate my own mental health and the healthiness of my interpersonal relationships. I needed to be told who I could talk to about abuse, and I needed to be told over and over again that it was okay to speak out.
Although my experiences are profoundly personal and cannot speak for all K students, I believe that it is necessary to create and sustain an open and honest conversation about intimate partner violence and unhealthy relationships as they continue to occur on our campus. I cannot stress enough the importance and value of everything that is done on campus to memorialize the Events of October and raise awareness about intimate partner violence.
However, alone it is not enough. What K needs are ongoing conversations, on multiple scales, about how to sustain healthy relationships. These conversations need to be institutionalized, but they also need to be informal and honest.
Groups like S3A, POWER, SHAG, MAP and KSCOPE are having these conversations and this is excellent. But what we need now is to work all together to create a culture and community where honest discussion about intimate partner violence is commonplace and constructive, and where we critically analyze our selves, our relationships, and how social forces like sexism, heterosexism, and racism shape our intimate experiences.