'I Will Not Be Quiet': A Response to the Rolling Stone Article
Last November, the Grounds of U.Va. shook with the horrors revealed in the Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus”. As our community – and even nation – reacted, the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center received a flood of comments and responses about what can and should be done to address sexual misconduct at our University. One very unique response came in the form of an email from Lynda Allen, the mother of a U.Va. student. Allen felt compelled to share a piece of poetry written in the aftermath of the Rolling Stone controversy in the hopes that it would help others process the events disclosed in the article, as well as serve as a uniting force for those who felt rightfully angered by the injustices surrounding sexual assault.
“I Will Not Be Quiet”
By Lynda Allen
The Iris team was struck by the depths of Lynda’s words and felt that it should be spotlighted for others to read.
I got to talk to Lynda on the phone and hear a bit more about the story behind this work and what she hopes it will do for the community.
Michelle Cho: Just so that we can get a little more context of where this poem is coming from, would you mind sharing your initial response to the Rolling Stone article?
Lynda Allen: I was angry. Very, very angry. I was horrified about what this young woman had to experience. It took me quite a while to move from being angry to something else.
I eventually wanted to find a positive outlet rather than just expressing anger. The only way I could think of was to use my voice. So I used my voice. With all of my writing, I am continually surprised that where I begin is never where I end up. I began with anger and I found myself in a much more healing place through this piece. This writing helped me find my way through something difficult.
MC: Can you explain some of the intentions you had in sharing this very personal piece with others?
LA: The act of writing the poem helped me find my own voice for what I was feeling. I sent my poem to the President, the Board of Visitors and the Women’s Center. This poem is not just about U.Va. When I was writing, I wanted it to be about all of the stories we hear around the world. It is absolutely infuriating that sexual assault exists everywhere and that we are not doing more to change this. My intention in sharing this poem with others was to invite sharing and healing together. An incredibly moving thing happened after I shared the poem with a friend who herself had been sexually assaulted and was speaking about it for the first time. I found her courage to be breathtaking. I felt taken aback by the power of this one poem and was glad that it enabled her to use her own voice. It was wonderful that through the process, she was able to find her voice.
MC: There are many in the community who are still struggling to process that such awful events could and do happen to people at our university. Do you have any words to pass on to students who are having difficulty reckoning with these realities?
LA: I would say that there is always an opportunity for expression. We can create change from this terrible, terrible tragedy. We have an opportunity to unite people rather than dividing them. Change in any form, especially for me, comes from within. I really feel like we as a culture can start that change from within. Each person on campus has an opportunity to create positive change, to bring discussion and conversation. I am so appreciative of the Women’s Center as it can provide safe spaces for these conversations.
MC: In your poem, one line in reference to the University reads: “When you look to your reputation, I will hold up a mirror.” What are some ways that we can hold up this metaphorical mirror?
LA: My daughter said that on of the first week of classes, she heard an a capella group singing the Rugby Road song. Even though it’s apparently banned at games, it’s still being sung. And to welcome students. This is a problem.
I think it all begins from within. Before I hold up a mirror to anybody else, I need to hold it up to myself first. In this case, I need to look at my lack of actions, my lack of words that may have contributed to the problem. I must ask, “Did I stay quiet when I shouldn’t have?” Would I have said something if I was in a group that sings songs like Rugby Road? I need to start with myself, and that’s where I think we should all begin.
My conversation with Lynda got me thinking about the ways by which we have been taught to process and understand traumatic events when they occur. When the Rolling Stone story first broke out, I remember scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and reading comments of people’s initial-reactions to what they had just read. Anger. Frustration. Disappointment. Disbelief.
Lynda’s work reminded me of the critical importance of taking the time to digest and confront the dark realities of our culture, rather than being horrified by them and then quickly tossing them under the rug.
We must stop relying on the actions of others to make formative change. In order to grow, improve, and love one another better, we must face these issues as they are and understand them on an intimate level. It must begin, like Lynda suggests, on the individual level when we each of us chooses to become an actor by examining oneself.
Lynda’s writing serves as a model of what kind of healing and strengthening can come from the sharing of experience and processing beyond just the basic level. Please feel free to share any of your comments, thoughts or reactions to the article with us here at Iris.
To read more of Lynda’s writing, check out her blog.