Amherst student Angie Epifano's harrowing account of her on-campus rape and the administration's insensitive response struck a major chord with her peers, not only at Amherst but at colleges around the country. Inspired by Epifano's story — which goes to show how important it is to keep talking about rape on campus — The Daily Northwestern ran a great but troubling piece by Lauren Caruba on Northwestern's own flawed sexual assault policies.
Like Epifano, Northwestern senior Lauren Buxbaum was admitted to a psychiatric ward after she told her administration that she was having trouble dealing with her rape. But Buxbaum said she actually felt pressured to go on official medical leave until she was "healthy" enough to come back. "I battle my memories of the rape every day," she wrote on Facebook last month. "It consumes me in a way I hope none of you ever experience. The only thing that was holding me together was my life here at Northwestern. And now that has been taken away, and I don't even have the energy to battle for my life back."
Buxbaum's story is a heavy one: she was raped by someone she had seen around but wasn't friendly with while walking home from a friend's house, and found out she was pregnant the next month. Two days later, she had an abortion. She told people that she was struggling with depression, including one professor who become convinced that she was suicidal. Then, this happened:
Police reports confirm UP arrived at Buxbaum's apartment just after 9 a.m. Oct. 6. Because police officers are unqualified to make psychological assessments, they transported Buxbaum to the hospital for evaluation.
Buxbaum said the hospital triggered memories of the assault.
"I probably looked insane," she said. "But I wasn't insane."
Buxbaum spent the next four days in the psychiatric ward, according to medical records.
Two days into treatment, Buxbaum received a letter from the dean's office outlining the conditions for returning to NU.
The letter stated if Buxbaum did not sign medical releases, she "would not be allowed to return to Northwestern University." It also said if she was not deemed "healthy and safe enough," officials would "work with (her) to take a medical leave of absence."
Assistant Dean of Students Betsi Burns, who signed the letter, declined multiple requests for comment.
Medical leave is a voluntary choice that only a student can make, but Buxbaum said it wasn't that clear-cut and that she felt like the decision had already been made for her. Another senior said that "It comes down to the University not wanting to be liable for something really bad happening... I think they are trying to protect their students, but it's really hard to have one of those one-size-fits-all policies."
Multiple students told the paper that their experiences with NU's sexual assault and mental health resources were, as Buxbaum put it, "disconnected and impersonal." Others said it took weeks to even set up the required preliminary phone evaluation, and that they wished there were open hours for students who want to talk to someone without jumping through bureaucratic hoops.
It's been nearly two months after her psychiatric stay, but Buxbaum says she's still struggling with the consequences of medical leave, along with the assault that prompted it, and she's not sure if she wants to return to Northwestern. The leave really fucked up her plans, too:
Because individuals on medical leave are not active students, they no longer qualify for federal financial aid. Buxbaum works five different babysitting jobs in addition to her job at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall - one of her few points of contact with NU - to pay for her Evanston apartment.
Buxbaum will not be able to write her senior thesis with other American studies majors she has known for the past three years, and without an undergraduate degree, she can no longer attend graduate school next year at Yale University, where she was offered a position.
"I feel like a loser, like an outcast," Buxbaum said. "Like I'm not supposed to be here, that I did something wrong. That because it's going to take me five years to graduate, that I'm a failure.
"They took an already traumatized person and just made it exponentially worse," Buxbaum said. "And then told me it was my choice whether to go on medical leave or not. But you've made it so that I am a broken person now."
If you have a story about on- (or off-) campus sexual assault and the crappy way your administration handled it, you can always email us to share: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Image via Northwestern.edu)