Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Assault in Academia: My Meeting at RCA, Part 3

Read the series here 

I just stood there still processing the fact that someone just slapped me across the head. As I turned to walk away, one of my friends left his phone in the meeting room. As he went back to retrieve his phone, my other friend and I stood by the elevator discussing what just happened. Then a rush came over me—I headed back towards the room. I decided to tell my assailant and others who were in the room just how I felt. As I continued to head back to the room, my friend grabbed my arm to hold me back. It was that quick arm holding second that brought me back to my original thought—if I act in any other way than I did, I would have been the aggressor. I would have been at fault. I would have been arrested or at least detained by security. Therefore, I did not go back into the room and soon my other friend came back with his phone and we left.

As the day went on, as hard as I tried, I could not get this incident out of my head. As word started to spread about the incident that happened at the Religious Communication Association (RCA) business meeting, people kept coming to me asking what happened. As I shared the story with others, people found it hard to believe. Some thought I was joking, while others thought I was not being literal about my assault. It is only after sharing the story repeatedly, assuring them that I was not joking and on the testimony of my friends being there as witnesses to the assault, many then believed my story.

However, I remembered something else soon after the incident. After I shared what happened in the meeting, the most frequent question I heard was, “What did you do?” Now, I must admit, there were two ways I interpreted that question. The first was to hear the question as a question that asked in essence, “How did you respond?” “Did you hit him back?” “How many folks you “cussed” out?” “Where is he? — do we need to go back and confront him?” “I bet you clowned up in there?” I usually responded with a wry joke, “I am still here aren’t I”—eluding to the belief that if I would have responded violently, I would have been in jail. Therefore, when they then discover that I did nothing—just sat there still wondering what happened, many commended me on my composure—while several told me that they could not have been as calm as I was—not knowing that I was still raging on the inside.

The second was to hear the question as a question that asked, “What did you do to get slapped upside the head?” “What did you say?” “Where you out of place—did you act in a way that gave someone the right to slap you upside the head?” Besides, why would someone slap you upside the head in an academic business meeting in front of people, if you were not out of control?” Even now as I typed this, I am still frustrated that people may had felt this way—that somehow I deserved my assault because I must have done something. To this, I typically asked with a confused look on my face, “What do you mean?” As some stumbled for the right words to use, others again, just found it hard to believe that someone would assault another person in a business meeting.

As the day went on, I continued my meetings, attending panels and hanging out with friends. Over dinner, I reflected on how I interpreted one question in different ways. The first way I reserved for people who I believed were my friends. I believed they did not intentionally mean to hurt me in any way. If anything, they tried to make me feel better and even if they were not as innocent in their questioning as I think they were, I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

The second way, I reserved for people who were not friends—I knew them or knew of them from NCA and RCA, but not in any friendship kind of way. In reflecting, I was on the defensive with them—still frustrated over my (non) response and over what I interpreted as another attempt to humiliate me. I did not have a “relationship” with these people so they did not initially receive the benefit of doubt.  I then realize something I have realized all along—context matters!

After dinner and some more conversation, I headed back to my room. I was tired from the day (and the week) but planned to get a little rest, change clothes and to come back to hang out with friends. To me, this is the best part of conferences—the panels after the panels discussions. However, on getting to my room, a deep sadness came over me. Away from the crowd, away from people asking me questions, away from folks trying to cheer me up and trying to console me, away from me thinking that I might see this guy roaming through the halls and wondering what would I do, I sat on my bed staring into space—not looking at anything in particular. It was only when I was alone; that I really understood the magnitude of what happened and what it did to me as a person. I felt frozen in time—deeply wounded, not by the assault, but by what I began to interpret it as—and I did not like what I was thinking. I even wanted to cry, but tears would not come.

Therefore, instead of going back out and hiding from these feelings, I stayed in my room for the night and wrestled with what I felt. After calling my wife Lisa to finish sharing with her what happened and mainly convincing her that she and members from my church did not have to drive to Washington DC to “investigate things further,” I got very quiet. I mediated over the day, I prayed for insight, wisdom and guidance. While praying, I felt a calm coming over me and I felt at ease. I felt my body loosening from the tension I did not realize was there. Therefore, I am glad I stayed in my room that evening, because I needed my soul and spirit to heal—I need to feel at peace.

However, before drifting off to sleep, my phone buzzed indicating I had an email. As I checked that email, I also noticed another one—one that came earlier in the day—one that I had not checked. This one I really wanted to read. It was from my assailant.

To be Continued………..

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Valerie Bridgeman said...

Thank you for sharing this story. I hate to say that I'm waiting on Part 4. Mostly because I wish you had not had to experience it....

Liz Desnoyers-Colas said...

I am crying for you as I read this third part. I know you are a very sensitive loving kind soul. You have always encouraged me and have been such a blessing. I am still outraged over what happened to you. Several of my former university professors are a part of the RCA and they would be shocked if the knew this had happened. All I can say is for those people who even thought this man had a right to hit you enough to cause you anguish and pain on so many different levels don't know you and may not even know themselves. I am gratified to know that your wife and your church were ready to do whatever it took to "set things straight" even though that would not have been the best way to handle it. I await part four as well.

Crystal Lewis said...

I've been reading these posts as you've published them, and frankly I'm shocked that people asked what you must have "done" to force the hand of the person who struck you. One can only assume that you had already shared with them the narrative leading up to the violent act, including the manner in which you were behaving (peacefully, benignly) when it happened. Revisiting the actions of the victim to mine for "actions deserving of abuse" prior to granting the benefit of "belief" in the victim's claim is an unfortunate practice in our culture. I'm not sure if it's because we perpetuate myths of acceptable violence in our country and in our most dominant religion, (examples: "just" war, retributive justice in the form of the death penalty, penal substitutionary atonement, etc.)... Whatever the case, it needs to change. I am sorry this happened to you. I'm glad you're speaking out and I hope this ends with a resolution that you find fair, peaceable, dignified and acceptable.