This is the story of how I won. This is the story of how I spoke out against wrongdoing that sought to hurt me fundamentally as a human being. I overcame these struggles with the fearlessness that has been given to me.
During my junior year of college at Indiana University-Bloomington, I was also a physics-philosophy double-major with a pre-med track. I became interested in the purpose of a college education and doing research on the history/philosophy of education to find answers to questions I pondered such as: What is the purpose of volunteering/grades/extracurriculars/etc? Why do we learn the way we do? How do we use these classes to help us realize those things? I spoke with philosophers, scientists, professors, and other professionals to gather information about these issues from them, too. I’ve written these topics on complacency, academic freedom, advice for incoming freshmen, and rhetoric in our models of learning.
I tried starting a conversation among a premed club I was part of, but they retaliated against me. They isolated me, manipulated me, made lies about me, and reported me to the Dean that I was harassing them. They mostly did this out of their insecurities for those questions I was suggesting, but it was also because I was presenting well-researched, justified beliefs that contradicted theirs. Through months of them ignoring the issues I wanted to raise and the discussions I wanted to have, I felt even more disillusioned. The Dean proceeded to criticize me on matters she didn’t know, interrupt me continuously in a way to prevent me from speaking, mock me and make fun of me every time I tried sharing my testimony, and interrogate me with force. She said I was acting “bizarre” and called my story “twisted.” She didn’t give me a chance to defend myself. She’d laugh at me when I tried explaining how my friends were making up lies about me to silence me. She interrupted me over and over again every time I tried speaking. She continued this behavior for months through email and in-person. I was traumatized. The university charged me with harassment and stalking. They left me off with a warning, but they required that I’d start therapy with a social worker who had no graduate training so I could better myself. I had no choice but to blame myself for everything and agree with whatever the Dean told me. Throughout all of this, I had no chance to defend myself on any claim others made against me.
That’s when things got worse. I felt the pain, fear, anxiety, and distrust spreading into other parts of my life. Even when I tried doing positive things (like exercising and meditating) I felt the mocking voice of the Dean resonating in my head. I began sleeping 10-12 hours a day, stopped praying and exercising, eating less healthy, going to class less, and lost sight in the purpose of my classes. It got to the point where I wasn’t doing any studying and felt my blood boiling in my lectures. I had no idea what I was suffering from.
I couldn’t do anything to defend myself because I feared repercussions and abuse from the Dean of Students. My friends didn’t know how to help me so they isolated themselves from me. My professors watched as my grades dropped and I could barely will myself out of bed for the last two years of college. Not having answers to my questions of the purpose of a college education started taking its toll on me. And the toxicity of the environment around me towards me just made me scared of myself. In hindsight, my therapist didn’t help much. He mostly talked about superficial things like social skills, didn’t take notes, gave me a blank stare most of the time, and only tried to keep me out of trouble instead of understanding me. He generally believed that, instead of me trying to change and correct the harmful, manipulative behaviors of others, I should do absolutely nothing. He justified their behaviors by claiming “That’s just how the world is!” He’d even say things like “Oh, people are idiots,” and he even believed in astrology.
It’s now been over a year since I graduated. I’ve been working at the National Institutes of Health while taking weekly therapy sessions with a therapist with a PhD and decades of experience out of my own will. This therapist is amazing like a modern day Sigmund Freud in how he gives detailed answers, speaks truthfully and with justification, and has amazing skills in rhetoric.
After I graduated, I struggled with coming to terms with difficult events in my past, figuring out what my purpose is, and trying my best to prepare for a successful career as a scientist. My doubts lingered. What am I looking for? I was tired of asking that question. I was tired of all the crazy things it lead to in my life. How could I trust anyone truly wanted to support me? During this time, I opened up. I began speaking to officials from Indiana University-Bloomington about my experience. I told them about how I had tried to answer questions related to the purpose of college education and my pre-medical friends retaliated against me. I told them how the questions I wanted to talk about weren’t some kind of side hobby or interest of mine but actual fundamental pieces of any student’s essential education. It was so much so that I needed that opportunity or right to ask them so that I could further my education, seeing as how negatively they were affecting my life. Every time I wrote out my story or spoke to someone about it, I felt like I needed a glass of water or needed to take a walk. I also told them I wasn’t trying to do anything in particular. My sole intention was to share the story because it was the right thing to do.
In August I got off the phone with a senior investigator from the university. I had explained to her everything that happened. She said what I went through was egregiously wrong and should have never happened to anyone. She said they’re going to require racial and religious bias training from the Dean and other staff members that were involved. They even held the student who bullied me (who is now at the Indiana University School of Medicine) and held her accountable to the allegations I put forward. She said this because the Dean and the pre-medical student who bullied me were both white women. They said they were going to keep close check on all of the Dean’s communication of all forms. I told the investigator I didn’t want anymore input.
It took 3 years. But I finally got my voice heard and taken seriously from the university. That’s all I needed to know that I won. I began to realize the university would probably handle issues related to the purpose of a college education much differently from now and onward. They would recognize the struggle of students who don’t see a purpose in anything anymore and recognize that as a valid, vulnerable position that needs to be defended and protected such that students could make the world a better place and achieve their goals. That was the proof the university could act in the way I wanted it to, and that my goals could be achieved. The university took my side in making the future a brighter place not just for me but for anyone who wishes to learn. I never knew whether I was truly a victim of racism or Islamophobia, either, but the university’s action in taking the issue of a racial or religious bias seriously at least satisfied me.
I want to take a sigh of relief and say I’m fine now, but it’s still going to take me a while to figure myself out. It’s going take some visits to coffee shops and long walks. It took me a while to get back on my feet, though. I’ve slowly begun eating well, exercising, studying and performing research spanning science to philosophy, I won.
Let this be a victory for everything a university should stand for. Let the future be brighter for students who wish to learn and grow. The past is heavy, but the future is greater. I want to extend my gratitude to everyone who supported me along the way. I want to thank my current therapist most of all. And thank you for reading this. It really means a lot to me.