By Anna Marburger, Guest Contributor

An open letter to:

Samuel Haynes, Acting Dean of Students

Victoria Verlezza, Hall Director/SCORE Program Coordinator

Jill Langan, Hall Director

Kim Hamon, Hall Director

[note: this was drafted several days before Thursday, the day of the event.  Thus, the event is referenced in future tense and there are allusions to new posters that I had thought were going to be mounted, but the good will I express towards changing the method of publicity is still the same.]

            This letter is in response to an e-mail sent to Frankel residents this past Monday, copied below.  Just as this e-mail may be triggering, so too is the letter I have written:

“Trigger warning: Please note that this email contains information regarding sexual assault.

Dear Scripps Residents,

We hope this email finds you well. It has come to our attention that recent advertisements for events and passive programming pertaining to sexual assault, utilizing the words rape, sexual assault, etc., have been defaced in order to prevent triggering others. While we are sensitive to and respect the needs of our students, we want to make sure we are upholding and abiding by Scripps College's posting policies. Advertisements serve as a space to educate students on various issues and campus climate. We strive to be conscientious of our postings on campus.

If you are feeling particularly triggered by any passive education, flyer, or poster, or find the language used in said advertising offensive, we encourage you to reach out to the fmi contact, required at the bottom of each advertisement. In addition, the Residential Life staff is committed to supporting all students, and would be happy to speak with you regarding any issues you may be personally experiencing.

Lastly, we will continue to uphold and enforce the posting policies, as outlined in the Guide to Student Life (p. 45, Section 4.02), particularly the defacement of approved advertisements, posters, and educational flyers. Any and all postings must be stamped with approval by a representative of Residential Life or SARLO to be displayed within the residence hall communities.

Please feel free to contact your Hall Director or Resident Advisor with any questions or concerns.”

            I am so grateful that ResLife takes an interest in spreading awareness of sexual assault.  I support the “It Was Rape” documentary screening event.  I was also immensely relieved that the initial promotional posters were removed.  Additionally, I usually respect Scripps’ various policies.  I write this letter, however, to register my dismay and strong disagreement with the notions underlying March 3’s e-mail, which clearly prioritized that policy and that method of promoting the event over the interests of survivors of sexual assault.  I also want to be clear:  I am one of the students who placed the “trigger warning” sign on the poster.  I believe this was the right course of action in what I perceived as an exigent need, not something to await the delay of extended debate and discussion.

The poster this letter discusses is the one that displayed “IT WAS RAPE” in enormous letters, to the point where that sentence alone was extremely difficult to miss when one rounded the corner in Frankel/Routt.  Any context that could explain that “It Was Rape” is the title of a documentary was, in all likelihood, noticed (if at all) after the passersby saw the gigantic “IT WAS RAPE.”  Therefore, this poster posed an immediate threat to the mental and emotional well-being of any Frankel/Routt hall residents or passersby who have experienced sexual assault (and any residents of any other residence halls those big posters appeared in who are also survivors).  For that reason, immediately placing a “trigger warning” sign directly over the words “IT WAS RAPE” (and no other portion of the poster), was justified.  In this very unusual instance, Scripps’ policy would have caused harm instead of good.

Of course ResLife cares about students.  But I want to explain my motivations for making the “trigger warning” signs very clear, so this is a very long letter.  I apologize for any language that appears condescending—I am trying to explain each and every reason behind my actions, as well as my objections to the March 3 e-mail.

When triggered, survivors may exhibit any number of symptoms.  They might experience a panic attack.  They might hyperventilate and experience feelings of unbearable anxiety.   Confusion and/or disassociation are also common symptoms.   Flashbacks can occur.  “Many survivors re-experience the sexual abuse as if it were occurring at that moment, usually accompanied by visual images of the abuse” states the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN).   Being triggered is part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Survivors are six times more likely to suffer from PTSD.  Some symptoms might not be visible to other people, or perhaps they can appear later that day, long after the trigger was spotted.  Other times, the survivor shows immediate and visible signs of distress.  Regardless of what you as a casual observer might see, the survivor has been placed in a nightmare. 

A lot of survivors might have seemingly innocuous triggers that people can’t easily predict or control, like the image of a sports car or the smell of Lysol.  “IT WAS RAPE” was no subtle, hard-to-predict trigger.  Some obvious triggers are depictions/details of an assault.  “IT WAS RAPE” is not one of those.  Other obvious triggers, however, can also be other statements/words that might predictably compel a survivor to immediately and directly think about what happened to them.  The word “rape” alone can be a very triggering word.  “It was rape,” even without giant, capital letters, is a risky sentence.  It is not a calming, neutral statement.  It was especially jarring that “IT WAS RAPE” was very eye-catching, one of the first things seen before the context on the poster explaining the event on campus.  Therefore, this poster had a very high probability of triggering a survivor.  For that reason, once those posters were put up, protecting survivors was reasonable if not mandatory, so long as it showed no disrespect to the ResLife event itself.

According to RAINN, “1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.”  One in 33 men has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in his lifetime.  RAINN does not have any statistics for non-binary people, but obviously the occurrence of attempted or completed sexual assault is probably high for them.  RAINN also has an entire section of their website dedicated to sexual assault on college campuses.  Sexual assaults are more likely to occur there over the course of one’s college career, particularly if one is a woman.  People of various genders live at Scripps, but most of them are women.  Therefore, it is very probable that multiple survivors live in Frankel or Routt and were at risk of witnessing the “IT WAS RAPE” posters and being reminded of one of the worst, most traumatic events to ever happen to them.  Every minute that sign was up without a warning, mental and emotional calm was seriously at stake.

Among the passages in the March 3 e-mail to which I object: “If you are feeling particularly triggered by any passive education, flyer, or poster, […] we encourage you to reach out to the fmi contact, required at the bottom of each advertisement.”  First of all, “IT WAS RAPE” is not a passive statement at all.  It is in-your-face provocative. 

Secondly, if a survivor of sexual assault has been triggered by an obviously inflammatory statement blasted at them in the place where they live? That is too late.  Inviting the survivor to reach out to the FMI contact hardly solves the problem.  The problem, which was easy to predict, has already occurred in that case.

Instead, ResLife should take reasonable preventative measures.  This concern over predicting triggers is very different from ResLife mounting a poster that says, for example, “FREE COOKIES.” That would not be an obvious trigger at all.  The statement “IT WAS RAPE” should not have been there in the first place.  ResLife should always consider any easily predictable psychological responses survivors might have to posters beforeResLife decides to mount them in public. 

ResLife should not wait for someone to suffer an episode.  Accordingly, any immediate response from fellow students to protect survivors from re-living trauma, such as taping signs that say “trigger warning” directly over “IT WAS RAPE” (not the other words on the poster) was the safer option.  In fact, this was a far safer idea than, as the March 3 e-mail suggests, waiting for a survivor to report their feelings to ResLife. 

In spite of ResLife’s attempts to appear available and open for such communication, it is extremely difficult for survivors of sexual assault to find the courage to tell themselves or loved ones, let alone a well-meaning stranger about such a traumatic event.  The e-mail also says students who are offended should speak to ResLife.  Being offended is not the same as recognizing a very obvious trigger.

Never mind if a survivor feels “particularly triggered,” as the e-mail says; if a current Frankel/Routt feels triggered at all in the place where they live because a poster has an obvious trigger, that poster should be immediately removed or altered.  In this extreme case, it is not ideal to wait to talk to a hall director or the acting dean of students about the poster.  This is not about disagreement with a poster’s content.  This is about protecting people from the clear, immediate, present danger of re-experiencing trauma.  It is statistically likely that multiple people live in these residence halls.  They deserve to feel calm and safe.

As hall directors, as Scripps staff, and as compassionate human beings, of course ResLife cares about the mental and emotional well-being of Scripps residents.  ResLife is right to host events that promote awareness of sexual assault.  I ardently applaud these efforts.  However, their methods of promoting this event were dangerous and showed no regard for obvious triggers to survivors.  “IT WAS RAPE” in giant letters hypocritically sacrificed survivors’ interests in the hopes of publicizing an event about sexual assault awareness.  ResLife was right to take the posters down and apologize. 

However, the March 3 e-mail has bewildering priorities.  “It has come to our attention that recent advertisements for events and passive programming pertaining to sexual assault, utilizing the words rape, sexual assault, etc., have been defaced in order to prevent triggering others.  While we are sensitive to and respect the needs of our students, we want to make sure we are upholding and abiding by Scripps College's posting policies.”  I disagree.  This “IT WAS RAPE” situation, this specific situation, was more important than Scripps policy.  This was about preventing the very likely chance of a human being from a harmful psychological episode.  ResLife should have made a better effort to be “sensitive to and respect the needs” of Scripps students.  In most other instances, ResLife would be right to invoke Scripps policy concerning promotional material, and I would support them.  Students should abide by Section 4.02 in most other circumstances.  This “IT WAS RAPE” situation is the exception.  Preventing obvious triggers and thereby protecting the mental and emotional health of Scripps students should be top priority at all times, not policy (even though 4.02 is an otherwise reasonable and just policy, I think).  Placing a “trigger warning” sign over “IT WAS RAPE” was not defacement.  It was the right thing to do.

Furthermore, the method used in Frankel/Routt to label the event poster was a respectful one.  The “trigger warning” sign functioned like a giant post-it note, basically, with the top of the two 8x11-inch papers secured with painter’s tape, and the bottoms of these papers left uninhibited.  Gravity made this “trigger warning” sign function like a curtain.  In this way, survivors were warned of the risk and protected from it, but anyone could gently peek underneath the “trigger warning” sign to read the words “IT WAS RAPE.”  This did not censor the event.  This did not say anything critical or obscene about the event.  This did not cover the other information about the event, which was not likely to be triggering and therefore probably harmless.  If the “trigger warning” sign had been placed above the poster instead of over the letters, it would have been basically useless.The most eye-catching part of the big poster would still have been the very harmful “IT WAS RAPE.”  The placement of the “trigger warning” sign was a necessary and simple solution to the problem, other than the obvious option of making a safer promotional poster altogether.

Clearly, ResLife had very good intentions and wanted to make an informative poster, especially since “It Was Rape” is the name of the documentary.  I know new promotional materials will be mounted soon, and I look forward to seeing them, but in retrospect, alternatives were possible.  The following do not use the phrase “IT WAS RAPE” in huge, hard-to-miss letters, but instead either avoid them, use a trigger warning, or provide some context first:

A sexual assault awareness documentary called “It was Rape” this Thursday, March 6 at 7:30 p.m. in Humanities.  Eight women tell their personal stories.  The film might be triggering to survivors or their friends.  A Monsour counselor will lead a discussion afterwards.


[sometimes, using the phrase “sexual assault” is preferable because it tends to be way less triggering than “RAPE” or “IT WAS RAPE”]



Hear the stories, not just the statistics, behind sexual assault.  Jennifer Baumgardner gives eight women the opportunity to share their experiences in this emotional piece.  Afterwards, there will be a discussion about the silence in our society concerning this issue, led by a Monsour counselor.  7:30 p.m., Humanities Auditorium.


TW: sexual assault.  We’ll be showing “It Was Rape,” a documentary telling the stories of survivors. This powerful film brings to light the fact that sexual assault is too common.  There will be snacks and a discussion afterwards.  7:30 p.m., Humanities.  This will be a safe space.

The reason I list these, again, is to remind that there were alternatives to promote this event.  I look forward to seeing the new posters.  I hope this event is hugely successful and I thank ResLife for trying to spread awareness of sexual assault and end the denial in our society.  This issue is very important.  The March 3 e-mail, however, wrongfully drew upon an otherwise sound policy and, in so doing, trivialized survivors’ responses to obvious triggers, as well as responses in the interest of survivor’s immediate well-being.

“We strive to be conscientious of our postings on campus,” states the e-mail.  ResLife should understand what is at stake when a giant poster that says “IT WAS RAPE” in huge, hard-to-miss letters is posted in a living space likely occupied by multiple survivors of sexual assault.  Students, such as myself, who responded by placing “trigger warning” signs over the trigger felt this action was, in this very specific instance, more important than policy.  This e-mail instead denounced this conscientious gesture, which was made out of compassion and respect.


Anna Marburger