When I was stalked in graduate school, at first, I didn’t realize it. The stalker was a classmate in our program. This complicated the situation because as students we are all forced to work together and share contact information for group projects and school events. Initially the flood of emails I was receiving from this one person arrived enmeshed with all my other emails, camouflaging the oddity of his behavior. When his next avenue of communication became texting, I really started to feel the burden of being stalked.
After a few consecutive days of receiving consecutive texts before 8 am, I told him, “please don’t text me before noon.” Looking back, I was so nice; all I asked was that he not text me before noon. However, this small request evolved into more texts and digital rants. It was only after I complained to a peer about it that I realized the level of dysfunction I was dealing with. She suggested I let a professor know about the behavior.
Good advice, right. So, I did just that. I let a professor know and then continued my life as a typical graduate student–hopped up on diet coke, stuffed up from the dusty stacks in the library, exhausted from alcohol drenched poetry readings.
As I did my best to fulfill the duties of a graduate student, everything escalated. He started to tell me inappropriate personal comments. One time in class he said, “you know, I see a lot of hookers.” He continued with the emails, sending me entire poems he had written.
The stalking suddenly became a mainstream part of my life. Not only was he stalking me online and in class, but also on the street. He must have memorized my bike route because he would be waiting for me around a corner or at a light. He even visited my parents’ house unannounced one Saturday morning saying he wanted to see me.
At this point, I was starting to feel insane. I was unnerved seeing him on my bicycle before class or a tutoring session. To this day, it frustrates me that he messed with my bike route. A particular pole he leaned on while waiting for me still gives me anxiety. I know that this negatively affected my performance at school. Juggling mixed emotions, literally worrying that a man might be right behind me or around the corner and planning a 22 page essay was not easy. I was demoralized.
Traumatizing-ly, he sent me some sick texts one night when I was out with friends. It started with a message, “What’s up. Where are you?” This would be a normal text had it come from any one else, but not from him. I ignored it. Soon, though, like a warning flare, my friend’s phone lit up. He texted her, “Are you with Nicole?” Finally, I had a group of people to experience and witness this weirdness with me. It was around 1 am that I received his creepiest texts, “Hey, c*nt, thanks a lot for stringing me along…” He sent it three times.
I documented the harassment, emailed some professors and the dean of students. Naively, I had imagined the creepy texts which served as an emblem of sexual harassment would undeniably serve my cause to be left alone. But isolation and sleepless nights grew stronger throughout the complaint process. I was asked, “Did you date him?” and “Well, did you lead him on like he said?” I am queasy just typing it. I felt degraded having to defend myself, “No, we didn’t date!”
“Well, did you go out with him?” This startled me because, yes, I had gone out with him to school related events and to meet up with peers. However, I stuttered. In graduate school we are encouraged to act independently, to interact with our colleagues as well as attend promoted events, so why did I get this sense that I was being blamed. Was I wrong for doing these regular graduate school things?
I feel robbed by this stalker who tainted my graduate school experience. It seems unfair and unreasonable that my behavior was being questioned alongside the stalker’s. There were many times I was ashamed. Perhaps I had done something wrong…should I have brought a guy with me to every event so that this weirdo would see me as “taken?” Or worse, should I have just stayed at home? I was questioned by the university police too. The whole time I felt like I was teetering between being perceived as a victim and being perceived as a hysterical college girl. I began to doubt myself.
I understand that some form of investigation must be performed in circumstances such as this, but upon reflection, I was treated unfairly. I had documented harassment, witnesses, and I had also already complained to a professor.
Ultimately, he was removed from all my classes. He had to complete his Masters as an independent. He also had to write me a letter of apology (which was full of typos). The letter might have been the worst because it was so obviously insincere. Personally, I don’t think a man like this deserves a graduate degree that could place him in a position of power to stalk another person down the road. Alas, I am not the dean, so I settled for whatever the institution settled for.
If you know anything about stalkers, you won’t be surprised that the stalking didn’t end there. I spotted him a few times in the tutoring center where I worked, though he was not supposed to be in the center at the same time as me. He used a disguise (I swear!) that consisted of a hat and a newly formed beard. It was up to me to notify someone that my stalker was in the facility (again).
This was very uncomfortable, and once more I was faced with that judgmental look from the administrators that were supposed to be helping me. When I ran into the dean the next day, I let him know that the behavior was continuing. He seemed very annoyed at me, and tried to brush me off. That’s when I said, “Okay, I will schedule a meeting with you via your secretary.” Further annoyed by this prospect, he slowed down and tried to listen.
Until the day I finished my Masters, I had run-ins with this stalker. He graduated alongside me. He earned my same degree. We were both “typical grad students.” And until he gets caught for harassing and stalking another person, that’s all he will appear as. Though he was removed from being present in class with me, on paper he is not a stalker. He is just another alum, armed with a degree.
I’m so pleased to announce that three of my poems, “Slots,” “Scraping” and “Make a Decision” have been published in Barking Sycamores Literary Magazine Issue 13. Barking Sycamores is dedicated to neurodivergent literature and its craft. I’m so honored to be a part of this project. Barking Sycamores Issue 13
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