The following letter was written and sent to Frédéric Mion on January 23rd. Eighty-three days after writing the letter, its author decided to send it to Le Zadig in the hopes that it would speak to important issues that are often overlooked on campus.
Dear M. Mion,
Firstly I’d like to introduce myself; I am a student at the Menton campus of Sciences Po Paris. It’s been a largely positive experience and I remain grateful to the institution for the opportunity to be here.
In order to understand why I have decided to write to you, it is necessary to look back to the month of November. After a busy summer working I was just about getting back into the swing of the Sciences Po student life, with papers mounting up and exams looming it is a stressful time for students and the administration staff alike. As girls of my age do, I met someone (not from Sciences Po) that I valued as much more than a friend, but this was a welcome respite to the stressful school days I was facing. However as I have now learnt (perhaps unusually late in my life), such respite does not always come without a cost. The night of Tuesday 8th is a night I will never forget. It’s the night Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. It’s the night I would come to detest my studies and my life in Menton, my apartment and all the objects within it. It’s the night I was raped by someone I thought was falling in love with me.
I’m not writing this letter to tell the story of what happened, partly because it’s something I’m still reconciling in myself and partly because it’s not a dialogue I enjoy sharing for the sake of those hearing it. No one wants to hear these stories because they’re sad. And suddenly it seems so clear to me as to why so many people don’t share these stories. I have never known heartbreak so enduring than seeing the look on my close friends’ and family’s faces following my testimony.
So why am I telling you this?
The administration of course are not held accountable for events that occur, but as far as my understanding goes we have a contract between you, the administration and us, the students. That contract for me encompasses the behaviour of students, to come to class, to invest in the opportunities they’re given, to respond to the demands of the administration and to do our utmost to perform in accordance with the legacy created by Sciences Po alumni. On the other end, the administration facilitate this, they encourage us and when something goes wrong (or right) they manifest their presence to show that they are here for us just as we are here for them. I’m not suggesting this is always the nature of our interactions but it’s the basic level at which we all at this time seem to function in line with one another.
Again, we all have our personal life matters and we have the responsibility to separate this from our professional/student life.
My state of mental health following the event put me in a situation wherein I had to reach out to a member of the administration. I thought that seeing as the Sciences Po sexual harassment cell had been promoted to us during integration week, this was where the help I needed could be found. As someone that avoids confrontation at all costs this is difficult to say, but I feel let down.
Upon first seeking help it seemed there were two procedural paths in place: the legal path involving the police or, an independent procedure within Sciences Po itself for those not wanting to take legal action. I didn’t want to take the legal procedure, after all this came from a person I was learning to love, not to hate. I was told to send an email to the sexual harassment cell as well as to organise the appropriate appointments: general practitioner, blood tests, psychiatrist… the full works. I insist upon the amount of medical attention required after a forced sexual interaction, it was not at all something I had appreciated beforehand.
The administration were able to provide me with the name of a GP that was a woman, and promised to come back to me with details of other healthcare specialists as soon as possible. Unfortunately the experience with the GP was an unpleasant experience, as my testimony was taken trivially and not treated with the sensitivity it deserved. This, I made the administration aware of, as well as telling them of my deteriorating state of mental health. I was promised details for a psychiatrist again. And so I waited.
In the meanwhile a response from the sexual harassment cell acknowledged the difficult situation I was in, with a few questions regarding the blood tests etc. However there was no follow up regarding the help I asked for. At this point I cannot stress enough, that asking somebody that this happens to ‘what do you need?’, is not the adequate response. I speak for myself only but it must be stressed that in these circumstances one does not simply know what they need. Such a knowledge would render the whole situation a lot easier I’m sure.
So, nine days after the event, with no referral to a psychiatrist (as promised) I found myself in the emergency department of Nice Pasteur hospital, having overdosed on medication and self harmed. After spending the night in hospital, I was able to return to Menton the next day and was blessed to have been circled by friends that cared so much for me. They informed the administration straight away. On Saturday 20th I was able to speak with the head doctor of the Paris campus on the phone. I truly believed that this second event was going to kickstart into motion the help Sciences Po had promised me.
Unfortunately no one ever got back to me about a psychiatrist but even worse is that no one renounced this responsibility. It is a very basic lesson we learn so often that it is okay to not perform a task, so long as the person that task affects, knows. I didn’t know and paid the price of not getting the psychiatric help I needed due to my patience with the administration on the matter.
Finally upon the initiative of a close friend and one of my professors, we sought out psychiatric support independently of the university. I took the problem back into my hands, however not from a place of responsibility, rather just having to react in an act of self preservation to the abandonment I felt from the school.
Having spoken with the campus doctor quite recently about this, she was very understanding but also presented the explanation that perhaps the administration didn’t want to infringe too much on me, they didn’t want to bother me. I needed bothering. I needed the phone numbers. And, I needed to know that the administration of Sciences Po would take these matters seriously, for myself but also every other student here.
I was told a countless number of times that meetings were going on discussing my circumstances, that our campus director Mr El Ghoul was up to date on the matter as well as other staff. I wanted an email of recognition, to acknowledge the matter. But nothing ever came. It’s a complicated matter I understand, especially for a man to speak to a woman about, but it is complicated for me too.
But this isn’t just a sad story. Luckily the psychiatric centre I was referred to has been incredible and the care they’ve given me goes above and beyond what I could have expected especially given the precedent set by Sciences Po.
When something like this happens, you are confronted with choices. The choice to ask for help, who to choose to speak to about it, the choice to believe that your testimony holds more truth than his/hers, the choice to want to continue your life in the same way you’ve always seen it mapped out for you. But it’s a difficult reconciliation process, because this event is plagued by the fact that you had no choice at all.
Afterwards, people tell you that you are powerful because of the fact you could condemn this person through judicial procedure. They tell you you’re strong because despite all that’s happened, you submitted that paper and you sat that exam. But here’s the truth: there’s little strength or power behind it. And the more someone praises you for having strength, the more you feel the pressure to find it.
So I leave you with this testimony that now dictates a lot of how I view the world, so that you know. So that the administration of Sciences Po can recognise the role they play in the lives of the multitude of students, French and International. For me, this role was negative and in the end could have had disastrous endings, but it doesn’t have to be for my other fellow students.
Having spent a long time drafting this email, in order to express all these elements, I had decided that perhaps I would not contact you. But, on coming back to campus on Monday morning, one of the first sights I saw was a poster encouraging the discussion of Sexual Harassment with the professionals present at Sciences Po. And this hurt, because from my experience such a poster seems only false advertising.
I’m confident that a cell can be created that can help, to help students conceptualise the events they are faced with. I’m confident that a list of medical practitioners with a good reputation and the adequate sensibilities can be compiled. But please allow me to express my regret that such services are only in place in name for now, and not in practice.
Lastly, I would like to mention that I have talked with Dr. Auslander about the sexual harassment cell’s endeavour to improve, and I have given her my own feedback. Dr. Auslender in particular has been very understanding and has listened to my concerns about the service, and I remain very grateful for this.
I thank you, for having read this email with consideration and ask you to respect the sensitive nature of this email’s content, if you decide to forward the email on I would be appreciative of knowing who also reads this. And of course, if there are any elements you would wish to understand further I would of course be open to a dialogue.
At the end of the day this is happening to countless amounts of people, men and women alike. News articles cannot capture the individually crippling effect of these events. I will continue my studies at Sciences Po, and I will try to build from what has happened. I wait with impatience for the day I can look at my surroundings here as liberating again, rather than imprisoning.
With Kind Regards,
EDIT: An error was made in the preface stating that M.Mion had not yet answered the student’s letter. Since the publication of this article in our printed edition of “Horizons” a few months later, the Paris administration reached-out to the author to say that an error on their part caused them to miss the initial email of January 23rd (and a follow-up email several weeks later). The author is since in contact with them.