Content warning: homophobia, sexual assault, institutional malfeasance, xenophobia
Perhaps it is because I recently read Chanel Miller’s Know My Name and Anita Hill’s Believing, but I’ve come to value the perspective I gain about the changes to public perception of sexual assault over time. Set in 1999, The Chandler Legacies builds on this understanding by showing the legacy of reaction to sexual assault on personal and institutional levels in a boarding school environment.
While Hill’s book brings forth the legacy of law in its response to sexual violence, Miller’s memoir examines Stanford’s legacy on this subject by walking us through their response to her case. The Chandler Legacies brings both viewpoints together by showing us a group of students who learn that among them are survivors of sexual assault conducted on their campus. One of the students, Ramin Golafshar is a migrant who had to leave his country once he was outed in fear of persecution only to find no respite in the United States. Upon his first month or so in the freshman dorms, he is repeatedly a witness and victim to homophobic acts, including watching a dormmate’s violation in the name of hazing. Because of his reliance on the institution in providing him a safe haven in the States, he holds back on sharing these experiences with anyone until he builds a strong relationship with the four other students who comprise the exclusive Circle during the 1999-2000 school year. It is then that he learns that someone else in the Circle has been affected by sexual assault on campus and the group teams up to find accountability through the institution.
Abdi Nazemian, author of The Chandler Legacies, does a good job of representing how important finding safety in your environment is to every person. He shows that when we feel unsafe we will often find those who help us feel safe in order to carry on—regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or class. It also shows how when an institution decides not to change in order to protect victims, it has sided with protecting the perpetrator—a key component to all of the sexual assault literature mentioned in this post. By finding confidence in each other, the students are not making up for the institution’s failure but rather supporting one another in ways that will allow them to later escape the institution. Their activism activates others on campus and yields the hope that by becoming better to each other, dominant narratives about sexual assault survivors will lose their hold. Then, perhaps we will see institutions change their ways.