Remembering rape and surviving in ‘College Girl’ memoir

Recalling the violence she suffered wasn't easy, says Laura Gray-Rosendale.
Recalling the violence she suffered wasn’t easy, says Laura Gray-Rosendale.

Northern Arizona University professor Laura Gray-Rosendale has been working on “College Girl” for over 20 years – writing, scrapping, rediscovering, and rewriting the manuscript in an almost ceaseless process. She simply refused to settle for an inauthentic memoir or, worse, a solipsistic telling of her life’s deepest trauma: the rape she suffered at college when she was 20 years old.
“I didn’t want the book to be about self-pity in any way, shape or form. So I knew I had to write the ‘oh poor me’ stuff first to get it out of the way,” says Rosendale. “There are places for that in one’s life, but in order to get at the real experiences, those self-pitying lenses have to be removed.”
And, as Rosendale cut and reformed the pages, she happened upon a non-linear way of telling the story that dovetailed with the experience of trauma: “I needed to portray what it’s like to be in a place in your mind and body where time changes. This happens for all sorts of trauma survivors: time shifts, the way you look at space shifts, the way you perceive everything around you changes.”
Today Rosendale is an English professor at Northern Arizona University. She has written a number of textbooks and classroom aids, but certainly nothing as personal as “College Girl.” At first she was reluctant to share the book with her students, but so far the feedback has been well worth it.
“They were able to tell me, ‘I could feel what you were feeling. I have experienced those feelings,’” she says. “In the end, I was so glad that some of them read it, because it gave me confidence that the book really does speak to people who are 20-years-old right now.”

Facts:
The 2001 National Institute of Justice study, “The Sexual Victimization of College Women,” is the most comprehensive study on the topic to date. It found that “about three percent of college women experience a completed and/or attempted rape during a typical college year.”

Percentage of rape or sexual assault victimizations against women reported to the police:
1995: 29%
2003: 56%
2010: 35%
— Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics


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