“The thing about rape … is you feel ruined from the inside out…. I hated myself, and I wanted to die every day,” Brenda Tracy said tearfully to an audience almost as emotional as herself in Love Auditorium last Thursday. A survivor of sexual assault, a nurse, and an advocate against sexual violence, Tracy has been visiting college campuses nationwide to share her experiences in order to raise awareness about rape culture. She returned to Colgate Feb. 7- 8 for the second time this academic year. 

Tracy began her talk by describing her 1998 assault during which she was drugged and gang-raped by four men, including three college football players. Following the attack, Tracy said, she blamed herself for the incident, and felt ashamed as well as self-disgust.

“For the next 16 years I struggled with depression, I had a horrible case of PTSD, I wasn’t able to have a relationship. I had a borderline eating disorder lots of self-loathing,” she said.

In 2014, Tracy “walked out of [her] prison of shame and silence” when she told her story to journalist John Canzano. In the article, Tracy asserted that Oregon State University officials and police were complicit in covering up the case, including destroying her rape kit and telling her that the case was hopeless despite having taped confessions from all four men.

For the past couple of years, Tracy has dedicated herself to public speaking, addressing athletes at more than 50 schools. She first visited Colgate in the fall to speak to student-athletes and returned last week to deliver three separate talks: one for women, one for men, and a gender-inclusive discussion.

“Brenda’s story was incredibly moving and powerful,” said Emily Rahhal ’21, who attended the gender-inclusive talk last Thursday. “I really appreciate her ability to be vulnerable to a group this big.”

Tracy concluded her speech by addressing the men in the audience. “I am not here because I think you are the problem; I am here because I know that you are the solution,” she said. “Only ten percent of guys are committing these crimes, which means ninety percent of our guys are good. The problem is that the ninety percent are silent.”

Graham Grieve ’18 agreed with Tracy’s point. “She raised a lot of great solutions, and we need to act on them,” he said. “We can’t be silent anymore.”

The conversation at Colgate has been continuing since Tracy’s first visit. In February, the men’s basketball team dedicated their game to her campaign, #SetTheExpectation. Players wore teal and purple T-shirts (representing the campaign colors), and before the game they signed a pledge on a sprawling tablecloth to commit to ending sexual violence.

Additionally, at a recent meet, the track team raised money for Vera House, an organization working to empower and support victims of domestic or sexual violence. The men’s hockey team also hopes to hold a #SetTheExpectation game sometime next year, and Greek organizations are looking into fundraisers and workshops.

Related links and information:

Haven is Colgate’s sexual violence response center. Visit the website or call 315-228-7385.

The Counseling Center

The Help Restore Hope Center (HRHC) provides a confidential 24-hour sexual assault and domestic abuse hotline. HRHC advocate Rochelle Robinson works in Haven on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m, and you can call 1-855-9NOWSAFE at any time.

Yes Means Yes is a six-week-long class on positive sexuality offered each semester, and This is Not a Play About Sex is a play performed annually in the fall. Both provide opportunities to learn more about the complex issues of sexuality and rape culture on campus.