Just minutes ago, I experienced the most powerful and emotional session thus far as a college-level writing tutor.
A male student sat down and jumped right into discussion. He said, “I’m not looking for a hug or anything,” to which I laughed and replied, “I will be sure not to baby you.”
Once he began reading his paper aloud, baby him was all I wanted to do.
This student wrote a personal essay sprinkled with real-world sources about rape culture. Although, normally, scholarly sources are mandated for supporting the thesis in a college persuasive essay, his own insights were powerful enough to suffice if not exceed the authority of credible sources. He read two pages before he paused to gather himself. This particular essay, thus far, was arguing for men to look inside themselves to discover the reason behind their entitlement, for their swiftness to blame the victim for the any violence. I realized that he was defending rapists, in a sense. Although uncomfortable and hesitant, I felt compelled by his presentation. I felt compelled by him.
Then he stopped reading. He leaned back in his chair, and lifted his hand to his eyes. He said, “You can read the rest.”
“Would you like me to read this aloud or to myself?”
“You can read it to yourself.”
I’m grateful he allowed me this privacy. I never could have read his essay in the right voice, in the voice of a victim of rape who believed it was his fault. While I read the remaining pages, my heart filled with remorse and a great respect for this man. When I finished reading, the personal blame he felt seemed to lessen. He seemed to understand why he was defending rape culture.
“This is the first time I have dealt with this,” he told me. “This is the first time I understand.”
“I know,” I said. “It’s all here.”
I had to say something more. I took a breath, and I spoke.
I’m eternally grateful that the words I said during those following fifteen minutes encouraged this man to feel some level of liberation from writing his essay. I’m grateful I didn’t baby him, nor discourage him from opening up to others about his past. I’m grateful he gave me his name and shook my hand. I’m grateful I conveyed my hesitance to academic-ify his confession; his means for acceptance and, eventually, healing.
I’m grateful that I can bear witness to sessions like this, when a person realizes just how important and powerful their words can be.