“A Weight in the Center of my Chest:” Becoming a Better Ally

Written by Sadie Casale ’24

Sadie Casale ’24

I need to preface this blog post with an acknowledgement – I am a fortunate person. Fortunate to have a safe place with my family, fortunate to not know the feeling of a hungry belly at night, and fortunate to not have ever personally experienced se*ual assault. The gravity of that is not lost on me, as women aged 18-24, a group I identify with, are among the most at-risk individuals of this heinous crime.  

On May 3rd, I had the opportunity to participate in the University of Vermont class walk out to stand with people who have suffered the fallout of having their autonomy ripped, torn, or coerced out of their hands. I stood there, in the rain wearing my shiny white coat, and looked out at a sea of students. It was impossible to tell who came to bear witness to their own experience or who was there for someone they knew.  I felt weight – not the same weight on my shoulders I felt when I slipped on a stiff, starchy white coat for the first time just a few months earlier, but a weight in the center of my chest. 

I’d like to first talk about the shoulder weight: the weight of the white coat. While the white coat symbolism has changed over time, one specific mantra has always been closely associated with it – do no harm. That is an enormous responsibility to bear, yet a responsibility that hundreds of students across the country willingly assume every year. During the walk out, we listened to the stories of survivors. Many spoke about how they did not receive the kind of health care they needed. No testing, short interactions with providers, and curtness from other staff permeated their stories. It is no secret that doctors are busy, but I find myself challenged to imagine how a physician could fail to provide the necessary testing to a survivor that would allow them to seek the justice and closure they need. How does that happen? Burnout? Lack of education? Changes in how care is delivered? I don’t know why this is happening, but I can say that I am a member of a future generation of doctors who won’t let it happen anymore. 

Moving on to the second weight: the one right in the center of my chest. It was a heaviness like I’ve never experienced – how could so many people be here? Was the problem really this big? In short, yes. Yes, there are countless people affected by se*ual assault and violence. Yes, the problem is really that big. It happens in the dark. It happens in the tucked away places no one sees. It also happens in broad daylight, where people can see. That was the weight I was feeling – just like this massive demonstration would be ignorant to miss, I had been ignorant of the vastness of the problem. I felt the weight of not having been a better ally. 

I have always made a conscious effort to be an ally. I’ve attended every training on awareness and read articles on how to support people suffering trauma. I tried to be the person I thought I would need if that was ever something I experienced. I was terrified to see that, despite my efforts, I wasn’t successful. How many of these people had I seen on campus? How many of these individuals had cried or held the hand of someone they knew who was struggling to find the words to describe what happened to them? 

I stood there with people holding hands and people walking alone. I thought about how, just three days prior, I learned about a survivor’s story via an Instagram page, a survivor who I had known as a friend many years ago. When I read her post, I cried. I cried for her, for other friends who shared their stories with me, for the people who hadn’t shared their stories. Most of all, though, I wept for the people that will inevitably experience something horrible, only to be met with accusations of “asking for it” or “you didn’t say no.”

Although I don’t know how to fix this vast problem, I can say I’m willing to learn and do better as I prepare to enter the medical profession. 

Movement may sometimes start with one, but it is carried forth by a change in culture. It is clear to me that students are ready to make changes in the UVM culture surrounding how the school approaches this issue. It is time that those students put their trust in UVM and listen. We as a community must learn to do better for the survivors we walk next to every day.

What are your thoughts about this topic?