institutional abuse

She read the email again, for the third time. She had spotted it in her inbox and opened it before going through the rest of the mail. When it started ‘I am so sorry…’ she had no need to read further, but she did, searching  for the scrap of good news that might be buried a few lines down. There was none.

Returning to the inbox she saw the impersonal heading that she should have come to first. Opening it revealed a string of remote sentences (possibly generated by a computer) referring her to her online application (via a hyperlink in the text), where she found the predictable words. ‘We regret that on this occasion your application has been unsuccessful.’ Totally expected after reading the previous email, but no less of a punch to the gut despite that.

She sat and assessed her emotions. Disappointment for sure, but now, much more, anger, sweeping in in waves. Anger with the system, but mostly anger with herself for being such a fool. How could she have allowed herself to be seduced into entrusting her future to figures of potential power and authority? Had ten years of exhausting therapy taught her nothing?

She had believed them, after the first interview. ‘We like your ideas, they don’t fit this particular project, but go away and make some changes, rewrite and send it back to us.’ She had done so, had understood that there would only be a delay of six months, not so bad, time for consolidation. Those around her were supportive, her previous mentors especially so. She resubmitted and was invited back to interview. They had told her it would be a formality, a chance to talk to supervisors. It was no formality; she should have known then but enthusiasm made her blind.

Forty eight hours later an email arrived. ‘We think that you would benefit from doing this one year course – it will leave you perfectly set up to continue to the PhD, in fact it may well shorten the time it takes.’

Why did she not challenge them then? Because she trusted. She trusted that she was being given advice that be in her best interests, make the doctoral work go as smoothly as possible. And, despite her numerous interactions with academia over the years, she was in unknown territory. She had to trust those in power. It never crossed her mind that she was walking into abuse as blindly, naively and willingly as she had done when trusting a senior doctor when she was a medical student.

She paid her money and started the recommended course. Some was repetition of her undergraduate work, and there were frustrations and problems with communication, but there was opportunity to take modules with other disciplines that made her feel that she was moving forward, learning, thinking. Her one year extended to two and allowed her to develop and refine her research topic. She began to justify the cost in time and money to herself and others.

It  had long since become clear that there could be no seamless moving on from this level to doctoral study, and that funded places would be fiercely competed. She thought about this at length and spoke to senior staff about the wisdom and morality of applying for such a place. Yet again she was strongly encouraged to do so, firmly told that she had as much right as any other. There were uncertainties about the possibility of self funded study, so (perhaps with growing subconscious understanding of lurking abuse) she spent many hours honing her application.

And now this. No personal contact (yet less than a dozen local students to speak to) by either email or face to face. She feels such a fool. She thought that people had her best interests at heart because that is how she has worked all her life. That is what she encountered when she left her first career, took a leap in the dark, and found people who believed in her. Instead she has made herself vulnerable and laid herself wide open to abuse. She is humiliated by her own gullibility.

She feels sad. Sad that universities have become big businesses where money trumps a real thirst for learning. Sad that the small universities that still believe in nurturing and caring are being forced out by bigger organisations with more money.

Most of all she feels sad for herself because this time there is not a lifetime ahead to regain trust.

One thought on “institutional abuse

  1. You are right to be sad and frustrated but the work you are doing is about resisting this and offering other ways of knowing and thinking and being in research but also in life. This is why it is so important! It is hard but see this as a driver and not just a hurdle?

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