Student of the Year: Fabiana Diaz
Over her time on campus, LSA senior Fabiana Diaz has realized the necessity of advocating to prevent sexual assault, even if she herself isn't fully healed.
“It is a privilege to be able to talk about [sexual assault] and advocate for it, because not everyone has that opportunity, but at the same time sometimes it can be tiring mentally,” Diaz said. “Just because I’m advocating for something doesn’t mean I’m completely 100 percent healed. There are moments where I still feel like a victim. There are moments where I still feel like I need support. But it’s hard because there’s like people coming to you for support — you have to learn to balance it.”
On her second night campus, while at the summer Bridge program, she was raped, Diaz said.
“I was so alone," she said. "I was coming here and I didn’t know anybody, and because I was in the Bridge program, so everybody knew something had happened. People talk.”
She said was told if she took her case to court her assailant would not be prosecuted against, and the process of going through questioning would be more draining on her. Diaz, who was beginning her freshman year on campus — adjusting to college can already be hard, but the experience made it even more isolating.
“I had just started. I just started school,” Diaz said. “I was missing class all of the time being called in for questioning — whatever it was, it was exhausting. It was a very exhausting process, and that just makes it harder. Who would want to go through that? I would not want to go through that again.”
She said she had been assured she would not see her assailant in her dorm or classes, but on her first day of class, he was there.
Diaz said she stayed quiet about her experience for a long time, and it was not until her junior year when the “Carry The Weight” march happened on campus she felt comfortable speaking out and joining the movement. She began volunteering at Sexual Assualt Prevention and Awareness Center after the march and being open about what happened to her.
“I think that’s when I realized I wasn’t alone: It wasn’t just happening to me,” Diaz said. “It was kind of silent on campus; I didn’t really know any other survivors at all actually.”
Later that year when “The Hunting Ground” — a documentary on campus sexual assault — was screened at the Michigan Theater, she met activists Andrea Pino and Annie Clark who were both survivors of rape while at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and are the primary subjects of the film.
Through Pino and Clark, Diaz was invited to stand onstage at the Oscars with Lady Gaga and other victims of sexual assault.
Diaz said the experience was amazing and marked the first time she was surrounded by so many survivors, but after she needed to remind people of the reason she was there. After receiving many texts from people saying she was “lucky” for the experience and wishing they were her, Diaz felt compelled to write a piece on the reality of her situation. Penning it was difficult for her, but she said she saw it as necessary to help people understand her situation.
“It was very cathartic to write about that, but it was also hard because I don’t want people to think I’m not appreciative of them,” she said. “I just wanted them to further understand I’m not lucky. I’m not lucky for this opportunity. People weren’t understanding, like ‘I’m so jealous’ well, I’ll give it to you. I don’t want to be at the Oscars for this reason.”
Being open about being a survivor is often a catch-22 for Diaz. In some ways it has been a positive experience which has altered the course of her life — she now wants to continue activism after graduation — but she does not want people to see it as her defining quality.
“People would say: ‘I’m so proud of you.’ They are. I understand why people can be proud of me,” Diaz said. “Why I decided to write the article is because I don’t want to be proud, and I don’t want other people to be proud of me, for what someone else did to my body. I don’t want that to be the defining factor; I know that’s not how people see it, but sometimes it’s hard to be the face for this movement because I’m so much more than my identity as a survivor.”
Continuing to work with Pino and Clark, Diaz has contributed to writing a book titled “We Believe You: Survivors of Sexual Assault” which came out on April 12. In it, she and 35 other survivors share their story of sexual assault on campus. Diaz said she wished she had a book like this when she was assaulted — seeing it at SAPAC or coming across it in the library, Diaz said, would have helped her feel less alone.
Being one of the faces of the sexual assault prevention movement is difficult for Diaz at times, but she said it’s necessary.
“It’s hard, but it has to be done,” Diaz said. “It’s hard to sometimes be the voice because you don’t want to speak for everyone. Survivorhood isn’t just like one all-encompassing thing: It’s different for everyone. Everyone has their own personal story, their own personal narrative. There might be commonalities in the sense that, yeah, our schools are betraying us — there are 160 schools under federal investigation for potentially violating Title IX — that’s a national narrative that’s happening, but at the same time, our traumas are different, and our traumas don’t define us either.”