HOW COLLEGE CHANGED MY LIFE, AND HOW IT CAN IMPACT YOURS

By Caroline Rothstein – Jus Wiggin Entertainment caroline@carolinerothstein.com – www.carolinerothstein.com | Article from Spring 2015 CLT Magazine

 

I began college experiencing two of the worst things that ever happened to me: a month into my freshman year, I was sexually assaulted on campus; a week later, my younger brother was hit by a car and killed. At 19, I had already been struggling with an eating disorder since age 11, had already experienced sexual assault in high school, and was already mourning the death of one of my best friends who died six months before I started college.

So here I was: a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, an aspiring writer and performer, a high-achieving student, and a devastated young adult unsure of how to proceed.

Yet, one thing was certain: I had worked so hard to get into college. I was not going to let these traumas crush my dreams. I was determined to not only survive, but to thrive.

Instead of a site of trauma and pain, college became my grounds for building perseverance and resilience. College became a place in which I was able to utilize my campus’s resources and facilities from counseling and psychological services; to brilliant professors; to student activities and organizations; to leadership opportunities; to multicultural and resource centers; and life-long, lasting friendships.

It wasn’t always an uphill march of strength, though. There were days, weeks, and months during which I felt defeated. When I wanted to give up. When the ongoing battle inside my head, and the pain in my body, and the grief in my heart felt impossible.

Then, I had an epiphany my junior year of college. I sat down on my bedroom floor with my best friend and we literally laid out my life trauma by trauma on the wooden floor of our off-campus house in West Philadelphia.

While I had experienced a plethora of devastating traumas, I was also the producer of our campus’s production of “The Vagina Monologues;” I was the director of our spoken word poetry group; I was taking Latin, writing and theatre classes with professors who were changing my life; I had a supportive and loving family; and I had excellent therapists both on campus and off. I also had tools like yoga, meditation, and the creative arts to guide me in healing. Most importantly, I had made unbelievable friends at school and maintained friendships from growing up, all of whom reminded me daily that my life was worth living and my body was worth loving.

I made the choice to be at ease with myself. To honor my body as a temple every day for the rest of my life. To eat intuitively, feeding my body with food that fueled it. To experience romantic and sexual experiences that were safe and consensual with individuals who equally honored my body as a temple. To embrace every emotion I encountered with patience and gratitude, no matter how hard or how painful the feelings might be.

That’s what I did. And that’s how I graduated from college: thriving. And that’s why I’ve devoted my professional career to engaging directly with college students during a time that has the potential to be life-altering and ground- breaking as a space in which to build a lasting mental, emotional, and social infrastructure of resilience and strength.

College campuses can provide space both in and outside the classroom for a structured and supportive way in which to grow. College is an incredible time to explore interests, cultivate intellectual curiosity, confront challenges, embrace one’s identity, and equally learn how to support one’s peers in their journey to do the same.

I want to let students know they are not alone. Whether struggling with a final exam, an eating disorder, depression, the aftermath of abuse, a competitive sports team, or a friendship and relationship, no one has to walk their path alone. We have the tools both within ourselves and within our communities to heal.

And along the way, there is so much fun to be had. When I think about college, I don’t think about my traumas and struggles. I think about the first time I performed spoken word poetry freshman year and how it changed my life forever; or introducing my favorite fiction author to a room full of classmates, faculty, and alumni at our school’s creative writing center; or going to graduation with my best friends laughing, singing, and holding each other’s arms as we walked – together – towards the next chapter of our lives.

I am now 31 years old. I have followed my dreams, and I am a full-time spoken word poet, journalist, body empowerment advocate, and arts educator. I am 10 years fully recovered from what was a decade-long eating disorder. I have healed from the trauma of sexual assault and feel strong, empowered, and with agency in my sexuality and body. And when I think about my brother, I smile and laugh.

This is not to say I don’t often face pain, or struggle, or challenge. This is to say that I now have the tools to cope with any obstacles that enter into my path. And it was in college where I began acquiring these tools – inside and outside the classroom – to do so.

We all have a story to tell. I share mine through spoken word poetry, public speaking, and workshop facilitations to help empower students and my audience worldwide to give themselves permission to embrace and honor their own authentic voices and stories. Whether they share it with a friend, groups on campus, a mentor, or in an academic paper, all that matters is that we acknowledge who we each are to ourselves first. That is where resilience begins.

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Twitter: @cerothstein Instagram: @carolinerothstein Facebook: /CarolineRothsteinOFFICIAL YouTube: /CarolineRothsteinTV Snapchat: c-linerothstein caroline@carolinerothstein.com www.carolinerothstein.com

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