Sebold Shares Her Story:

Alice Sebold, pictured above, spoke at the Living Writers Series about trauma and politics in the United States.

Last week, renowned author Alice Sebold ventured to Upstate New York to be a part of Colgate’s Living Writers Series. For Sebold, this region reminds her of traumatic scars from her past, as she was raped as a first-year student at Syracuse University. 

Sebold’s presence drew a large crowd on Thursday, September 21 in Love Auditorium. The hall was packed with students, faculty and staff. 

Sebold is the author of three books: Lucky, The Lovely Bones and The Almost Moon. Lucky, her memoir, has been at the top of The New York Times bestseller list, and her first novel, The Lovely Bones, was an international bestseller and the inspiration for Peter Jackson’s film adaptation.

“Sebold’s wit is as powerful as her searing candor,” Publishers Weekly reported. 

Returning to this region must not have been an easy feat, but Sebold certainly carried herself with grace, candor and confidence. 

Senior Emily Klein reflected on Sebold’s presence at Colgate. 

“I think we are so lucky to have had Alice Sebold on campus. Aside from being a great writer, her reading brought up themes of sexual assault and trauma that are not frequently talked about on campus and should be. I give a lot of credit to the Living Writers program for bringing such an important speaker to campus,” she said. 

Sebold is a distinguished writer and she also proved to be a powerful speaker. She began the event by reading a draft of an essay she is working on. 

Sebold focused on experiences of trauma and its many forms. She reflected that trauma is a universal experience, and a pervasive part of our culture. 

“In order to develop compassion for those who have been traumatized, you don’t have to get raped. You don’t have to be tasered for being mentally ill, or have a close encounter with an IED. Though these experiences do provide an accelerated course in the geography of trauma, what in the end may save our nation is the hearts and minds of those souls who choose to fight against complacency and stand beside victims of trauma,” she said.

Sebold segued into reading the parts of her memoir, Lucky

Lucky is a fiercely-told memoir about surviving a violent rape. It takes the reader through the wrenching trials of enduring rape – from the initial attack to courtroom action. During her harrowing experience, a policeman told her that a young woman had been murdered in the same spot she had been raped and by comparison, Sebold was lucky. That so-called “luck” reveals how an incident of such trauma profoundly altered the life of the survivor and the lives of so many around her. 

Sebold candidly joked about how many times the word “lucky” came up, as if she was in fact a recipient of good fortune. 

Junior Zoe Tierney reflected on the reading. 

“I didn’t expect Sebold to be as witty and seemingly light-hearted as she was. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to return to Upstate New York, and I am unbelievably grateful that she did,” she said. “I thought that the dark humor and intentionally inappropriate comments in Lucky were a coping mechanism, and was pleasantly surprised to find that Sebold is just as clever in person as she is on paper.”

Sebold’s brave testimony, which has sold over two million copies in hardback, echoes loudly today as new political decisions unfold under the Trump administration. 

On Friday, September 22, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it will officially roll back Obama-era guidance on how schools should handle sexual assaults under Title IX federal law.

Earlier this month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos declared that the previous guidance made her department uneasy, believing that it denied proper due process to those accused.

In a released statement, DeVos stated, “This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly.” 

However, many view this as another challenge to addressing and preventing campus sexual assault. 

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) tweeted in reaction, “Shameful. This decision will hurt and betray students.”

Sebold herself mentioned DeVos during her speech, explaining that she found DeVos’ use of the term “sexual misconduct” instead of “rape” to be very problematic. 

Alice Sebold’s lecture reminded the Colgate community of the great responsibility and standards that need to be upheld during disciplinary proceedings. 

In an interview from October of 2007, Sebold asserted, “The luxury of being a writer is that you don’t retire.”

Contact Maddie Veronis mveronis@colgate.edu.

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