Professor confronts trauma

Courtesy of Grace Coughlan and Zac Soper 
By: Grace Coughlan, Staff Writer and Zac Soper, Contributing Writer

Jeannie Vanasco, an assistant professor of English, and the faculty advisor for Grub Street, the Towson University literary magazine, released her second memoir “Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl” on Oct. 1.

Since its release, Vanasco has appeared in Believer Magazine, The New York Times, and many more. She has also been featured in The Cut, Time Magazine, and on “the Tamron Hall Show.

“Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl” documents Vanasco’s recount of her sexual assaults and how they have come to affect her today, as well as confronting one of her rapists, once a friend, referred to in the book as Mark. The memoir’s main focus is Vanasco’s experience after her former friend Mark raped her during her sophomore year of college when she was at a party. Vanasco discusses the details about their relationship before and after the assault, and what made her want to talk to him fourteen years later. 

Towson University’s English Department hosted a reading by Vanasco, who read excerpts from her new memoir on the 3rd floor of the Liberal Arts Building on Oct. 15. 

There was a large turn out of both Towson students and staff. After reading her excerpts, she talked about why she decided to write this book, and about how she wanted to take the scrutiny away from herself. 

“The book was kind of like an armour,” Vanasco said.  “I got obsessed with the book. I never wanted to stop because it interested me intellectually. There have been other projects that I’ve wanted to put down, but not this one.” 

When preparing to tell her friends about her plans to confront Mark, Vanasco shared that “It didn’t feel brave. I didn’t feel scared.” She felt more driven by her need for answers. 

Vanasco discussed how, in a way, the book gave her a reason to confront her rapist and launch a myriad of awkward, personal questions. The questions she asked allowed her to be the prosecutor in the situation. 

“She addressed some serious stuff in her book but she did it in an empowering way,” said Brenna Ebner, a senior and English major at TU. “It seemed like a story of owning what’s happened to you and any tragedies that you face and learning how to deal with them in a healthy [way].”

Vanasco touched on the idea of true forgiveness. She discussed how she’s forgiven Mark and how honesty plays a huge role in taking a step toward forgiveness. Vanasco said she was more interested in moral accountability rather than legal accountability. 

“I feel like that’s a huge way in how I see her now, in how she’s so forgiving,” said Katherine Rogers, a current student of Vanasco’s.

The Q&A was interactive, with questions varying from Vanasco’s personal experience to her writing process. 

“What surprised me was seeing how the legal definition of rape changed,” Vanasco said. “Also that Mark acknowledged that what he did was wrong. The fact that he had only been on one date since. And the fact that I felt bad for him.”

Many of Vanasco’s current students showed up to the reading to support their professor.

“It’s hard to associate my professor [with] those events having gone on in her life, so I wanted to see how she handles being a professor versues diving into [the] super personal [topic of] rape,” said Rogers. “The tension was so high.”

In this memoir Vansasco mentions some of her previous students that have written about their own rape experiences in her writing non-fiction class, and that part of the reason she wrote this book was to get these uncomfortable conversations started. 

“Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl” can be found in Towson University’s UStore and on Amazon.

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