SU alumna and author discusses 'College Girl' memoir, off-campus sexual assault

Laura Gray-Rosendale came to campus for the Writing Program's Nonfiction Reading Series on Thursday.

Laura Gray-Rosendale said she always knew she would write about her rape as a Syracuse University student in 1988.

'It took a long time to be able to figure out how to be able to do that and what it would look like," she said. "This is the result."  

Gray-Rosendale shared an excerpt from her memoir, "College Girl" during the Writing Program's Nonfiction Reading Series Thursday evening in Hall of Languages. The author and Northern Arizona University professor also answered questions from the audience regarding her experiences, her book and her life.

Gray-Rosendale was raped in her off-campus apartment near SU in 1988, when she was an undergraduate English and theatre major, she said. “College Girl” is an account of that attack, her life afterward and how she recovered.

At the time of the attack, Gray-Rosendale had been preparing for a theatrical role as a rape survivor for a play called “Extremities,” she said. The “College Girl” chapter she read Thursday evening detailed the night of her attack and her thoughts on how she had no traumatic life experience to associate with the role at the time.

“It was an odd irony that I was preparing for that scene from ‘Extremities’ when I was assaulted. A very strange, a very strange thing,” Gray-Rosendale said.

Eileen Schell, associate professor of writing and rhetoric writing and founder of the NFRS, opened the talk. She thanked Gray-Rosendale not only for coming, but also for addressing a topic that has been on the minds of many SU community members during the last few months: sexual assault.

“We know it is a deep wound, and it cuts to the core of the being of the person and the soul of the person. And so to take on that topic is to take something on that few of us have the courage to,” Schell said. “Laura has bravely written this story.”

The Writing Program at SU hosts the NFRS, which brings writers to campus to discuss their memoirs, autobiographies and historical narratives with SU students, faculty and community members, according to the series’ website.

During her talk, Gray-Rosendale said “College Girl” took about a decade to write and rewrite.

“There are many awful versions of this book in my computer. Really awful versions. Versions I needed to write to be able to get to this one,” Gray-Rosendale said.

“I also had to feel like I was ready to write a story that was not self-pitying,” she said. “And that took some time. That took some time to get there. That took some therapy, honestly, to be able to tell the story fully.”

Sophomore Zoey Woldman said she came to the event for a class, but was moved by Gray-Rosendale’s experiences and storytelling. Being raped is not a fear Woldman had previously considered, she said.

“I don’t think about it as being something that happens often,” Woldman said. “So I think, in a way, I connect with the “college girl” where she probably didn’t think it was going to happen to her either, but it’s more frequent than we think.”

Gray-Rosendale currently teaches English at Northern Arizona University. She has written six books, including “College Girl.” She credits running, yoga and time spent with her husband for her continued recovery, 25 years later.

“I made a decision when I wrote this that I was going to be brutally honest,” Gray-Rosendale said, adding that she understood a lot of her personal life was going to be exposed when the book was published.

“But I felt it was worth it for the possibility that other survivors would read it, and they would not feel so alone,” she said.

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