woman-1721061_1280People would often tell me how awesome it is that I overcame so much at a young age—from abuse, intimidating cops, bullying at school, discrimination, sexual assault, being stalked, falsely accused, and so much more. Unfortunately, I am not as strong as everyone makes me out to be. Particularly, the falsely accused event was the worst because it came from a teaching assistant at my university. I am not used to getting in trouble. I tend to think I respect people’s boundaries as much as possible and treat everyone equally. I wouldn’t make others do or go along with things that they are uncomfortable with. Therefore, being falsely accused was the worst because I was getting persecuted for something that I had continuously asked if it was okay to do and had made clear that I have this social deficiency in reading subtle cues. For the sake of preventing anyone from searching this person up and making contemptuous comments about/ to her directly, acquiring a lawsuit, or me being somehow a target again by the authorities at my school, she will be renamed “Tiffany.”

Long story short, Tiffany turned me in to the conduct office for writing about God, music, psychology, and personal topics to her. As a result, I was labeled to be “borderline harassing” and “disturbing” by the few individuals who handled the case at the conduct and Title IX office. That is to say, Tiffany had encouraged me to write about these topics and specifically wrote to me that she “appreciated” the material; she thought it was a healthy, therapeutic outlet for me to get my emotions out. In fact, I told her about my deficiency in socialization multiple times beforehand and mentioned how I was unable to read subtle cues. I suppose that somehow got lost in translation between her and the officer she contacted.

From what I know, she didn’t mention the fact that I had said I have a social deficit in communication to the officer. (When things finally got resolved the officers had a “different awareness of the situation” and acknowledged that they understood Tiffany had lied due to my autism paper diagnosis.) Whenever I got called down, the officer accused me that I should have known that Tiffany didn’t want any further interaction despite the fact that she had told me to write to her. I somehow should have picked up on that fact after she failed to respond for a while between those emails. To counter that argument, I had written documentation from Tiffany that specifically said if she failed to respond, it was only because she was busy. Henceforth, that belief was what I held, and so I wrote—thinking that I was helping and changing her life positively.

I mean, I do come from a Christian background, and the pastors at church encouraged folks like me to preach about Jesus Christ to people if they’re receptive to it. It seemed like she was, and my hopes were built upon that. At some point, I didn’t want to write anymore, and at the end it felt like an obligation since she had control over my grades through her duty to score exams. The most ironic part is that she went to the conduct office when I had already wanted to stop with my written advice. I just wanted a mutual written or verbal agreement from her to just let me go because of the control she had over me as a teaching assistant—through email or a one-on-one meeting to discuss my communication deficits.

I even worded for her what to say to me if she had trouble being honest and was actually uncomfortable. She ignored everything but would reinforce my behavior the times she did answer. I was afraid, and I didn’t know what to do. And so, I had—what I now know to be– an “autistic” meltdown. I couldn’t decipher the mixing verbal and non-verbal messages she was giving me. My internal central nervous system simply crashed, and I became so frustrated I said a couple unintentional, mean words. She was warned, and my meltdown wasn’t going to stop until there was a resolution.

That resolution was the trip to the conduct office, which further resulted in a “No Contact Order” and meetings with other deans to correct their assumptions of me being in the wrong. This was my hellish train ride for eight months. I couldn’t be put in a class with the teaching assistant present so long as the “No Contact Order” was in play. As a result, I was unable to take one of my courses for my major to graduate and had to take an alternative class to stay on track. (Looking back this was the better option anyway, and I thank God for that.)

I spoke to a couple deans at my school, and it wasn’t a surprise to me when they sided with Tiffany and the officers’ decision on the “No Contact Order.” I was pushed to my mental limits; I was not only trying to defend myself from Tiffany’s lies, but here I was facing the officers and deans from the conduct, graduate, and Title IX offices. With a little determination, persistence, and hard work, I won my case. I utilized the TA handbook, written documentation, my diagnosis, and other supporting documents to aid my argument. My nightmare was over.

At each step, though, the deans and officers tried to cover their tracks and re-pin the blame back on to me. Instead of believing what I suggested with having autism or Asperger’s syndrome, they would simply say, “No, you don’t,” and disapprovingly shake their heads.

I guess I didn’t embody the typical image of autism—with rocking back and forth, being non-verbal, needing time extensions for exams, and sensory integration difficulties.  Maybe that’s why all of them didn’t believe me. I earned straight As in all my courses and had only the occasional A minuses. I recall a time where an officer at the Title IX office told me that an A- doesn’t mean anything from dropping below an A grade—even though an A- is bad in my own standards.

This predicament I was in was really unfortunate, and at the end of each meeting I had to unwillingly nod my head and agree with them—knowing I struggled with communication and that I told Tiffany about it—since that was the only way I could leave. Eventually, I found the disability resources through the general advising area up the hill, and I submitted my autism diagnosis to the disability resources before the dean at the conduct office finally referred me out. I was angry, frustrated, and sad.

“Why didn’t the conduct officer believe me when I first told her, and why didn’t she refer me out to the disability resource office? Isn’t that her job?” I would ask myself out loud. I understand that mistakes happen, but it’s inexcusable to re-pin the blame back onto someone else without investigating or hearing both sides of the story first. The only time she met with me was when she was handing me the “No Contact Order.” I feel like anyone would be overwhelmed if they were in my position. I offered to meet with the conduct officer after she slapped me with that order to go over my side of the story. I was blatantly rejected. “No, I have heard enough. The case is now closed,” the conduct officer would say. (It’s actually in the university handbook that students accused of wrongdoing have the right to go over accusations and ask questions.) And for a while I believed that. But then, I did a little research of my own and realized there were other offices that had existed as well. Hence, my battle with deans and the other officers that got involved.

In the process of everything, I cried, lost weight, and hated myself since I began to think everything was really my fault due to what all of the authority figures were telling me. Luckily enough, one of my professors, *Dr. Pacino, helped me during this storm.  She taught one of my psychology courses that studied research methodology and processes. She was very empathetic and compassionate. I remember crying in her office for hours on a daily basis and reviewing exam materials. To be honest, she’s sort of like my godmother on campus now; I can go to her for personal or career advice without being annoying. Also, she lets me sit in her office even when office hours are over sometimes to just chat. I think that’s what kept my mental sanity in check during that storm since she would reassure me that it’s not my fault if people don’t mean what they say—contrary to the backlash I faced from the other authority figures at my school. Looking back, Dr. Pacino was right, and I feel a lot better now.

It seems that I naturally attract spontaneous, negative events. I couldn’t put a label to why these things were happening to me for a while. The diagnosis of autism at the age of 19 provided a little insight and explained some of the reasons why I couldn’t detect the red flags that accompanied each unfortunate event. Rather than dwelling on the negative, I refocused my life on being more positive. From this situation, I reconnected with former professors I took classes with, learned more about autism, and maintained my research position at the smoking group beyond the summer deadline I signed up for. All in all, it was a tough, long battle, but I came out okay. With whatever you’re going through, I hope you seek help from the close, interpersonal network around you. If you don’t have one, try and look for groups you can join to facilitate connections.

More importantly, I think there is an important lesson to takeaway from my story—whether you’re on the autism spectrum or not—adults aren’t perfect. Just because they have titles, doctorate degrees, and what not doesn’t mean that they are always right or better. There are some individuals with PhDs, MDs, JDS, and more who are very corrupt and indifferent to helping students, even if they are professors, lawyers, deans, and other high standing positions. Professional titles have nothing to do with morality, and I learned that the hard way through this experience. I used to be an overly optimistic believer in the good of humankind. I still believe there is good, but I now take people at face value. And I’m a little more cautious.

There are people that look great on the outside, but on the inside they’re rotting; these few individuals are determined to undermine your success and to make you miserable. In response, all you can do is just be yourself, move on, and be happy.


 *Names were changed

Carrie Chong is a avid singer-songwriter and student investigating the links between organizational morality and people. She loves being healthy and inspiring others to do and be better.

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