From the Brink
Danielle Keener MacGuire takes back the night
One of the signature events of the organization was Take Back the Night, an annual gathering that allowed participants to share their deeply personal experiences with others.
In preparation for the event, students would paint messages on T-shirts and hang them on clotheslines around the cafeteria walls.
In April 2001, members of WomenSpeak closed off the dining room in Degenstein Campus Center to prepare for Take Back the Night. Danielle decided to attend but had no idea what would happen to her that night. After an invited speaker sat down, members of the audience stepped up to an open microphone and told their own stories. Without planning it, Danielle felt herself approaching the microphone.
“Somewhere along the way I got this pit in my stomach and knew I had to go up. I gave a short version of what happened to me and how great it was to hear all of the other stories. I remember crying when I sat down. A lot of the people in the room, even members of WomenSpeak, had no idea what had happened to me because I just didn’t talk about it that much.”
Martin says her roommate’s coming out was unexpected but compelling. “It was very emotional because she was so inspired and eloquent. For her, it was therapeutic to talk about it. And she knew that she was helping people.”
Danielle says Take Back the Night was a marker in her life. Throughout the criminal trial the previous year, she had been forced to speak about her rape. “The day after I testified, my therapist said to me, ‘The next time you share your story, it will be because you choose to do so.’ That was very empowering. Take Back the Night was that night.”
DANIELLE'S TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE nine years ago has been life-altering in many ways. She came to Susquehanna thinking she wanted to be a communications major, but decided when she returned in her sophomore year that she wanted to shift her focus to psychology. Two years later, she had proven herself to be an excellent, committed student. Her department awarded her a certificate of merit for being an outstanding senior. Mary Muolo, who was a nontraditional student and now works in University Relations, was part of Danielle’s senior project team. “She was mature beyond her years, which is probably why we got along so well.”
With guidance from Klotz, Danielle decided to pursue a graduate degree in social work. She was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania and Bryn Mawr College, and chose Bryn Mawr. “I wrote her letters of recommendation for graduate school,” Klotz says. “She was a very strong candidate. In her statement, she expressed her passion for putting to use her experience in helping others through trauma. She had this massive strength. Maybe around her friends she let some of the insecurity show, but certainly I never saw anything but someone who was in charge.”
In addition to her counseling work, Danielle does speaking engagements at college campuses, law enforcement agencies and at professional conferences. “When I speak, I share what happened, and when I talk with professionals I talk about what helped and what didn’t,” she says. “I also talk about what could be done better. I tend to talk a lot about the importance of allowing survivors to gain control over their lives.”
Dan’s life also was altered in important ways. He left Carnegie Mellon and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. Today he is married and earning a doctorate degree in psychology at George Mason University. He and Danielle remain close and call each other every year on the anniversary of the incident.
In February, Danielle told her dramatic story to CBS News’ 48 Hours, which visited the Susquehanna campus on a snowy day in January. She appeared on the Biography Channel’s I Survived…, on Court TV’s The Investigators in June 2006, and not long after the incident she was interviewed on the Montel Williams Show.
Some may wonder why she continues to open old wounds. Danielle doesn’t see it that way. “The reason I do this is to let people know that they don’t have to be ashamed; to let people know that they have a voice; to let people know that you can have a life and live beyond trauma. My life is separated by the incident—who I was before the incident and after. But I’ve learned how to integrate it and realize that it is a part of who I am. I try to be a voice of hope for some people who might be struggling. I also hope to benefit professionals, and by helping them, to indirectly help the next person who is traumatized.”
Gerald S. Cohen is assistant vice president for communications.