Above: Katya Zinn beams at Lesley Commencement on May 18. Photo: Abygayl Marsh
It’s been seven years since Katya Zinn started college, excited for her future as she launched into a competitive performing arts program. It was a time of hope that rapidly spiraled into trauma and chaos.
But this spring, three years after transferring to Lesley, she earned her bachelor’s degree.
She is preparing for an upcoming Fulbright Fellowship in Malaysia. She’s won writing awards, received recognitions for her activism and service, and recently delivered powerful testimony at the Massachusetts State House. It’s an impressive list of accomplishments that belie a long and arduous journey back to wellness and triumph.
“It doesn’t mean everything’s been good ever since. Healing is not a linear process, and there’s no finish line,” says Zinn. “I had to work really hard to get here with some luck and with some really great people who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”
It all began during her freshman year at a private college in New York when she was sexually assaulted at her first party. She shared the incident with someone who failed to disclose that they were a mandated reporter and they reported it to campus authorities and law enforcement. She was subsequently subjected to a series of interrogations, Title IX violations and indignities, including disciplinary threats for underage drinking, harassment from peers, psychological torment from her perpetrator – and ultimately expulsion. “I was being gaslighted,” she recalls.
“The only way I knew how to process that was to assume it was something I had done wrong. It’s a cognitive dissonance that a lot of survivors experience,” says Zinn.
The ensuing trauma and depression prompted her to try to take her own life, setting off dark years of substance abuse, depression and even homelessness.
“My life was spiraling. I had gone to school excited about the things I was going to study. I was losing everything all at once – school, my friends, my reputation,” she says. “For a long time, I got lost in anger and bitterness.”