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Survivors provided safe space to share stories

by Nicholas Mazur - Campus Talk Editor
Tue, Apr 17th 2018 09:10 pm

Brockport is a campus with many people striving to ensure that the voices of all faculty, staff and students are heard – their triumphs as well as their low moments. Recently there was an event held in Cooper Hall’s New York Room to promote just such an occasion. The event was held by Professionals for Change, an organization that stresses social change.

Anna Leo, one of the organizers who spoke first, introduced the event to the crowd. 

“Our goal is to create a voice for those who don’t have one,” Leo said. 

The event was also connected to the Me Too movement which, according to the flyer that the organization handed out, was founded in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke, “To help survivors of sexual abuse, assault, exploitation, and harassment, particularly young women of color from low wealth communities.”

The event was geared toward sexual assault, and those people who have survived such a traumatic event in their life. Throughout the event, projectors on stage flashed various facts about sexual assault, the victims of it and the perpetrators. The facts disspelled misconceptions about sexual assault, illuminating facts, like most assaults occur near or at the victims home, and that most victims already know the perpetrators.

The main portion of the event was geared toward giving people an opportunity, should they feel comfortable, to go up on stage or even from their seat and share their stories. There was repeated effort to ensure no one felt pressured to participate, but at the same time, ensure that those who did want to share felt comfortable and welcome doing so. In the back corner there were individuals from Hazen Health Center present in case anyone attending found themselves feeling triggered or seriously uncomfortable by the content of peoples’ stories.

Once the stage was cleared, there was a long silence. It was clear that the pressure of going first at such an event was a daunting task weighing on every one of the attendees’ minds. With that in mind, one of the organizers went up to the stage and shared one of her unfortunate experiences with the group, helping to break the ice at such a serious event.

Once that first story was told, others felt comfortable coming up to the stage, and one after the other, they shared their stories. The stories themselves varied much from person to person, and encapsulated a range of experiences that one would classify as sexual assault and/or harassment. Though it was visibly difficult for some people to share their stories, the crowd clapped each time a person had finished.  

This cycle went on for a little over an hour. Another one of the organizers of the event ensured that there were no more participants who wanted to share. He then directed the event onto the second portion, which was a kind of an open discussion amongst everyone gathered there.

The discussion was focused on tightly knit subjects and evolved into a back and forth between several attendees about the problems with the way that institutions like The College At Brockport, other college institutions, and even the police department, handle sexual assault. There were several perspectives involved in the the discussion including advocates for victims, victims of sexual assault themselves and therapists and counselors who are often involved with clients of this nature.

The event was concluded with a reminder by one of the organizers. The reminder was to many of the counselors in training who were attending the event. It urged them, and extended to others in some degree, that doubting whether a victim of sexual assault or harassment was actually assaulted or harassed is unproductive. Often clients and victims will deliberate if their experience qualifies as such, and to join them in doubt can never help them. There was a moment of silence in the New York Room as the crowd seemed to consider this, and like that, the event concluded.