Campus coming together to end sexualized violence
Students, administration and members of the Antigonish community filled a Schwartz classroom on Tuesday November 29 to discuss the topic of sexualized violence both on the StFX campus and as a larger systemic problem. The event, part of a series hosted by the History Department, contextualized the viral hashtag #MeToo to stand in solidarity with survivors of sexualized violence.
The discussion was opened by Nancy Forestell, the coordinator of the Women’s and Gender Studies department at StFX, who first and foremost acknowledged that the event was taking place on unseeded Mi’kmaq territory and that she believes survivors.
“In particular, I was incredibly impressed by the participants in the panel and that it demonstrated the value in bringing together a number of smart, feminist academics who provided a really wonderful analysis of the problem of sexualized violence with their experience, their passion, and their questions and challenges to our institution.” Forestell noted in an interview.
The panel consisted of Lisa Pasolli, a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and History, Lucille Harper, director of the Antigonish Women’s Resource Center, Katherine MacDonald, Sherna Alexander Benjamin a student at the Coady International Institute, and Liam Elbourne, a student athlete in the business program. The four speakers provided a well-rounded conversation about sexualized violence as an ongoing institutionalized issue that requires collective action.
Although it seems like this viral hashtag started a few weeks ago with Alyssa Milano’s tweet referring to Harvey Weinstein, the panel clarified that the movement started over a decade ago under the leadership of Black feminist Tarana Burke in 1997. As the conversation progresses, Burke wants the movement to support survivors and be centered around the marginalized voices and experiences that are too often overlooked.
Gender-based violence involves the abuse of power and intersects with systematic oppression of marginalized groups. It effects all people and does not discriminate based on gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or class. The first step is acknowledging that rape culture is deeply embedded in the roots of society and takes place in many different forms outside of these so-called ‘isolated incidents.’
“The more that we can remind everyone that this isn’t just a problem that pops up once every couple of years when there is a particularly egregious case of it, and that it’s actually a problem that our student body deals with and faces everyday, the more we can remind people of that, the closer we can get to actually doing something to address it.” Lisa Pasolli acknowledged.
The room supported a lively and open discussion of what sexualized violence is, what solidarity looks like, as well as suggestions for calls to action. #NoMore is the Antigonish Women’s Resource Center’s theme for the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which began on November 25th.
Pasolli recognized, “It was really great to see how much anger there was in the room because I think that there is a tendency to try and placate everyone and assure them that everything is going to be okay, but I think it was important to see that there are students who are still sort of holding the university to account and how it’s being dealt with.”
A few of the members of the women’s soccer team have started a fundraising campaign called “We Stand Together”. This movement is dedicated to creating a community of strength and support by raising awareness for sexual assault, and its prevalence in our small university town. They have been raising money by selling stickers, pins, and shirts by donation. All proceeds will be going towards implementing a new program at StFX to educate students, and other members of the community about sexual assault and sexual violence.
“On behalf of the Women and Gender’s student society we welcome all to join regardless of gender or degree pattern. The society is working hard to keep this conversation going but we need all the help we can get to make a true impact and difference. This problem will not go away on its own and so it is up to us to make change.” Jasmine Cormier stated.
The form closed with a question and comments period of voices eager to be heard. These conversations are vital to bringing change and creating spaces where these issues can be safely and openly talked about. Gender-based violence happens everywhere: at every university, in every city and town, and in every country. It is time that we stand together and prove that we do not condone sexualized violence on our campus and elsewhere. It is time that we demand action from administration and our peers. And it is time that we believe survivors.