Mackenzie Dineen – Features Editor
On Oct. 2, a group of nearly forty students, faculty and staff of all genders and backgrounds gathered at the STC to take part in Lasell’s second #MeToo talking circle.
Amidst the #MeToo movement last October, Professor Stephanie Athey, director of the Honors Program, was one of several people who decided the college should respond with an impromptu discussion. As the issue reached another cultural boiling point, Professor Karin Raye suggested that a #MeToo 2 event be conceived.
Raye said, “As someone who has worked in the domestic and sexual violence field for a long time, I am always thinking about different ways to implement programs designed to educate, prevent and support our community around sexual and domestic violence.”
“As the Kavanaugh hearings began to dominate the news, it was clearly having an impact on survivors as well as allies,” said Raye.
Raye began the seminar by asking everyone to share their emotions. Exhausted, furious, sorrowful, and in pain were the most popular responses. “Many were deeply troubled by the messages they were hearing from our politicians and expressed fear for all survivors who contemplate reporting what happened to them,” said Raye.
One student spoke on the inaccuracy of the term “survivor,” as the trauma of sexual violence is not isolated to the event of an assault. A male student shared his anger for those who have assaulted others. The circle also addressed the issue of dealing with abusers.
Professor Jesse Tauriac, Director of the Donahue Institute for Ethics, Diversity, and Inclusion, was there to offer personal stories and social examples, illustrating manipulation of control. “Sexual violence is about taking power from its victims, and those who are able to speak out have positions with power or status,” said Professor Athey. Junior criminal justice student Tirzah McGowan said, “It feels like [sexual violence] takes a piece of you away, because it’s something that is out of your control in that moment.”
Athey noted that the event was empowering. “It’s really tragic, but at the same time is a great opportunity to get our bearings; our culture often leaves us feeling isolated, or that what’s happened to us is unique or trivial,” she said. Many of Lasell’s faculty and staff work with students in organizations and clubs, or accompany them on immersion abroad trips. In many ways, professors are a part of students’ lives, and vice versa.
Health Educator and Counselor Allie Whitcomb was also present. She said, “One of my main takeaways is the resiliency of individuals, and I was honored to bear witness to attendees’ stories.”
Tirzah McGowan said, “The fact that we’re actually having a conversation about [sexual violence] is a great support,” said Tirzah McGowan. “Open discussion on a regular basis informs survivors that their suffering isn’t something to be ashamed of.”
Jessica Teperow, a guest from the REACH Beyond Domestic Violence. REACH is a local non-profit that partners with individuals and communities to support survivors, while working together to create safe and healthy communities. “I was honored to attend the event and to support Lasell’s amazing community however and whenever I can,” said Teperow. “Whenever I attend an event at Lasell, I am blown away by the survivor-led activism, which I have seen shift the social norms on campus.”
The discussion transitions to the Kavanaugh hearings, and participants were posed the question, “What would you say to Christina Blasey-Ford?” Some offered empathy and understanding, or a listening ear. Others passed or expressed their frustration with our socio-political climate, social media debates and fear for the safety of survivors.
Athey said people must be aware that most public faces in the media surrounding the Kavanaugh controversy, have been white. “Access to media attention, does not at all reflect the reality in which working class women, and women of color, especially native American women suffer the most violence,” she said.
“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘We don’t have to agree on anything to be kind to one another,’” said Whitcomb. “Through civil discourse, I believe that we can work to still respect one another while having different viewpoints or value systems.”
Whitcomb noted trauma-related responses that many of the attendees expressed must be normalized. To Raye, sexual violence is a public health epidemic that affects everyone in a community — it is not a political issue. Taking preventative measures and changing culture is also something everyone is capable of. “Our community needs to educate themselves to become knowledgeable about available resources, so if someone needs help, we know how to provide it,” Raye said.
Confidential resources on-campus include the Counseling Center and Health Services. Both offer free counseling, medical services and survivor support. Additionally, students can access an anonymous bias reporting link online through my.lasell.edu. Non-confidential resources on-campus are Title IX Coordinator Jennifer OKeefe, Campus Police, Residence Life and Student Affairs.
Off-campus resources include the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, EMERGE Abuser Education, The Network/La Red LGBTQ support and Fenway Health Violence Recovery Program LGBTQ support. The Second Step and Newton Wellesley Hospital’s Domestic and Sexual Violence programs are also available to students.
On campus events students can get involved with are the Clothesline Project, happening the week of Oct. 22, Take Back the Night, on Nov. 30, and the White Ribbon Campaign and Denim Day this spring. Professor Raye teaches CJ303: Domestic Violence, and CJ335: Sexual Violence – where students learn and gain professional skills to support survivors, provided by advocacy services focused on crisis intervention.
Whitcomb said that similar to campuses across the nation, Lasell is evolving, and that there is room for growth from prevention and education standpoints. “Each individual is different in their needs and readiness to address trauma, and as a trauma-informed clinician, I want to empower the survivor to make their own decisions around accessing supports and services,” said Whitcomb. She noted that there is no “timeline” or “right” way to heal. “Healing is not linear, so what an individual needs one day can vary over time and space,” Whitcomb said.
“The need is enormous, and what we’ve offered institutionally always seems to be playing catch-up,” said Proessor Athey. When asked if the same support was offered to staff, she said, “I think human resources is available for faculty and staff, but it’s not culturally encouraged.”
“It’s essential that we can listen carefully to people across points of view, and asking with curiosity, making everyone a participant of the conversation, so that ‘I don’t agree with you,’ becomes an opening for me to understand you, I need to ask questions and listen carefully instead of shutting you out,” Athey said.