Speak Up, Carleton’s annual event dedicated to centering and empowering the voices of sexual violence survivors on campus, will be organized and run entirely by students this year.
While the Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) has consistently run Speak Up since its inauguration in 2013, GSC Director Danny Mathews has decided to abstain from hosting the event this year. In response, student volunteers from a variety of campus organizations, including Campus Advocates Against Sexual Harassment and Assault (CAASHA), Carleton Advocacy Network of Doulas (CAN-DO), and Student Advocates for Reproductive Choice (SARC), have taken up the task themselves.
Speak Up is the only public event on campus in which survivors are supported in sharing their experiences with sexual violence, as well as the only public forum in which students are permitted to name their campus attackers. Some survivors read their own stories while others are read anonymously by volunteers.
In an email statement to the Carletonian, Mathews said, “The Gender and Sexuality Center is playing a supportive role in Speak Up this year. Winter term, due to staffing changes in our office, we reached out to student organizations to encourage them to play a larger role in this event.” Mathews did not provide any further explanation for the GSC’s decision. Although the GSC will not run the event, Mathews said that “the GSC has and will continue to offer support for student groups who wish to bring these spaces and experiences to campus.”
Speak Up has been an important event in the lives of many survivors on campus. For Sam Schnirring ’19, Speak Up has enabled her to process her identity as a survivor.
“I’m a survivor and I was first trying to process that information and what that meant for me my freshman spring,” said Schnirring. “Going to Speak Up was huge. Seeing other people tell their stories helped me figure out how to process mine and how to talk about it with other people in my life.”
Speak Up also functioned as a springboard for connecting Schnirring with other survivors on campus.
“It’s a ground for people to share their stories but also for people to connect with each other in a way that is hard to facilitate in other spaces,” she elaborated.
Speak Up has also been a critical component of Gaby Tietyen-Mlengana’s ’20 healing process on campus. “Having a space to connect with [other survivors] is super, super important. That’s the primary purpose of Speak Up—to know that you’re not alone,” she explained.
After hearing through Facebook that the GSC would not be hosting Speak Up this year, several students, including Schnirring and Tietyen-Mlengana, met with Mathews. In describing that meeting, Tietyen-Mlengana said, “It felt like a lot of excuses for poor management.”
“It was frustrating. It was still unclear to us why it had been cancelled,” Schnirring added.
According to those who attended the meeting, Mathews cited issues of “manpower” in organizing the event, especially given the number of student workers who have left the GSC this year. While 11 Gender and Sexuality Center Associates (GSCAs) were employed at the start of the 2018-19 school year, only two remain with the office.
Mathews also reportedly cited the issues embedded in mandatory reporting, a rule under Title IX law that requires faculty, staff and peer leaders to report instances of possible sexual misconduct. Mathews expressed concern for the position this puts GSCAs in, who may not feel comfortable with the responsibility of reporting the names of self-identified survivors and accused perpetrators. According to Tietyen-Mlengana, however, Mathews did not communicate with any of the GSCAs prior to his decision.
Kate Hoeting ’19, Director of CAN-DO, clarified that while all peer leaders, including GSCAs, are mandatory reporters, they are not required to report the name of the person who discloses the misconduct: only RAs are tasked with this responsibility. This is why “mandatory reporting has never been an issue at past Speak Ups,” Hoeting concluded. It is ultimately up to the discretion of the GSCAs to decide what to do.
Several students, including Schnirring, Tietyen-Mlengana, Hoeting, Lynn Barbera ’19, and Valerie Umscheid ’19 are now in charge of running Speak Up.
“If someone doesn’t take this on, this will just kind of go away because there’s no structure at Carleton that’s willing to support it right now,” Barbera explained.
Hoeting stressed the “hodgepodge” nature of the planning group, highlighting the fact that no single campus organization has taken on the responsibility of presenting the event. “We are just a group of seniors who are so angry that the GSC isn’t putting on Speak Up,” Hoeting said. “Many of us are survivors and see Speak Up as a survival mechanism.”
While students have been successful in organizing the event themselves, they want to make it clear that Speak Up should not be relegated to the responsibilities of students. The student organizers feel that the scope of the GSC’s support has not been sufficient. According to Hoeting, “The only support that the GSC will be giving to Speak Up this year is placing our poster in their weekly newsletter.” Tietyen-Mlengana added that the GSC offered to purchase candles used in the event.
For Hoeting and others involved, the issues posed by the GSC’s decision are metaphorical, not tangible. “We haven’t struggled with accessing resources,” Hoeting explained. “The difficulty of planning Speak Up has been emotional. It comes down to the fact that Carleton has once again pushed the burden of supporting survivors onto survivors.” Schnirring offered a similar sentiment, underlining the long-term effects of the GSC’s decision: “In the past, seeing the GSC organize something that was in support of survivors was a gesture of goodwill. Without that existing, I think survivors are going to feel a lot less supported by Carleton.”
According to Barbera, planning Speak Up is “a lot of emotional labor, especially if you have a history with trauma.” Hoeting noted that many of the students involved in planning Speak Up are indeed survivors of sexual violence.
There is widespread consensus among student volunteers that the GSC should host Speak Up in the future. “I have a very strong opinion that the GSC should be hosting Speak Up because survivors routinely feel let down by the Carleton administration and feel that they do not have allies in the Carleton administration,” Schnirring said.
Hoeting also hopes that the GSC will present Speak Up going forward. Not only is the GSC’s failure to do so a “slap in the face,” but it also jeopardizes the event’s longevity, she said. “It scares me to think that when I leave, no one will be here to run it in the future,” Hoeting concluded.
Speak Up is scheduled for 7:00pm on Friday, May 24. The event will begin outside Sayles with a march of solidarity to the Weitz, and will conclude with a healing circle for survivors. Schnirring and Tietyen-Mlengana encourage all members of the Carleton community to demonstrate their support for survivors by volunteering or attending.
In Schnirring’s opinion, “everyone should attend. I think that it’s good for awareness. A lot of people who are not involved in the survivor community don’t realize how pervasive sexual violence is on campus, and how serious of an issue it is.”