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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

SpeakUp aims to spread awareness, encourage support

<ring blankets and lighting candles as daylight faded on the Bald Spot, students gathered outdoors last Thursday evening for the Gender and Sexuality Center’s annual SpeakUp event.

Called “a demonstration of solidarity for survivors” by hosts Marlene Edelstein ’11 and Sam Ritter ’10, SpeakUp brought together writings on sexual violence by 15 Carleton students, including survivors of sexual assault, friends of survivors, and concerned members of the Carleton community. 
The night began with readings of the students’ work by the writers, their friends or other students. Following the readings, students hung teal ribbons around campus as a reminder of the effects of sexual violence.

The written pieces dealt with these effects in very personal ways.  A student described her need to always be on guard since being abused as a child, something she avoiding thinking about until last year’s SpeakUp.

“This defense is the only thing I can clearly trace back to abuse, but it’s not the only consequence,” she said.

Several of the writers mentioned feeling insecure whenever someone lingers close by, and at Carleton, they said, Sayles dances are a prime place for this insecurity. Assault survivors, including another student in her powerful piece “The Definition of ‘Yes,’” spoke of the process of re-learning how to trust after being assaulted, re-learning how to tell someone “yes.”

Alexandra Waters ’10 used dictionary definitions of “yes” and “no” as a thread to describe her life after being assaulted, stressing the importance of these words.

Kitty O’Connell ’10 focused her comps project on the expression of gender views in speech, and her piece encouraged the Carleton community to “use our words.” She noted the “casual, disrespectful way we all engage in talking about others’ sexual desires and practices.”

“Is it ever easy to talk about? No,” she said. “But we still have to use our words. I don’t know how to heal as an individual if we don’t heal as a community.”

On a campus that is so ready to debate political issues, writers including O’Connell hoped to stir discussion about gender as well.
“Politics are easy to talk about,” one student wrote. “You can ignore the faces behind it.”

But the faces behind sexual violence are ones students may see daily. A friend of a survivor of two assaults at Carleton described her grief when two separate students were found guilty of assault, yet allowed to remain on campus, eventually forcing her friend to leave. Seeing one of the assaulters on campus, she said, she must always “bite [her] tongue.”

He is “a rapist,” she said. “I will call him such, and I will not feel guilty for it… We must stop blaming culture for what individuals do.”

Ritter, in his piece, also spoke of the marks individuals leave in places around campus that may be forever “marked by the violence perpetrated there.”
“Sexual violence stays here long after room assignments shuffle… And Facilities changes the carpet,” he said.

The marks left are indeed powerful, as were the stories of support and of surviving sexual violence. One of the most poignant pieces of the night, written by a student about an experience as a ten-year-old, expressed the confusion of a child in the face of sexuality.

When the student recently told her brother about the experience, he said, “Good for you for living past this.”

The idea of “living past,” not “living through,” was a main theme of the night, and organizers expressed amid the candlelight their desire to help in this process.

“Just our physical presence… Our collective act of listening says, ‘Not on our campus,’ as effectively as any spoken word,” Edelstein said.

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