From Apr. 25 to Apr. 30, Survivor Support Week took place at Pomona College. Organized by the Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault, each day of the week saw an event intended to increase visibility and support for survivors. On Monday, the Advocates hosted a Survivor Storytelling dinner at the HEART Center. Designed as a confidential safe space for survivors only, the dinner welcomed survivors to share their stories, listen to others, and build a supportive community.
On Tuesday night, the HEART Center held an open discussion entitled “The Talk.” Here, students were invited to discuss the ways in which violent language contributes to rape culture. The discussion drew from linguistic and psychological concepts, and it sought to expose problematic words and phrases.
The next night, students gathered in the Students of Color Association (SOCA) Lounge to continue a discussion about women of color and sexual assault that began last semester. This event sought to examine the intersection of race and sexual assault. During the two-hour talk, students spoke about the stigma surrounding sexual assault, observing that when sexual assault comes up in any conversation on or off-campus, an air of tension rises in the room. As one student pointed out, this sense of silence is both a product of and a reflection of rape culture. It is the same culture that forces survivors to code-switch (to adjust the way they speak or act) depending on where they are with whom they talk. Wednesday night's talk sought to place survivors of color at the center of focus, since perpetrators disproportionally assault people of color and resources for people of color become further limited through systemic racism.
As allies, some students wondered how they could best support survivors. Most of the students in the room agreed there is no clear answer to this question. Rather, being an effective ally is more about engagement and action than any specific word or behavior. Speak up, but don’t speak over survivors. Act, but don’t take space away from survivors. Call out people when they uphold rape culture, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The Advocates reminded us that it is vital to focus on changing American culture as well as supporting individual survivors.
Wednesday's discussion also brought up the ways in which study abroad pamphlets warn students about sexual assault. Some suggest that students should avoid wearing ponytails or certain articles of clothing. The advice presented on such pamphlets shed light on American-centric notions of sexual assault prevention, which subtly imply victim blaming.
One student who wished to remain anonymous said, “The most memorable part of the talk was hearing about people’s different background experiences. It was interesting to hear how depending on their culture, some families try to hide or normalize sexual assault. I also thought our discussion of study abroad was interesting. When Americans travel, they often view themselves as morally superior to people in other countries. They think that if they travel to another nation, they are at a higher risk of sexual assault, but that obviously isn’t true.”
Instances of sexual assault are enormously high in the United States, especially in American universities and colleges. To address this, Thursday night's event, held at the Women’s Union, was a screening of the film The Hunting Ground, which exposes sexual assault on college campuses. The movie emphasizes the prevalence of victim blaming and the culture of silence that many colleges promote in order to protect their school’s reputation and financial security.
The penultimate event of Survivor Support Week, held on Friday, will have students meet at the EmPower Center for Take Back the Night & Diva Dance, a national march that begins at 7:30 p.m. with a subsequent review session at The Motley Café. This will be followed by one final event on Saturday, where the Advocates plan to hold a concluding talk at the HEART Center. This Community Forum will take place 2-3 p.m. at the HEART Center, and all students are welcome to attend.
Ultimately, Survivor Support Week aims to show support and bring visibility to survivors, welcoming discussion on the very prevalent issue of sexual assault. While it may not be easy to talk about, the Pomona College Advocates are creating a dialogue, one voice at a time.