Sunday, November 18th, 2018

Bringing the conversation of sexual assault to USM

Julie Pike

Posted on February 26, 2018 in News
By USM Free Press

Julie Pike

Julie Pike, Editor-in-chief

In response to the #metoo movement and the Women’s March, the discussion about sexual assault has been trending across the nation, including right at USM. It has been close to five months since the #metoo movement went viral on social media, empowering victims to share their stories of sexual abuse and harassment, and over a year since the Women’s March began as a protest against the inauguration of President Trump and his treatment of women, yet the impacts continue.

The Portland chapter of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) hosted an event on Wednesday, Feb. 21 to discuss the #metoo movement and the fight against sexism. It was held in Payson Smith on the Portland campus. ISO wanted to address big questions, such as how to build these movements and how create a campus community that encourages students to speak up about sexual assault.

“As an organization that has feminism at its center, we see the #metoo momement as an amazing step forward towards building a movement that’s able to tackle the root causes of gendered oppression,” said Fern Thurston, an ISO member.

Thurston added that the recent news about a sexual assault lawsuit against USM brought forth the idea to have a discussion. David Roussel, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, emailed the student body about this news story in early February. The Portland Press Herald reported on the matter on Jan. 31 stating that the lawsuit was filed by a former student, who claimed she was sexually assaulted two separate times on campus in Gorham back in 2012. The assaults were reported to campus police, but the student alleges that the school did not investigate to the extent required by law.

“When we heard about the lawsuit being brought against USM by a survivor of multiple assaults on its campus,we knew we had to open up the conversation about assault at USM,” Thurston said.

The central focus around ISO’s event was to encourage discussion and provide a safe space to speak about sexual assault. Kara Kralik, an ISO member, began the discussion by explaining the background of the #metoo movement and women’s marches. After that it was open to those in attendance to join in on the conversation.

“We believe that if students come together to discuss their lived experiences, and discuss the systems in place that disempowers survivors, that we can eventually band together and change the system in our favor,” Thurston said.

The event drew an audience that was approximately half male. Caitrin Smith-Monahan, the chair of the ISO, found that the equality of genders in attendance showed a widespread support for the movement in discussion.

“This is awesome that we have a room full of men who want to talk about fighting back against sexual assault,” Smith-Monahan said.

The discussion also allowed women who are survivors of sexual assault to share their personal stories in a supportive environment.

“I’ve had to say #metoo and I want to live in a world where my daughters don’t have to,” stated Smith-Monahan.

The conversation about sexual assault will continue at USM with an event hosted by Huskies for Reproductive Health called The Fight Against Campus Sexual Assault on March 20. The group is working with USM’s Queer Straight Alliance and USM Socialists to create a discussion based event about the #metoo movement and campus sexual assault. It will be held in the Woodbury Campus Center Amphitheatre at 7 p.m.

The event will feature a panel of student leaders to conduct a discussion around topics such as the #metoo movement, what USM can do to help its students, trans/queer violence, the culture of rape on college campuses and what students can do to change it.

ISO will be hosting another upcoming event, featuring a speaker who worked on the Carry That Weight campaign from Columbia University. Carry That Weight began as an art performance by Emma Sulkowicz, who carried the mattress that she was allegedly raped on wherever she went on campus. Students eventually began to help Sulkowicz carry the mattress, symbolically showing their support. A member of the ISO who worked on that campaign with Sulkowicz will be sharing her experiences at the event, of which the date has yet to be set.

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