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Campus raises sexual assault awareness

Lourdes Ashley Hunter spoke in JRC 101 as a representative of the Trans Women Color Collective. Photo by Sarah Ruiz.
 Lourdes Ashley Hunter spoke in JRC 101 as a representative of the Trans Women Color Collective. Photo by Sarah Ruiz.
Lourdes Ashley Hunter spoke in JRC 101 as a representative of the Trans Women Color Collective.
Photo by Sarah Ruiz.

For Sexual Assault Awareness Week, Grinnell Advocates coordinated two events: a talk on Tuesday by Lourdes Ashley Hunter, a trans woman of color and sexual assault survivor who spoke about the Trans Women of Color Collective (TWOCC), and an event in Bob’s Underground on Thursday night called “It Happens Here” during which advocates read aloud stories of sexual assault and rape submitted anonymously by students, in recognition of the week’s significance.

Though Sexual Assault Awareness Month does not come until April, Grinnell has been commemorating Sexual Assault Awareness Week for the last four years. A student group called Real Men, which was organized following a party hosted by male athletes that many students found offensive, organized the originating week of Sexual Assault Awareness Week. Real Men represented male athletes who wanted to identify in support of victim-survivors of sexual assault and in opposition to sexual assault perpetrated by athletes. They wanted to develop programming for a week devoted to raising awareness about and preventing sexual assault on campus.

When the Real Men group disappeared after its members graduated, Dean of Religious Life Deanna Shorb and the Advocates took over the responsibilities of organizing Sexual Assault Awareness Week.

Shorb wanted to bring a professional speaker to campus to speak broadly and inspirationally about the topic, so she contacted Hunter at the recommendation of advocate Lisa Stern ’16. Shorb and members of Grinnell Advocates requested that Hunter talk about the prevalence of sexual assault directed at trans women of color.

“We keep seeing sexual violence being perpetuated in the trans women of color community,” Stern said. “Sexual Assault Awareness Week would be a good opportunity for everyone to hear the voice of someone representing this group that is so often not heard from and just generally societally oppressed … it would be a good opportunity for Grinnellians to be exposed to something that Grinnellians otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to.”

At her talk, Hunter spoke about her experiences leading up to and in the TWOCC, focusing on the systemic oppression of trans women of color. She explained that, not only do trans women of color cope with potential violence and harassment on a daily basis, but political and social structures also prevent them from acquiring education, employment and housing, leading to homelessness.

The other event, “It Happens Here,” which took place Thursday in Bob’s Underground Cafe, was coordinated to remind students that sexual assault occurs on the Grinnell campus. Shorb said she hoped that “It Happens Here” would not only remind students of occurrences of sexual assault on campus, but would also provide a space for male victim-survivors to share their stories.

“I want to make sure that people are hearing that males are assaulted on this campus by women and aren’t feeling they can come forward,” Shorb said. “The male voices are more silent than we wish them to be and I think there is a great value in recognizing that.”

Before the event, advocates invited victim-survivors and their friends to submit stories describing their experiences of sexual assault, both on Grinnell’s campus and elsewhere. Advocates Joyce Bartlett ’15, Samantha Pilicer ’15 and Julia Marquez-Uppman ’17 read the stories at the event to preserve anonymity. Originally, the readings were intended to be broken up by videos of male victim-survivors talking about their experiences with sexual assault. Due to technical difficulties, however, Advocate member Dan Davis ’16 read statistics compiled by Professor Chris Ralston, Psychology, from a survey given to students in the 2012-2013 academic year instead.

Berenice Tompkins ’18, attended the event because she felt that listening to people tell their stories is the first step to addressing the issues surrounding sexual assault on Grinnell’s campus.

“It is very important that as a campus we own the prevalence of sexual assault here,” Tompkins said. “One of the most important ways to own it is to hear people. As we heard, it just happens all the time.”

Though Stern was happy with the turnout to “It Happens Here” and many agree that Sexual Assault Awareness Week helped remind students of the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, Shorb still feels that Grinnell College has work to do with regards to preventing sexual assault.

“I think we’re still really short on prevention,” Shorb said. “I would love to partner with people and work on creative ways [to deal with] prevention. It’s just a really tall order.”

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