“I had that feeling you get —there is no word for this feeling— when you are simultaneously happy and sad and angry and grateful and accepting and appalled and every other possible emotion, all smashed together and amplified. Why is there no word for this feeling?
Perhaps because the word is “healing” and we don’t want to believe that. We want to believe healing is purer and more perfect, like a baby on its birthday. Like we’re holding it in our hands. Like we’ll be better people than we’ve been before. Like we have to be.”
Cheryl Strayed, “Tiny Beautiful Things”
The 3rd annual Voices of Healing event will take place this Sunday, April 23 at 7:30 pm. Voices takes place at twilight in the Amphitheater (Rain Location: Upper Tarble) and is an opportunity for anyone at Swarthmore who has been harmed by sexual assault, unhealthy or abusive relationships, or non-consensual sexual experiences, whether or not they identify as a “survivor,” as well as significant others, allies, relatives, and friends, to openly share their stories and journeys of healing. These stories come in the form of written reflections, poetry, journal entries, dances or songs, meaningful passages that resonate with one’s personal experience, and more.
Voices of Healing was started three years ago as a collaboration between student activists and volunteers, the violence prevention educator/advocate, the Women’s Resource Center (WRC), and the Title IX House in response to wanting to provide a space where people could tell stories to reduce the isolation that often accompanies being impacted by sexual and intimate partner violence. As Gloria Steinem said, “Every social justice movement that I know of has come out of people sitting in…groups, telling their life stories, and discovering that other people have shared similar experiences.”
As this storytelling event has grown, we have received a lot of questions about the word “healing” and what feelings are “allowed” at this event. Like the quote above, we do not believe healing is perfect and pure. Rather, it is complex and multifaceted. It can include (but is not limited to): anger, sadness, trauma, depression, and fear. It can also include (but is not limited to): connection, gratitude, acceptance, and hope.
We have seen these same tensions—what is healing? Is there a “right” way to heal? What is surviving? Is there a “right” way to survive? —all year long in the students that we’ve worked with, many of whom identify as survivors themselves. Several weeks ago, the 10-12 members of our Title IX Student Advisory Team had an emotional conversation about healing and the goals of events like Voices. What happens when we, as members of the same campus community, assign different meanings to the idea of “healing?” What happens when we require different things to survive? What happens when some of us are proud of the progress that has happened at Swarthmore, and others of us are angry and disappointed about change that is yet to come, and many of us feel both?
What we came to realize through our conversations is that Voices of Healing is a space for any and all of these feelings. It is a space to acknowledge that healing looks a little more like this:
[visual representations of how complex and non-linear the healing process can be]
And a LOT less like this:
[steadily rising and consistent line graph]
Most of all, it is a space to practice being a supportive community. To listen and learn from one another. To hear stories and experiences that may be silenced. To acknowledge the complexity of surviving when difficult things happen to us. To be in awe of the depth and courage of those students and community members we share campus with every day.
Please join us this Sunday, April 23 at 7:30 pm in the Amphitheater (Rain Location: Upper Tarble) to give voice to the struggles and triumphs of healing, in all of its complexity, and to help contribute to a more supportive, thoughtful, and loving Swarthmore.
We do not often have opportunities at Swarthmore for people to be their most bare, vulnerable selves and to be “held”—both literally and figuratively— by their community. We hope this will be a moment for all members of our campus community to show up, support, listen, and “hold” those impacted by sexual assault, unhealthy or abusive relationships, and non-consensual sexual experiences at Swarthmore.
Cosigned by Nina Harris, Violence Prevention Educator/Advocate & WRC Advisor