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Title IX Office

Voices of Healing

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

“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

Let’s talk about sex, and also relationships, baby

in Campus Journal by

Every young sexually frustrated teenager dreams of the freedom of college. Having sleepovers whenever you want, with whomever you want, and never having to say a thing to your parents. It seems like sex is the one thing everyone is certain happens in college — but is it? And when it does happen, is it good, enjoyable sex? If it’s not, how do you make these encounters better? The Title IX team and the Women’s Resource Center attempted to answer some of these questions, as well as many others in a series of workshops and talks leading up to Valentine’s Day.

Violence Prevention Educator Nina Harris, in collaboration with many others, organized the week of events to discuss sex and relationships on campus.  “The narrative shouldn’t just be ‘oh those are the rape prevention people,’ it’s more than that, we’re the good sex people too,” commented Harris. The week included conversations that addressed the good, the bad, and the awkward in different contexts: everything from ‘textually active’ a workshop that examined sacred texts and their relationship to sex and relationships, to queer dating, to sexual empowerment and getting what you want out of a sexual encounter. The events presented conversations that are not usually found in formal settings.

“I think it’s really important to create spaces where talking about sex and relationships is fun,” said Becca Bernstein, Title IX Fellow and one of the main organizers of the events. “I really just want students to be able to have some space to think about these issues and have the chance to reflect on their own relationship to sex and relationships.”

The administrators involved in these events, including Harris, Bernstein, Alice Holland and Isaiah Thomas, took charge of creating that space. The staff made an effort to really engage with the topics, in order to create meaningful conversation with students. “[Harris] was pushing to move beyond a thought like ‘if I ask, he’ll think I’m weird’ to questioning why that is weird, or not ‘hot’ and why we should care,” commented Morgin Goldberg ‘19 who attended the Sexual Empowerment event.

The wide range of topics for these workshops came out of student input, mostly based on last year’s Healthy Sex & Relationship week last year. Multiple collaborations with student groups and different committees from the WRC and Title IX liaisons resulted in events that covered all different aspects of sex and relationships students saw as prevalent on campus. Even some of the slogans for the events came from students, such as for the Beyond Hooking Up event, during a Title IX student advisory team meeting, said, “The last time I was on a date was … literally never”.

Students such as Clare Pérez ’18 also helped organize and run the events the person quoted in the flyer for ‘Beyond Hooking Up’. “The main intention for Beyond Hooking Up is that there are ways to meet new people, romantic or not, that isn’t at the frats on a Saturday night or Pub Nite on Thursdays,” Perez stated. The event began with a presentation on intelligent flirting and healthy relationships and included speed dating/friend making, then ended with a mixer to reconnect with people students had met earlier in the night. “We wanted people to walk away feeling more confident in their ability to talk to new people and put themselves out there,” Perez said. These different kinds of social events, outside of Thursday and Saturday nights, can connect people who may not usually cross paths, and in a school as small as Swarthmore, new social events can be a breath of fresh air.

According to Nina Harris, students at Swarthmore have a slightly different mentality around the balance between personal relationships and academics. “I think Swarthmore doubles down on that ‘you’re only here for your academics’ thing,” commented Harris, “I’ve worked at a lot of top tier schools and it felt like the students had a lot more balance in their experience.” At times it can feel like Swat marriages or random hook ups are the only options for students. For many, the focus may be on academics and internships rather than their own relationships, and these events attempt to take time out of busy schedules to reflect on our relationship with relationships. “It’s like you’re all brain and then you’re all genitals,” commented Nina Harris on Swarthmore students’ hook up culture, “you can never just feel fluid in your experience.” This balance between intimacy and workload is something many of us still need to figure out.

The overall theme of the week was to reach out to students in an attempt to help find that balance and build that bridge between academic life and romantic life. The culture of Swarthmore can sometimes be dominated by academics and often times students can forget that college is also about experiences and personal growth rather than just success in class. The WRC and Title IX Office are working to bridge those gaps and offer the tools to make that balance easier for students to find time for themselves.

 

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