“IX Connection” extends to Swarthmore students

In March of this year, University of North Carolina (UNC) student Andrea Pino, along with three other women, Annie Clark (UNC), Dana Bolger (Amherst College) and Alexandra Brodsky (Yale University), created an online support system for survivors of sexual assault — a Facebook group titled the “IX Connection.” Both Pino and Clark, two of the first women to garner national attention for speaking out against sexual misconduct on campuses and colleges’ treatment of survivors, were receiving dozens of emails, Facebook messages, and tweets from survivors across the country looking for support when they decided to form it.

“We realized that for many survivors, there was no safe space to talk about their experiences, and that many didn’t have other survivors to process with,” said Pino in an e-mail. “We knew that campus rape was a national problem, and that beyond a safe space, we also needed a way to connect our stories; a place where we could talk about how what was happening on our individual campuses was happening on every campus.”

The group, which was originally home to around 20 members, now seeks to support and engage 754 survivors and allies. Allison Hrabar ’16, a survivor of sexual assault, was added this summer when it had 500 members.

“It’s been good as far as connecting me to other people who can give me advice,” Hrabar said. Many of its members provided her with advice on how to proceed with reporting and filing a case at Swarthmore. Some of them eventually became her friends and important sources of support.

However, she has also had some issues with the page. She was part of several conversations that got deleted, one which, in fact, had stemmed from a post that she herself had written.

“There have been a couple of frustrating conversations,” she said. “There was one post that said, ‘white supremacy doesn’t exist in this group and I feel unsafe as a white person,’ and there was an argument about it and then the post got deleted.”

Pino herself sees “the balance of supporting survivors individually and managing a group of over 750 people” as one of the main problems that she and the other three moderators are struggling with.

“Sexual violence is a very difficult topic, and many people are triggered on a daily basis,” she said. “It’s been a challenge knowing when to be a supportive ally, and when to know that you have limits; especially if you yourself are a survivor.”

Nadia Dawisha, a PhD student at UNC, has worked with both Pino and Clark, and now with their new Title IX coordinator to create more responsive and sensitive policies at their university. She felt her position as an approachable authority (she teaches classes at UNC) would offer her a unique set of resources to tackle issues surrounding sexual misconduct on campus. The group was one of the main mediums through which her work at the university was informed.

“I didn’t really have much knowledge [about sexual assault] coming into this and I think that going into that group, where people were sharing resources and I could hear different testimonials from different survivors helped,” she said. “[But] I think that while the Facebook group is great as a hub, there’s no way that we can solve every issue in one Facebook group.”

It is for this reason that Dawisha is involved in smaller groups targeting more specific communities of survivors. She believes that Facebook, where one post bumps the previous one down, makes it difficult for every voice to be adequately heard and for support to be provided equitably.

Laura Dunn, a law student at the University of Maryland focusing on victim’s rights, is an active member of the Facebook group. She believes this is one of the problems about having an online community.

“I know I personally try to like or respond to anyone’s comments that need attention or are highlighting often silenced issues, even if it’s just thanking someone for sharing,” she said in an e-mail.

According to Hrabar this is a particularly poignant point for people belonging to marginalized communities, whose voices are silenced more frequently.

“I’ve heard a lot of complaints from people of color in the group and a lot of the queer members … who’ve had some trouble as far as being not necessarily understood, but even heard because [the page] is really big and it’s hard to balance that,” she said. “Posts about race are either much more censored or have a lot less discussion on them, stuff about disabilities or queerness [also]. Other posts may get picked up more often.”

When they do get picked up, posts about these issues often get more heated and therefore deleted, according to Hrabar. People have privately expressed issues with these posts and moderators have thought best to end the conversation, lest members are triggered. For this reason, Hrabar now uses this group mainly to connect with people and talk about more general issues.

“There is silencing and there will continue to be. If you’re working-class or of color or queer, you’re always going to have problems. But that goes for any space,” she said.

Peter Amadeo ’15, an ally involved in the IX Connection group, agrees that marginalized communities are not being heard equally.

“It’s frustrating, because I think a lot of primarily white cisgender women are going into this group and they talk about their ideas with other white cisgender women and they propagate their own ideas without thinking about other perspectives,” he said.

He does not think that smaller groups are a productive solution, though. Instead, he proposes a group that focuses more generally on all kinds of diversity in sexual assault, like ethnic, gender and sexual diversity.

“I don’t think you need a group for each one,” he said. “It would be a lot more productive [to have one group for people that belong to more marginalized communities] because you wouldn’t have as many people propagating the same ideas over and over again, like this big group is doing now.”

Dawisha thinks that “it is unfortunate that people felt like they needed to make separate groups because they didn’t feel welcome.” Still, she understands that certain groups may be affected by some issues that others are not privy to, and for that reason, small groups could be useful.

Brodsky, answering simultaneous claims of silencing and safety, recently posted that she and the three other creators would be creating a committee to establish “community principles and a moderation plan” in order to make sure that the page becomes an inclusive and safe space for all its members.

Hrabar doesn’t think that a 100 percent safe and open space (especially if posts are heavily moderated) can be created. Still, she admires the creators’ commitment to this end.

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