Event aims to support survivors through community engagement

This Sunday, a candlelight vigil, organized by the Title IX Office and members of the student body, will be held for sexual violence survivors and allies to share stories and reflections on the healing process. Nina Harris, the college’s violence prevention educator, sent an email Tuesday afternoon inviting the student body to the event, titled “Voices of Healing,” a name that is meant to emphasize the community’s role in assisting survivors of sexual assault. All members of the campus community are welcome to share fitting messages in any medium of expression.

The motivation for creating Voices of Healing came from student feedback requesting larger events on campus focusing on community support for survivors. In February, the Title IX team invited the student body to a lunch discussion and was met with strong support.

“There is a desire to do something, but if we just stop at awareness we are not [going far enough],” Harris said. “It’s important for allies and survivors to hear those voices and experiences and deepen their understanding.”

Sunday’s candlelight vigil is loosely based off Take Back the Night events at other colleges, where students have traditionally organized a rally and march against sexual assault that conclude with a candlelight vigil. Voices of Healing will not include a march and a rally, in part because the timing is inappropriate.

“It feels counterintuitive to rally at the end of the year and then have everyone leave for the summer,” Harris said. She added, however, that such a rally or march could occur in the fall semester.

Another difference between Take Back the Night and Voices of Healing is that Voices will allow allies and friends of survivors to share messages as well, whereas Take Back the Night events are usually exclusive to survivors.

“We wanted to create a space that was not just carried by survivors, but was also carried by the community,” Harris said.

“Part of the reason for allowing non-victims to speak is so that people can share their stories without outing themselves as a survivor,” said Title IX Fellow Abigail Henderson ’15. By having allies and supporters speak, the community is signaling its support and desire to be involved in the healing process for survivors, she explained.

“I think our community as a whole could be more understanding, but I think [Title IX Coordinator] Kaaren [Williamsen] and Nina are fantastic resources and they are working to make this school more safe and supportive for people,” said Raven Bennett ’17, a member of the Title IX Advisory Team that helped organize the event. “I hope this campus will become more empathetic towards the struggles of survivors and I also hope that survivors will feel empowered by this opportunity to share their stories.”

The Clothesline Project, a staple at Swarthmore College for many years, will also be significantly changed this year, according to Harris’s email. The Clothesline Project will be moved from Parrish Beach to Shane Lounge, with photos of the T-shirts displayed in a slideshow on a television screen for two days instead of the familiar “clothesline” presentation. This is meant to be less triggering for survivors, according to Henderson. The display in years past has been on Parrish Beach, a public and central location on campus, which made the Clothesline Project difficult to avoid.

“One of the things that I have heard from survivors over the last year is that ‘[the Clothesline Project] is good, but it’s passive,’” said Harris. “It feels very isolating. It is an experience you are having by yourself.”

Survivors wanted the opportunity to have a more active voice and be in a space where they could vocalize their feelings and connect to people in the community according to Harris. She emphasized, though, that the Clothesline Project has certain merits, which is why it is not going away completely.

“Are we prepared as a community to respond effectively and sensitively when survivors need our support the most?” Harris asked. This event and other events like it such as the SAVE training and Supporting Survivors Workshop are meant to answer this question.

The Clothesline Project will be on display in Shane Lounge today and tomorrow. The vigil will be on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. in the Scott Amphitheater, followed by a time for decompression in Wharton basement, where students can share their reactions to the event with confidential support staff. If students would like to speak at the event, they should email Nina Harris (nharris1@swarthmore.edu) by noon on Sunday, though signing up is not a requirement for speaking. Nina Harris is a confidential supporter. There will be no required reporting at the event.

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