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Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

'It Happens Here' offers new forum for conversation about sexual violence

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Last fall, University President Anthony Monaco named sexual assault as one the most important issues on campus, and created a university-wide sexual assault task force to address and prevent sexual misconduct at Tufts. Currently, the university is in the process of hiring a Sexual Misconduct Prevention Specialist, who will work to develop sexual assault prevention programming. In conjunction with these recent initiatives, Tufts students are hosting a variety of programming this April as part of campaign for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. On Wednesday night, students came together to share their experiences with sexual violence at "It Happens Here" (IHH), an event that provides a forum for survivors of sexual assault to share their stories.

IHH was founded at Middlebury College in the fall of 2011 by Middlebury students Luke Carroll Brown, a current senior, and Margo Cramer, a recent graduate, and has since spread to a variety of colleges.

"I knew [sexual assault] was happening," Cramer said. "My friends had experienced it, and I had experienced it. And there was just no conversation about it -- at least at Middlebury. We had a feminist group on campus that didn't address it directly ... There was just general silence around the issue."

Cramer said that she and Brown took several weeks to decide what format would work best for a campaign about sexual violence awareness and opted to focus on initiating dialogue on campus through storytelling.

"We started collecting stories," she said. "Sharing stories in a thoughtful manner seemed like one really important step in getting people to see this issue as an important one ... What we really wanted to do was attract a variety of submissions so that we could represent a bastion of experiences."

In its third year at Middlebury, IHH has since taken off as both an online and spoken campaign. According to a Dec. 4, 2013 article published in The Middlebury Campus, the IHH campaign is currently working to establish programming at six other colleges across the country. This year, IHH was successfully launched at Tufts with the help of several sororities and the Action for Sexual Assault Prevention group.

"Tufts has, over the last few years, struggled with its footing in the movement of sexual assault awareness and prevention," Katrina Dzyak, a sophomore and one of the planners of IHH, said. "There is a lot lacking on the administration side ... [and] it has become [the] role [of] students, of course, to create spaces that are safe and to create programs that the university has not offered or is in the process of creating, but [that haven't] come to fruition."

Annie Goodman, a junior who helped organize IHH, formed a small team of students and started planning for the event in February.

"I think this issue has really picked up a lot of national attention in the last year," Goodman said. "That visibility has really started accelerating. This moment right now is a really good opportunity to push forward ... We're at a point where ... people are more familiar with the language surrounding the issue."

IHH called for story submissions of any length -- from 15 seconds to 15 minutes -- and form, in order to amplify the survivor's voice about a problem that is one of the largest in American universities, according to the IHH website.

"Some of [the stories] are merely reflections, some of them are a sentiments of reactionary emotions, but they are all very, very important," Dzyak said. "A few of them critique how we've gone about publicizing the movement, and how the 'activist community' on campus has operated and maybe excluded people. But those are very important conversations to have."

Goodman also noted that there was significant variety in the submissions to IHH, which were all anonymous.

"I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of male submissions," she said. "I think it's really important for the movement as a whole to recognize that sexual violence is not just something that happens ... [to] a woman being attacked by a stranger at night. It takes on so many forms that can have equally damaging repercussions for the survivor"

Cramer explained that the flexible structure of the event allowed for stories to be read either by their actual author or another speaker. However, it was never specified if the stories were the reader's own.

"One of the really cool things about the event format, and something that Tufts has done a really great job with developing further, is giving people more power to decide how their story is shared," she said.

IHH also featured a keynote speaker, Wagatwe Wanjuki, a Tufts alumna who started a blog called "Raped at Tufts University," which works to generate awareness of sexual assault by publishing first-hand accounts of survivors' stories. Since graduating, Wanjuki has become a nationally recognized sexual assault activist, with her work featured in Ebony Magazine and Feministing.com.12

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