In the past few months, people from all around the globe have been trying to change the way we talk about sexual violence. Beginning with the publicity of the Harvey Weinstein case last fall, other survivors, many of whom also work in the entertainment industry, began to speak out about their own experiences with sexual violence. As more of these survivors began discussing the violence they faced from a range of high power individuals, people of many different occupations, backgrounds, and identities began to share their own stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment under the title of the “MeToo” movement. People shared their own experiences on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram using the hashtag “#MeToo,” the namesake of the movement, in an attempt to support other survivors and show how pervasive sexual violence is. While the hashtag rose to public prominence in the fall of last year, the movement was actually started in 2006 by Tarana Burke. Burke is an activist who started the movement in an attempt to help women and girls, particularly those of color and those living in underprivileged communities. Burke recognizes that the movement’s newfound publicity is inspirational and gives hope to those touched by these issues, but reminds the audience that this hope can only be sustained by continued hard work and support for survivors (1).
On Wednesday, February 28th, Stony Brook’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA) held a #MeToo march in an attempt to continue this work needed to show support for those affected by sexual violence in our local community. According to the FMLA’s advertisement for the event, their goal was to show “solidarity with survivors and push for a campus administration that takes sexual misconduct seriously.” They also advertised that they wanted to raise awareness about consent and advocate for improved mental health resources for those who have experienced sexual assault or harassment. The FMLA provided a document with a list of requests and statements addressing the university directly, which mostly focuses on the recent changes to Title IX, the status of SBU as a HeForShe Impact Champion, and the sexual harassment settlements at Stony Brook Hospital. To read the full document click here.
The event itself drew out a significant, and passionate, crowd. Before the group marched through campus, we asked participating students why they came out and how events like the march can impact the issues in a positive way. Many students cited their desire to show support for survivors as a major reason for being present at the march. They said that the conversation that these events generate helps to show how prominent the issue of sexual assault and harassment is and that the majority of people want to make sure perpetrators are held responsible. One student who is involved with the LGBTQA+ organizations on campus discussed the intersection of feminist and LGBTQA+ issues and the importance of showing up and vocalizing support for both. The student also discussed how having such a large group come out and speak about the issues of sexual violence shows the university and larger community that people care about survivors, and that they want change for how sexual violence is dealt with. Through the event, SBU students found ways to take ideas from a large-scale global movement and apply them in a way that could positively affect the local SBU community.