Two Events Continue Campus Conversation About Sexual Assault

UPDATED: Dec. 5, 2012, at 3:41 p.m.

This semester, conversations about rape and sexual assault have come to the forefront of campus discussion, as several controversies both here and elsewhere have garnered the student body’s attention, and last night, two events on consent and sexual assault continued the conversation.

The first, a showcase entitled “Speak About It,” was a performance-based presentation about consent and sexual assault that featured cast members who told stories and acted out skits based on true events and testimonials. The performance, which was sponsored by the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, is designed for college audiences and has educated young adults across the nation.

“If people leave the show and talk about these issues with their friends, family members, and partners, that’s all we can ask,” said cast member Shana Natelson.

The event is part of OSAPR’s effort to improve their programs and services, said OSAPR prevention specialist Christopher M. Gilbert.

Just an hour later, students gathered at Holden Chapel to share their reflections on rape culture in a event called “Rape Culture Speak-Out,” which discussed rape culture in a forum setting.

Organizers said they sought to create a space where students could feel comfortable speaking about rape. “When it comes to rape culture, it’s very much associated with silence,” said Amanda J. Gokee ’14, a co-organizer of the event.

Those in attendance were asked to adhere to a code of confidentiality about the contents of the speakers’ presentations.

Although seven speakers were arranged ahead of time, sign-up sheets were passed around and members of the audience were invited to participated.

“The sheer act of talking about [rape] can be really empowering,” Kate Sim ’14 said, the founder of Our Harvard Can Better, which organized the event.

In her opening remarks, Sim said her group hoped to encourage scrutiny of the rape culture prevalent at Harvard and greater society.

“Rape culture really comes down to a set of social norms that constrain meaningful interaction and vilify sexuality that affects all of us as survivors and allies,” Sim said.

Our Harvard Can Do Better was also responsible for organizing the petition to put the affirmative consent referendum on the Undergraduate Council ballot. In addition to the ballot, which passed by a landslide majority, recent months at Harvard have seen the news of two alleged rapes in and near Harvard Yard in August and hearty discussion of a former Amherst student’s account of her experience dealing with administrators after she was raped.

Cyatharine M. Alias ’15, who attended “Speak Out,” said the event covered more than “Sex Signals,” the program during freshman orientation week.

“I think it touched on a variety of things that other performances like Sex Signals don’t really talk about, like the healing process and the gay community,” Alias said.

Representatives from a number of campus peer counseling groups were present, both to speak out themselves and be on hand for those who might wish to seek out help after the event.

—Staff writer Elizabeth S. Auritt can be reached at eauritt@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Michelle Denise L. Ferreol can be reached at mferreol@college.harvard.edu.

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