I came into our Sexual Violence Campus class expecting to learn tools in how to help students when they experience sexual violence. As always, I did not get what I thought that I wanted. I got what I needed.
What I learned from the class is that when we discuss lived experiences of individuals who have been affected by sexual violence, we collectively began experiencing the heavy burden in how we all have been complicit in rape culture. I believe that more than ever we should continue to have courses like the ones you teach, Chris. When we process what violence means together, it leaves a stronger impact, and I felt that by the end of our class. Yes, it left all of us exhausted in the end…but the mini tears we experience, once we understand why we had those tears, they will mend, and we will be stronger in dealing with engaging in sexual violence discourse. Yet, what helped for me is coming to a space where everyone began to understand how sexual violence affects different people in different ways because of their identities. Some people are surprised when I tell them I am a loner by nature. I was raised that way. I was raised in my family in having to process my experiences and understanding their experiences alone. Yet, our class this semester, and all the classes that I have taken since working at UGA, has made me realize that we need each more than ever to understand what is going on in our environment. We all need a support system to process together. We may not always agree on how we look at matters and/or how we should fix certain situations that affect our environment, but the beginnings of trust and mutual respect in admitting that we have to do something different because what we have been doing is not working empowers me. Being in a great community is about admitting your complicity in a system or systems where it oppresses other people and owning your responsibility in it by being accountable for what you have done. Accountability is not only about owning how you contribute, but it is about how you are going to strive each day in attempting to put effort in doing something about it. That matters so much. That’s what I’ve learned. That talk begins to become cheap when we do not allow ourselves the possibility of dreaming big and taking steps in making those dreams a reality.
A huge part of being power consciousness is questioning yourself, the individuals around you, and the systems that you operate in. Yes, I grew up on soap operas, romance and horror novels and movies. However, in order for me to truly take accountability, I have to examine the good, bad, and ugly with these genres and entertainments. This means looking at the sexual violence that is in these genres and entertainments. It is hard to admit that what you grew up with and love actually contributes more to sexual violence and trauma for victims. Yet, we must have conversations around what contributes to rape culture. Many romance novels and films reinforce for many cisgender White women that inspiring to save cisgender White men who are bad boys is normal. As many of us begin and continue to dig in and peel back layers in history, we start seeing that the folks with dominant identities have had control over their master narratives since this country broke away from England (a.k.a. American Revolutionary War). What many of us do not understand is that we are complicit in practicing ahistoricism by not questioning enough…is this really it? When we are children in the education system and we question what is fundamentally wrong with what we have been told by posing questions that are not harmful, our instructors have been trained to silence us. A huge part of power is exercising discipline and that is what maintain authority. Being power consciousness and looking through a power consciousness lens is unraveling all the educational brainwashing throughout our school years and begin questioning like we did when we were kids…is this really true? If we do not think it is true, we must put in work to find out what is true.
This course must continue even though for all of us in the class, it was taxing. However, what makes this course great, Chris, is the literature/readings that you assign and how you provoke us to think and challenge our belief systems about what we have been taught all throughout our lives. I believe what would make this course better is incorporating “self-care” group-care activities. You did this near the end of the course when you read us your favorite book. For me, that was the most empowering moment in the course. For me, it is sparked what I try to hold on to: my imagination, my wonder, and my hope. A part of being brainwashed by White supremacist heteronormative capitalist patriarchy is that inquisitive nature about us is continually minimized by authority figures who teach us that silence is better than asking questions. If you ask questions, you are punished for it; if you are an individual with intersecting identities, you are silenced further because interlocking oppressions are caused by the very individuals who want to maintain, sustain, and retain the power that they have—even if it means that many of them are not actually benefitting for all the power from this system (i.e. White women).
Self-care activities are important when doing this work, and as a classroom community, we need more activities like this. Have more centering activities where individuals share how they have called out or called to attention sexual violence and rape culture in society (like Laurel did with her police officer friend). Challenge the class in finding a great community news story or challenge them to do more activities like writing a letter to Chief Jimmy—even though they may not publish or send it. Or have a drawing session where everyone draws or colors for thirty minutes in class (if it is a one day a week class) and ask them to share, and if they do not, they can hold up their artwork in silence while the others look at it…we may not understand it, but for them, it may be a release—at least someone saw—at least someone paid attention to me.
So, what did I really learn? I learned more about myself and about my new peeps that I got to know for an entire semester and more about my instructor. What I come to find is that…people are starting to surprise me again. That there is more hope out there than people try to “brainwash” you to think it is not. Spiderman says…”With great power, comes great responsibility.” I like to interpret that as power is not about dominating folks. Power is about inner connectedness. It is about sharing our resources whether it is our time, money, and/or love. Real power is about the practice of loving ourselves and making sure that our fellow individuals are not being hurt. It is about us existing together, so we all have the freedom to design our lives in spaces where we do not feel continual hostility. This means being brave to imagine again. To imagine that we can have a better world, and we must. Again, words are magical. Yet, real magic is actually putting those words to good use by committing good acts. Those good acts are to eradicate sexual violence and rape culture.