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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Students, faculty offer support for survivors, victims of assault

On Oct. 5, the Saint Mary’s community participated in Believe Survivors—Rally of Support, an event held to show support for survivors of sexual assault and harassment in the wake of the Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process. The event concluded a week of events that included a screening of the movie “Anita” and an information session on issues related to Supreme Court nominations.

Jamie Wagman, professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, read a statement written by English literature professor Laura Haigwood, who could not attend the rally. The statement urged the tri-campus community to promote cultural change and encourage “boys and girls to bond equally and respectfully with one another.”

Jordan Cockrum | The Observer
Saint Mary’s community members gather at the Believe Survivors—Rally of Support event on Friday. The event protested the confirmation proceedings for Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Junior Genesis Vasquez was one of the student organizers of the rally. She said she wished the event would have had an even greater attendance as “sexual assault and harassment impacts everyone.”

“It was a very emotional roller coaster for me to help organize this and speak out, but I felt like I needed to,” she said. “It really helped me become comfortable with how passionate I am to end this issue and bring more awareness.”

However, Vasquez said she understands if some were not ready to come forward with their stories of harassment or assault.

“It should also be taken into consideration that there may be survivors who are not ready to tell their stories,” she said. “I talked about my stories and it made me cry and I was scared to own up to what happened to me, but I was really happy that I was able to see all the support I have. It was amazing to see how the circle of people who came to the rally would grow and grow.”

The rally occurred one day before Kavanaugh was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. Senior Teresa Brickey said the Kavanaugh confirmation process was one of her reasons for attending the rally on Friday. She referenced the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the professor who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her while the two were in high school.

“I attended the rally because Dr. Ford's testimony and the subsequent undermining of her truth has left me heartbroken,” she said. “I know survivors of sexual assault and the deep trauma they consistently have to deal with and work against. Coming forward with your experiences is one of the most vulnerable and brave things you can do.”

Brickey said she was moved by the trial and “deeply disturbed” by the treatment of Dr. Ford.

“Dr. Ford was not treated with the dignity and respect she deserves,” she said. “Unfortunately, most sexual assault cases are treated with similar demeanor.”

The statement Wagman read also mentioned Lizzy Seeberg, a Saint Mary’s student who committed suicide in 2010 after allegedly being sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player.

“Lizzy’s suicide is a tragic expression of the anguish that sexually assaulted girls typically experience,” Haigwood’s statement said.

Brickey said remembering the loss of Lizzy Seeberg had a huge emotional impact on her.

“I kept picturing Lizzy Seeberg and how we let her down as a community and how we will continue to let down other girls like her if we don’t support survivors,” she said. “Sexual assault is a problem on all our campuses, and while we keep trying to make strides towards justice, we seem to not get past the notions of victim blaming or shaming. Green Dot training is great, but what's it do if we’re all still silent?”

Brickey said the rally encouraged students to keep an open dialogue about sexual assault and harassment.

“If anything, I hope this keeps the issue talked about because silence only further constructs a culture of negligence,” she said. “To survivors on our campuses right now, know that we hear you, we see you and we support you.”

Vasquez said she was grateful for the love and support at the rally.

“It was literally such a beautiful thing to see and that there were people from various ages, races, genders and other backgrounds who came together to show that they believe survivors,” she said.