Sexual assault in the context of recent student activism movements was discussed in an event hosted by the Urban Democracy Lab as part of the Roman Tragedies Festival on Nov. 10.
The discussion was moderated by Gallatin faculty member Cyd Cipolla, and featured New York Magazine contributing editor Vanessa Grigoriadis and Columbia alumna and SAFER board member* Marybeth Seitz-Brown.
Seitz-Brown, who is a survivor* of sexual violence, discussed the importance of educating faculty and students in colleges to fight sexual assault.
“[Sexual assault] is about individual cases, but it’s also about rethinking what it means to be educated, and what it means to be a part of a campus community, but also a part of all communities,” Seitz-Brown said.
Grigoriadis said victims openly discussing their personal stories has had an impact on the way the public perceives sexual violence.
“I think the fact that people have been willing to put their full real names and faces to their stories has completely changed the image of rape and rape victim that we had 10 or 15 years ago,” Grigoriadis said.
Seitz-Brown discussed the importance of implementing education about consent at a young age.
“For a really long time we’ve left the idea of consent out of the conversation, and if we want to create moral citizens who are contributing to positive healthy environment communities, we have to constantly and really meaningfully address consent,” Seitz-Brown said.
CAS senior Emma Pliskin, who works at Bellevue Hospital as a rape crisis advocate, said the panel offered interesting insights into current student activism movements.
“I think it’s powerful to have [Seitz-Brown] here standing as a survivor and as an activist currently working within the movement, since she was able to lend a different perspective,” Pliskin said.
Grigoriadis attended the recent “Carry That Weight” demonstrations organized by Columbia student and sexual assault victim Emma Sulkowicz, where she highlighted the importance of addressing the issue of sexual assault.
“[This protest] is one of the most powerful social justice images that I can recall, at least in the past decade,” Grigoriadis said.
Seitz-Brown said the conversation on sexual violence should not only focus on individuals, but also tackle the issue as a whole.
“There are downsides to having one individual that is so open and so picked at by the media, but hopefully the conversation is focused on more than that,” Seitz-Brown said. “Our movement has to be more than Emma and I think it is.”
Gallatin sophomore Dylan Meehan said listening to people of different backgrounds, including Grigoriadis, discuss the issue of sexual assault emphasized the importance of striving for reforms.
“To see an outside reporter who’s heard all these stories be like ‘Yes, this is a serious issue that we have to be on top of,’ it brings the issue into perspective,” Meehan said.
Pliskin said it is comforting to see group solidarity on the issue of sexual assault.
“There is a responsibility for all students to stand up and say that there can be collective university response that can really add power to this movement, even if we haven’t had one specific incidence here that’s been powerful,” Pliskin said.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Nov. 11 print edition. Email Marita Vlachou at [email protected]
*Corrections: An earlier version of this article did not identify Marybeth Seitz-Brown correctly as a SAFER board member and used the word “victim” instead of “survivor.” WSN regrets this error.