Students and faculty show support for survivors
“Here at SPU we must be a community that believes women’s stories.”
Assistant Professor of Theological Studies Shannon Smythe stood in front of Ames Library Friday afternoon, addressing a crowd of students, faculty and staff gathered in Martin Square.
“To all the women who bravely tell their stories, I believe you. We will not keep silent anymore. Enough is enough.”
On the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 28, the line outside Gwinn Commons was unusually quiet. The normally bustling, chaotic wait during the lunch rush was full of silent, solemn students talking in hushed tones.
This impromptu rally of the SPU community intended to show support for survivors of sexual assault.
The organizer of the event, Margaret Brown, assistant provost for special projects, director of the center for scholarship and faculty development and professor of psychology, planned the event the evening prior.
The previous day, Sept. 27, the country had watched the intense senate hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, publicly accused Kavanaugh earlier in September of sexually assaulting her while they were in high school together. Kavanaugh denies these allegations.
Blasey Ford writes in her testimony, “I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”
An FBI investigation into Kavanaugh’s background is pending, and in the meantime the effects are rippling across the nation.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline, RAINN, reports they saw a 338 percent increase in hotline traffic between Thursday and Sunday.
In statement by RAINN President Scott Berkowitz, he connected the sudden spike of calls to the hearings, stating that Blasey Ford’s story has clearly resonated with survivors, and has led thousands to reach out for help for the first time.
As Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington D.C. on Thursday, survivors watched along at home. The hearings were difficult for many to watch, as Ford recounted to the nation the details of the assault, and the trauma she has experienced for nearly three decades as a result.
“The reality is the women that I know, and I am a survivor as well, have been re-traumatized by watching the public spectacle of this play out,” said Jennifer McKinney, a professor of sociology at SPU.
McKinney is committed to providing support for victims of sexual assault, in particular on a Christian campus.
For over a decade, students have come into McKinney’s office to tell her their stories. These are stories she calls “appalling,” but said what has been most shocking was that in many of these stories, the victims blamed themselves.
Some of these students have told McKinney that they thought being sexually assaulted was God’s punishment.
It is the abundance of stories like these experienced by students and faculty across campus that lead to the strong show of support at the impromptu event.
The noon gathering began with a litany of acknowledgment, read by Theology Professor Dr. Shannon Smythe.
Brown wiped tears from her eyes as the litany was read: “We pause this day to recognize that all of us are impacted by the culture of violence. By listening to one another we may become instruments of justice and peace”
Brown shared with the crowd her personal story as a survivor.
“I hear their stories and I hear my own stories. When [Dr. Christine Blasey Ford] says she’s terrified, I know what that feels like. And when she says she remembers the boys laughing as they assaulted her, I know what that feels like. I have that memory too. Boys having fun. It was funny for them; it was a game.”
This provoked an emotional response from the crowd, many students audibly crying. Students held onto each other tighter, some grasping hands and others silently putting their arms around one another. Some of these students had not necessarily met prior to the event, and simply wanted to show support for their classmates.
In her initial email to staff and faculty, Brown encouraged attendees to wear black, and to write “I BELIEVE” on their hands in marker.
At 12:30 p.m., a minute of silence was held to honor survivors of sexual violence. The packed Martin Square was filled with SPU community members wearing black and holding up their hands in a show of solidarity.
The center of campus stayed silent along with the students, the only the sounds the sound of leaves falling from the trees.
Later in the event Kevin Neuhouser, professor of sociology, spoke about the women in his life who had shared with him their stories of sexual assault. “I believed them when they told me,” Neuhouser said.
“The very act of telling me was the hardest thing they could do. They were remembering the one thing they most wished they could forget.”
Neuhouser empathized with Ford, acknowledging that many women don’t tell their stories for fear that they would not be believed, or by telling it would make their lives worse. Neuhouser is not the only professor on campus to have repeatedly had this experience.
“The reality is that in the residence halls, in our churches and even in Martin Square, we know there are people who have never spoken out loud the pain that they have,” McKinney later noted.“They think that maybe there is something is wrong with them, that they have done something wrong to deserve this kind of trauma. And that is a lie. It’s just a lie.”
The speakers had a clear message for survivors: You are loved, and you are not alone in this.
Senior Ashley Hillier agreed with the speakers that as a campus community we need to band together to show support for survivors.
“In the political scheme we have right now, everyone tells us to be on opposite sides of the spectrum, and I think too often we take on issues that aren’t even political as a liberal versus conservative thing,” Hillier said.
She continued. “This idea of love and supporting women shouldn’t be political … [Sexual assault] is an act that no one should ever have to go through, and the fact that one person had to go through it should break everyone’s hearts.”
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call 800.656.HOPE (4673), Harborview Center for Assault at (206) 744-1600, King County Sexual Assault 24hr Resource Hotline at (888) 998-6423 or Crime Victim Hotline at (866) 689-4357 .