Bodily boundaries or how the world told me I hated affection

Sydney PhillipsA blog written by student staff member Sydney about her journey with understanding bodily boundaries, consent, and the perpetuation of rape culture in society. Including tips about consent in daily life and resources to stay informed and about how to talk to kids and other adults about the issue.

 

If you would have asked me a month ago how I felt about touch and affection, I would have told you I straight up hate it. For years I’ve thought I was someone who just doesn’t want to be touched at all (I’m talking cuddling, PDA, hugging family…let alone kissing family, sitting a bit too close to someone, or OMG SHARING BEDS)… and in some ways this is still true. For example I will never want to be cuddled while I sleep. This is ME time, don’t touch me!

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BUT after some self-reflection and some therapy, I’m realizing that the issue is not that I don’t like to be touched or that I’m never okay with physical affection. It’s that I like certain forms of physical affection and I don’t have a problem telling other people what I want.

Unfortunately, other people find my self-awareness and assertiveness weird or wrong. Our society socializes women to think that we SHOULD want to be touched and that men should WANT to touch us (I’m using heteronormative terms here for a few reasons. 1. Because that’s the message I received growing up, and because society still looks at heterosexual couples as the norm, I think a lot of times this is the message many of us get and 2. Because I’m interested in the gendered understanding of this phenomena and how it creates tensions within consent discourse). If we deviate from that norm we feel like something is wrong. For example, here are some responses I’ve gotten when explaining not wanting to be touched to people: “but he’s your boyfriend” , “you’re such a dude”, “you’re cold/ cold- hearted”… the list goes on.

I’m okay with not liking certain forms of touch or affection; however other people have constantly been confused by it which led to me internalizing some of it subconsciously. People either seem to not understand my bodily boundaries, let along respect them, or think I’m weird for having any in the first place. Why is this an issue? Because it teaches us that knowing our boundaries and desires is abnormal and it ultimately reinforces rape culture. Yep, I went there.

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NOT LIKING TOUCH AT CERTAIN TIMES, IN CERTAIN WAYS, OR BY CERTAIN PEOPLE DOES NOT MAKE ME COLD HEARTED, IF ANYTHING IT MEANS I AM IN TOUCH WITH MY BODY AND KNOW WHAT I LIKE AND DO NOT LIKE WHICH IS SOMETHING WE SHOULD BE TEACHING EVERYONE, FROM THE BEGINNING.

This blog came about from a mixture of therapy where I’m learning to be emotionally vulnerable (that’s a whole different blog…more like a book, though) as well as a trip to New Orleans where I had reached my limit in terms of explaining myself. While discussing the fact that I “don’t like to be touched,” someone I was with asked me:

“What happened to you as a child?”
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Here’s the short answer to that: Nothing.

Now here’s the long response.

    1. Don’t ask people this, especially people you may not know well because guess what… ? It’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
    2. This insinuates that something sexually traumatic (or at the very least physically traumatic) had to happen to me as a child, which is not only completely ignorant in the terms of this conversation but also could be retraumatizing for someone who has experienced sexual or physical harm.
    3. YOU DON’T NEED A REASON  TO PLACE BOUNDARIES ON YOUR BODY.

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This belief that someone has had to go through something traumatic in order for them to place limits on their own body and know what they like and do not like is downright harmful. It seeps into how we raise our children, how we parent our teenagers, and how we perpetuate rape culture in our lives. It is the reason why people struggle with saying or accepting “no”. No before sex, no during sex, and no in terms of things that aren’t related to sex. It is also why some people don’t understand that the lack of a no IS NOT A YES.

I mean look at the images and messages we give to kids and adults about sex and consent. We acknowledge that “no seems to mean yes” in Disney’s Hercules ( a children’s cartoon) we then reinforce this by “playfully” saying no but really meaning yes in Pitch Perfect, a movie targeted at young women and then music touches on this “I know what you really want” (go away “Blurred Lines”) narrative all the time. The Notebook, a “love story for the ages” has the man threatening to jump from a Ferris wheel if the girl doesn’t agree to a date.  And then we reach adulthood, alcohol companies market to people by hinting at roofies and being so drunk you “won’t say no”. But yet we expect people to navigate this media and know what is right and what is wrong? How?

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In order for bodily boundaries and autonomy to be realized by all people we need to consciously and actively teach consent. Consent in sex education, consent in relationships (all of them), and consent for children. In order for adults to look at people taking a stand over their body, wants, and needs, we need to teach our children that they can say no to touch at any time from any one and that they can tell us when they feel uncomfortable (I’m talking kisses, hugs, sitting on laps, and, yes, even high fives). We need to teach adults that this is okay and that affection or gratitude can be shown in other ways, and that that is normal. We need to teach children what age appropriate consensual touching looks like, yes this means SEX ED.

So what are some ways we can incorporate consent into our daily lives, parenting, and relationships? Aside from the things above about teaching consent early, here are a few tips that are helpful for me when I’m feeling frustrated…

  • Ask people before you hug someone. This may seem simple or silly but some people do not like to hug and THAT’S OKAY. Asking allows them to say no to a situation that may make them uncomfortable. They may want a high five instead. Personally, some days I want to hug and other days I don’t, especially with people I may not know very well. You can also ask for touches when you need them as well, but people still reserve the right to say no.
    • Shoutout to Reese for having this exact respectful conversation the other day. She listened, questioned, and then accepted what I had to say. And even though she may be an affectionate person, she always asks others “would you like a hug or high five” when saying hello and goodbye. sometimes people respond with neither, or how about a fist bump, and they go from there. Phrases like Would you like a hug? Is it okay to hug you? Are important and may start off awkward but get easy when we practice them regularly.

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  • Don’t be afraid to express your boundaries. I’m very open about my limits from the get go, no matter the situation. When sharing a hotel room bed (with a romantic partner, friend, classmate, etc.) for the first time, I make sure to tell them I’m not a cuddler, I explain that I may not always want to be touched to people, I explain that I don’t like to be “smothered”. I also continuously reinforce these boundaries.
    • Example: Someone touches me when I don’t want to be?  I say: “Please stop that” They don’t stop? “I’m being serious I don’t like that” Still touching? “If you touch me again I will kick you…. Guess what comes next. If I’m touched again, you got it, I kick em.

→ I realize this doesn’t work for everyone or in every situation but if you have healthy relationships and friendships I would hope you’d be able to discuss your boundaries and have them respected.

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  • Remember that consent is not just about sex, it’s not even just about affection. This is a super complex issue and there are a lot of people that we steal bodily autonomy from regularly based on their varying identities. Think about when someone touches a Black woman’s hair (don’t do that. Just don’t, even if you ask) and how that invades her right to her body and her space. Consent also isn’t always about touching, think here about Trans individuals who are constantly asked if they “got the surgery” (also don’t do this). It’s none of your business, it’s personal, it’s intimate, and a person’s gender identity/expression does not give you the green light to ask such a question.

These conversations aren’t easy because society doesn’t give us space to discuss bodies and sex, but they’re necessary and important. They may be awkward and people may not understand but that’s why we need to start teaching children at younger ages, so that there may come a time when we don’t have to continuously have these talks as adults.

Feeling overwhelmed? Confused? Or just want some more information? Check down below for a list of resources regarding consent at all ages, sexual education, and rape culture/toxic masculinity and the effect it has on both women and men

Resources:

  • Children
    • I Said No! was written by a boy named Zack and his mother to help him cope with a real-life experience and includes discussion on how to deal with bribes and threats.
    • My Body Belongs to Me, is about a child who gets touched inappropriately, so prepare to have a thoughtful conversation after reading together.
    • No Means No! stars an empowered young girl and includes a “Note to the Reader” and “Discussion Questions” to aid crucial dialogue.
  • Teens and Up
    • The Hunting Ground is a companion book to the documentary of the same name that delves into the rape culture prevalent on college campuses.
    • Sexual assault survivors from every kind of college and university and multiple backgrounds share their stories in We Believe You, which Elizabeth Gilbert called “one of the most important books of the year.”
    • Asking for It by Kate Harding explores the idea that our culture supports rapists more effectively than it supports victims.
    • Michael J. Domitrz takes a friendly, collaborative approach to the topic of express consent in Can I Kiss You?
    • Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape
  • On Teaching Consent: Ask. Listen. Respect. In the classroom. By Age, How to instill boundaries, Physical and Emotional Boundaries
  • On What Consent Means: here, here, and here
  • Sex Ed Resources: Sex Ed Rescue (Includes puberty, consent, sex, and ebooks), Lesson Plans and Legislation, For Parents, Planned Parenthood, Ability Based Sex Ed
  • On Fighting Rape Culture: What rape culture is, Steps to take, What rape culture sounds like
  • Other
    • The yes no maybe so checklist is AMAZING. It goes over all different forms of touch and asks you to rate them on if you like it, don’t like it, or could maybe be into it. You can even rank things as hard or soft limits and discuss how they may vary depending on the situation.
    • The Hunting Ground: Documentary on Netflix. This exposé tackles the disturbing epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and school officials’ efforts to cover up the crimes.
    • The Mask You Live In Documentary on Netflix. The Mask You Live In follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Pressured by the media, their peer group, and even the adults in their lives, our protagonists confront messages encouraging them to disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence.
    • The Women’s Center’s Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence Workshop (Check MyUMBC for events next semester)

 

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What You Need To Need Know: Take Back The Night & Why We March

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Women’s Center is hosting its 6th consecutive Take Back the Night on Thursday, April 12th. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of questions about what Take Back the Night exactly is, why it looks the way it does, and how students can get involved. To help get those questions answered we started the “What You Need to Know” series focused on TBTN last year and are continuing on the tradition, so stay tuned for more posts over the next couple of weeks. This blog focuses on the evening’s campus march against sexual violence.

1,2,3,4 WE WON’T TAKE IT ANYMORE

 5,6,7,8 NO MORE VIOLENCE! NO MORE HATE!

As a survivor of sexual assault, the Take Back The Night march reminds me that I’m not alone.

Mariana De Matos Medeiros, ’16, and former student staff member at the Women’s Center, said “To me, having the opportunity to speak and march at TBTN last year reminded me that I am not alone and that I can stand in my power to speak about my experience. It took me 3 years to finally speak about my assault and one of the very first times was at TBTN last year. Seeing so many gathered to support allowed me to speak and speaking has allowed me to heal.

It can be easy to blame yourself, isolate yourself, and feel like you’re the only person struggling with your healing; However, the march lets you connect with people who support you and believe you.

Sarah Lilly, a 2016 and 2017 Take Back The Night student leader says “Marching is us showing that solidarity is a verb, and it brings me great pride to feel so supported by my local UMBC community and to see the unconditional support for everyone else in our community.”

In an open letter in her school’s newspaper, survivor and student activist, Angie Epifano, recounted the aftermath of her sexual assault, namely her experience with institutional betrayal. She ended the letter with, “Silence has the rusty taste of shame.” Due to rape culture, victim blaming, a lack of support for survivors, and more, it is understandable that many survivors do not disclose their experience and sexual assault is rarely spoke of in public.

Much like the Baltimore-based Monument Quilt is creating and demanding public space for survivors to heal, Take Back the Night demands for space in which we will not be shamed into silence. Activists like Angie, the Monument Quilt creators, and YOU during the march are creating a new culture where survivors are publicly supported, rather than publicly shamed. Come see the Monument Quilt at UMBC on Tuesday, April 17th.

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Here’s some helpful information about the campus march against sexual violence to those attending Take Back the Night at UMBC: 

  • The survivor speak-out is intended to center the voices and experience of survivors (of all identities) of sexual violence. The speak-out is for allies to listen and survivors to break their silence but the march is for EVERYONE to GET LOUD! 
  • We encourage individuals and groups to make rally signs ahead of time. Signs are a great way to show your solidarity and support while also representing your student orgs, res hall communities, and frats/sororities.
  • We’ll line everyone up in the march in waves. Survivors wanting to march up front with other survivors are invited to line up first along with other community members needed to take an accessible route march. Everyone else will then line up as survivors begin to march towards the south exit of The Commons.
  • As we march, walk slowly and stay together. Try to avoid large gaps in the line.
  • Due to construction, there will be a change in the march route this year. As we make out way through the new route we will stop midway through the march and hold our first Survivor Circle.
    • The Survivor Circle is a chance for survivors who may or may not have shared their story during the speak out to be recognized, come together, and be surrounded in support and healing by those attending the march. This is an opportunity for those who identify as survivors to come together without having to speak out or share their story if they do not wish to do so.
  • The march will end back on Main Street where the space will be ready for the evening’s resource fair and craftivism. As you’re heading back into The Commons, come all the way into Main Street so everyone else behind you can get into the space as well.
  • There will be one more chance to share your experience as a survivor post-march at a survivor discussion group led by the student organization We Believe You in the Women’s Center. (This event will be private and for survivors only).
  • Counselors-On-Call will be available throughout the evening. Any one needing additional support or simply needs to take a break are invited to visit the self-care station that will be set up in the Commuter Lounge.

For more information about UMBC’s TBTN (check out Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter too by searching the hashtag #UMBCTBTN):

Stay tuned for the next installment of what you need to know about TBTN 2018! 

What You Need To Need Know: Take Back The Night & the Survivor Speak-Out 2018

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Women’s Center is hosting its 6th consecutive Take Back the Night on Thursday, April 12th. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of questions about what Take Back the Night exactly is, why it looks the way it does, and how students can get involved. To help get those questions answered we started the “What You Need to Know” series focused on TBTN last year and are continuing on the tradition, so stay tuned for more posts over the next week. This is an updated post to last year’s information focusing on the survivor speak-out.

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View from the survivor speak-out at Take Back the Night 2015. 

The survivor speak-out is the heart of Take Back the Night. This is the point in the night where survivors are encouraged to come up and share their story with the crowd before the march throughout campus. As a survivor, sharing your story at TBTN allows you to publicly acknowledge your experience with a crowd that believes you and supports you.

Kayla Smith, UMBC Class of 2017, started the speak out in previous years and cherished that moment as a time where she could share her experience with people who she knew wouldn’t judge her. She could look out into a crowd of people who wouldn’t tell her its her fault, ask what she was wearing, ask if she was drinking, or tell her that she was responsible for her assault. “Speaking out about my assault empowers me to talk about my experience with confidence.”

This year we want to focus on dispelling the myth of the “perfect victim” that often times dominates sexual violence discourse. There are a variety of stories and experiences that are shared during the speak- out. Some may share stories or healing while others are still angry, sad, or scared. Many stories may come from women-identified folks and/but male survivors are also invited to share their stories at the speak-out. All of our stories and experiences are valid. And, no matter where you are at in your experience as a survivor (i.e. your assault happened 10 years ago or just last week) or what your identities may be, you’re welcomed to share your story.   

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Former Women’s Center Student Staff Member Kayla Smith speaking to the crowd at TBTN 2017. (Photo Credit: Jaedon Huie)

If you’re thinking about speaking at Take Back the Night, feel free to reach out to Women’s Center staff ahead of time if you feel like it would be helpful to talk to someone ahead of time about your story and how you may want to share it. Of course, we know many survivors may not plan on speaking at TBTN and then feel called to do so once the speak-out begins and that’s okay! If you feel uncomfortable sharing during the speak-out, that’s also 100% okay! There will be a chance to be recognized during the March at the Survivor Circle (which will be a new part of this year’s march – stay tuned for our updated What You Need to Know about the March post for more details!) or discuss your experience in a more intimate setting at We Believe You’s survivor discussion group post march.

It’s also totally okay if don’t feel ready to share your story at Take Back the Night there’s many other ways you can share your story in less public ways throughout Sexual Assault Awareness Month (like making a t-shirt for the Clothesline Project or attending the Monument Quilt workshop or the other ways at TBTN we mentioned in the above paragraph) and Take Back the Night (counselors will be available throughout the event and there will be the self-care station). Survivors or anyone impacted by sexual violence can also always schedule a time to talk to Women’s Center staff – we’re quasi-confidential resources on campus and can link you to additional support and resources.

Here’s some helpful information about the speak-out we think is helpful for everyone to know whether they’re speaking or listening:

  • Any one can be a survivor of sexual violence. Any survivor regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation is welcomed to share their story at the speak-out. At the beginning of TBTN’s creation the speak out was only for women, but we welcome men and all others who may have differing gender identities to speak out. We wish for the speak out to be an inclusive space of healing and representation of different identities can help dispel the dangerous “perfect victim” narrative.
  • The survivor speak-out is intended to center the voices and experience of survivors of sexual violence. The speak-out is for allies to listen and survivors to break their silence. Thank you in advanced for respecting this request. Allies are also encouraged to attend the Women’s Center workshop on Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence on 4/26. A faculty and staff version of the workshop will be held on 4/3. 
  • Since TBTN functions as a public forum, normal reporting procedures look a bit different. If you choose to share your story, and want to go no further in the reporting process, we encourage you not to disclose any names or other specific identifying information, such as locations or familial relationships, as those details may prompt staff to follow up with you for reporting matters. Staff are available at the event for those who do want additional resources and want to report their experience through UMBC’s Title IX reporting process or police.
  • We ask that you try to limit your story to about 3 minutes. We know it may be hard to do so but we want to make sure as many survivors as possible can speak during the allotted speak out time which is one hour long. If you’d like to continue sharing your story, you may want to go to the We Believe You discussion group after the Take Back the Night march.
  • Speakers will have the option to identify their story as confidential by placing a sign marked “confidential” on the microphone. Speaking from the “confidential” microphone prohibits anyone from taking pictures, quotes, or recording of any kind.
  • Counselors-On-Call will be available throughout the evening. Any one needing additional support or simply needs to take a break are invited to visit the self-care station that will be set up in the Commuter Lounge.

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For more information about UMBC’s TBTN (check out Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter too by searching the hashtag #UMBCTBTN):

What are Pop Culture Pop Ups?! The Golden Globes: Black Out and Oprah

Sydney Phillips

A blog post written by student staff member, Sydney.

 

It’s official! The Women’s Center has a new ongoing event starting this spring semester. What is it you ask?

Pop Culture Pop Ups!

You’re probably wondering, “What the heck is a Pop Culture Pop Up?” Well, that’s what I’m here to explain.

If you frequent the Women’s Center you know that it is often a space for spontaneous discussion with others regarding shared interests (about life, events,  and school to include the awesome, the good, the bad, and the frustrating – and more!). The energy and critical dialogue that comes from these conversations are what make the Women’s Center the Women’s Center and we wanted to nourish more of these moments by carving out time for more intentional dialogue surrounding both fun and serious topics that come up in our daily lives. Hence, the pop up of these Pop Culture Pop Ups.

We envision these pop ups will create a space for anyone who is on campus and wants to discuss an event, movement, hashtag (and more!) that has gotten huge attention or gone viral to come to the Women’s Center and have a brave space to discuss their feelings, reactions, and ideas linked to the topic. Of course, we’ll make sure to talk about how these pop culture moments intersect with gender and women’s issues, feminism, and social justice. Yet, unlike many of the other events that we hold in the Women’s Center, there won’t be a planned agenda, prepared questions, or a panel of experts and practitioners to guide the conversation.

Essentially, our plan is to take the conversations we notice people are often having on social media and make them into IRL conversations! We may do a bit of background research or read an article that shows up on our Facebook, but this is really a space for raw, immediate reactions to what it happening in a fun and thoughtful way with other people on want to engage in a conversation around the same topic.  That’s why our Pop Ups won’t come with a “save the date.” While they will be held on Wednesdays at free hour, they will be spur of the moment decisions (get it, Pop Ups?) in reaction to an event. This means we we could decide to have one the Sunday before or Tuesday night so check our social media for updates!

Pop CUlture Pop Up_ EVENT...

Some of you may still be confused about what it is we’d talk about or what is considered pop culture, and the ambiguity is kind of the beauty of it (it can really be anything), but it may help to have an example.

A Pop Up we would have loved to have, but unfortunately weren’t able to because of winter break was all things Golden Globes. From the second I heard about #TimesUp and the #whywewearblack Black Out/ Protest, I was hooked and invested. This is something I wanted to discuss and dissect with others. Who was involved in the decision? Did everyone wear black? What is the point? These would all be questions that would definitely come up in a Pop Up.

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Hollywood showed up in black this year at the Golden Globes.       Photo Credits: Getty/WireImage

If you watched the show, or saw any of the coverage after the fact, you’d know that almost everyone did indeed wear black, but you also would have seen the backlash about why this form of protest just wasn’t good enough. Wearing black isn’t that hard-especially for men, said some while others said that a better idea would be to protest the event all together. Not only did the dress-code come under fire, but so did the men (and some women) who showed up wearing black and the Times Up pin. What about the actors and actresses that are wearing black but work with Woody Allen or other stars that are being held accountable? What does wearing black do when you’re still silent about sexual violence and believing survivors in your daily life as well as career? I know these questions flew around my head and basically everyone’s on the internet. I wish we could have had a Pop-Up to really reflect on how we were feeling post black-out. I still don’t know how I feel about the whole thing. I love the men and women who came out to support, I love that a lot of them made donations and brought activists as their dates, and I love that we’re finally TALKING ABOUT IT…. but I also ask, is it enough? This is why Pop Ups are important. They’ll come together fast, bring us together about current issues, and let us digest these potentially confusing emotions and reactions.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!

While the Blackout is something that could take up a whole Pop Up on its own there was another highlight of the night that we would have LOVED to talk about. You guessed it folks — OPRAH!

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Me listening to Oprah’s speech!

Oprah Winfrey accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement (the first Black woman to do so) and delivered a speech that BROUGHT THE HOUSE DOWN. She discussed growing up and representation in the media, people who took a chance on her and how that led to success in her career, her value of the press and the pursuit of the truth, the sexual violence in the entertainment industry and beyond, and the women who are speaking up.

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It was moving, brought tears to my eyes, had me fist-pumping, and cheering her on (I encourage you to watch it here). I wish I would have had the chance to see how others felt in person rather than on Facebook and tumblr, especially with so many mixed feelings surrounding the activism at the Golden Globes. Not only could we have discussed this epic speech, but we could also unpack the public’s call for a presidential run and what that really means. Should Oprah run? Some say HELL YEAH, others think she’s just another billionaire and we should support other Black women who are already in politics, while others are saying no more to celebrity presidents. There’s a lot more to unpack here in terms of politics, who we support, and how the institution (both Hollywood and politics) may be changing.

Discussions about how we feel in the present as well as how we move forward in the future about this moments in time are important to have and that’s why the Women’s Center will be bringing you these Pop Culture Pop Up moments.

To stay informed about when Pop-Ups will happen make sure to follow us on myUMBC, Facebook and Twitter. Also follow us on Snapchat (@womencenterumbc) where we will be posting more about daily happenings in the Women’s Center.

If there’s something that comes up over the next semester you want to talk about, be sure to let the Women’s Center staff know (you can also use the hashtag #WCPopUp). It just may become the next Pop Culture Pop-Up! 

 

For more on the Blackout:

On why it’s about more than a dress

On what it means for designers

For more on Times Up:

On the Time’s Up Movement

On how #METOO and Time’s Up relate

For more on Oprah’s Speech:

On Black women being the “clean up” crew for America- and why that’s a problem

On the “missed point” of the speech

What You Need To Need Know: Take Back The Night & Why We March

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Women’s Center is hosting its 5th consecutive Take Back The Night (TBTN) on Thursday, April 13th. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of questions about what Take Back the Night exactly is, why it looks the way it does, and how students can get involved. To help get those questions answered this year, we’ve doing a “What You Need to Know” series focused on TBTN so stay tuned for more posts over the next couple of weeks. This is the third post in the series and it focuses on the evening’s campus march against sexual violence.

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1,2,3,4 WE WON’T TAKE IT ANYMORE

 5,6,7,8 NO MORE VIOLENCE! NO MORE HATE!

As a survivor of sexual assault, the Take Back The Night march reminds me that I’m not alone.

Mariana De Matos Medeiros, a UMBC Alumnus and former student staff member at the Women’s Center, said “To me, having the opportunity to speak and march at TBTN last year reminded me that I am not alone and that I can stand in my power to speak about my experience. It took me 3 years to finally speak about my assault and one of the very first times was at TBTN last year. Seeing so many gathered to support allowed me to speak and speaking has allowed me to heal.

It can be easy to blame yourself, isolate yourself, and feel like you’re the only person struggling with your healing; However, the march lets you connect with people who support you and believe you.

Sarah Lilly, a 2016 and 2017 Take Back The Night student leader says “Marching is us showing that solidarity is a verb, and it brings me great pride to feel so supported by my local UMBC community and to see the unconditional support for everyone else in our community.”

In an open letter in her school’s newspaper, survivor and student activist, Angie Epifano, recounted the aftermath of her sexual assault, namely her experience with institutional betrayal. She ended the letter with, “Silence has the rusty taste of shame.” Due to rape culture, victim blaming, a lack of support for survivors, and more, it is understandable that many survivors do not disclose their experience and sexual assault is rarely spoke of in public.

Much like the Baltimore-based Monument Quilt is creating and demanding public space for survivors to heal, Take Back the Night demands for space in which we will not be shamed into silence. Activists like Angie, the Monument Quilt creators, and YOU during the march are creating a new culture where survivors are publicly supported, rather than publicly shamed.

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Here’s some helpful information about the campus march against sexual violence to those attending Take Back the Night at UMBC: 

  • The survivor speak-out is intended to center the voices and experience of survivors of sexual violence. The speak-out is for allies to listen and survivors to break their silence but the march is for EVERYONE to GET LOUD! 
  • We encourage individuals and groups to make rally signs ahead of time. Signs are a great way to show your solidarity and support while also representing your student orgs, res hall communities, and frats/sororities.
  • We’ll line everyone up in the march in waves. Survivors wanting to march up front with other survivors are invited to line up first along with other community members needed to take an accessible route march. Everyone else will then line up as survivors begin to march towards the south exit of The Commons.
  • As we march, walk slowly and stay together. Try to avoid large gaps in the line.
  • The march will end back on Main Street where the space will be ready for the evening’s resource fair and craftivism. As you’re heading back into The Commons, come all the way into Main Street so everyone else behind you can get into the space as well.
  • Counselors-On-Call will be available throughout the evening. Any one needing additional support or simply needs to take a break are invited to visit the self-care station that will be set up in the Commuter Lounge.
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For more information about UMBC’s TBTN (check out Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter too by searching the hashtag #UMBCTBTN):

Stay tuned for the next installment of what you need to know about TBTN 2017! 

What You Need To Need Know: Take Back The Night & the Survivor Speak-Out

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Women’s Center is hosting its 5th consecutive Take Back The Night (TBTN) on Thursday, April 13th. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of questions about what Take Back the Night exactly is, why it looks the way it does, and how students can get involved. To help get those questions answered this year, we’ve doing a “What You Need to Know” series focused on TBTN so stay tuned for more posts over the next couple of weeks. This is the 2nd post in the series and it focuses on the survivor speak-out.

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The survivor speak-out is the heart of Take Back the Night. This is the point in the night where survivors are encouraged to come up and share their story with the crowd before the march throughout campus. As a survivor, sharing your story at TBTN allows you to publicly acknowledge your experience with a crowd that believes you and supports you.

I, student staff member Kayla Smith, have started the speak out for the past two years and I cherish that moment as a time where I can share my experience with people who I know won’t judge me. I can look out into a crowd of people who won’t tell me its my fault, ask what I was wearing, ask if I was drinking, or tell me that I was responsible for my assault. Speaking out about my assault empowers me to talk about my experience with confidence.

There are a variety of stories and experiences that are shared during the speak- out. Some may share stories or healing while others are still angry, sad, or scared. All of our stories and experiences are valid. And, no matter where you are at in your experience as a survivor (i.e. your assault happened 10 years ago or just last week), you’re welcomed to share your story. 

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Women’s Center Student Staff Member Kayla Smith speaking to the crowd at TBTN 2016

If you’re thinking about speaking at Take Back the Night, feel free to reach out to Women’s Center staff ahead of time if you feel like it would be helpful to talk to someone ahead of time about your story and how you may want to share it. Of course, we know many survivors may not plan on speaking at TBTN and then feel called to do so once the speak-out begins and that’s okay!

It’s also totally okay if don’t feel ready to share your story at Take Back the Night there’s many other ways you can share your story in less public ways throughout Sexual Assault Awareness Month (like making a t-shirt for the Clothesline Project or attending the Monument Quilt workshop) and Take Back the Night (counselors will be available throughout the event and there will be the self-care station). Survivors or anyone impacted by sexual violence can also always schedule a time to talk to Women’s Center staff – we’re quasi-confidential resources on campus and can link you to additional support and resources.

Here’s some helpful information about the speak-out we think is helpful for everyone to know whether they’re speaking or listening:

  • Any one can be a survivor of sexual violence. Any survivor regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation is welcomed to share their story at the speak-out. 
  • The survivor speak-out is intended to center the voices and experience of survivors of sexual violence. The speak-out is for allies to listen and survivors to break their silence. Thank you in advanced for respecting this request. Allies are also encouraged to attend the Women’s Center workshop on Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence on 4/12.
  • Since TBTN functions as a public forum, normal reporting procedures look a bit different. If you choose to share your story, and want to go no further in the reporting process, we encourage you not to disclose any names or other specific identifying information, such as locations or familial relationships, as those details may prompt staff to follow up with you for reporting matters. Staff are available at the event for those who do want additional resources and want to report their experience through UMBC’s Title IX reporting process or police.
  • We ask that you try to limit your story to about 3 minutes. We know it may be hard to do so but we want to make sure as many survivors as possible can speak during the allotted speak out time which is one hour long.
  • Speakers will have the option to identify their story as confidential by placing a sign marked “confidential” on the microphone. Speaking from the “confidential” microphone prohibits anyone from taking pictures, quotes, or recording of any kind.
  • Counselors-On-Call will be available throughout the evening. Any one needing additional support or simply needs to take a break are invited to visit the self-care station that will be set up in the Commuter Lounge.

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For more information about UMBC’s TBTN (check out Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter too by searching the hashtag #UMBCTBTN):

Stay tuned for the next installment of what you need to know about TBTN 2017! 

What You Need To Need Know: Take Back The Night & Its History

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Women’s Center is hosting its 5th consecutive Take Back The Night (TBTN) on Thursday, April 13th. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of questions about what Take Back the Night exactly is, why it looks the way it does, and how students can get involved. To help get those questions answered this year, we’ve doing a “What You Need to Know” series focused on TBTN so stay tuned for more posts over the next couple of weeks. This first post in the series focuses on the history and purpose of TBTN.

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The crowd waiting for UMBC’s TBTN 2014 to begin.

In 1971 in New York a group of women and survivors hosted the first-ever rape speak-out that was organized by the group the New York Radical Feminists. A few years later, one of the first “Take Back the Night” marches was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in October 1975.

Despite some advancements and more attention being paid to sexual violence, we still live in a society where over forty-five years later  there is still a need to speak out against rape and sexual assault. There is still a need to say, “It happened to me.” “I believe you.” “You are not alone.” “It is not your fault.” And, so this is why we host Take Back the Night each year at UMBC and why it still happens worldwide.

UMBC (from what we can tell from the archives), held their first TBTN event in the early 2000s for just a few years. Campus stopped hosting it for several years so as to be in solidarity with other area colleges by participating in Baltimore City Hall’s Take Back the Night. But, by 2013, it made the most sense for us to bring back our own Take Back the Night. So the Women’s Center with support from UHS’s Health Education, Greek Week, and a BreakingGround grant did just that. Since then, this campus-wide rally and march against sexual violence has been a signature Women’s Center event every April.

Each year the Women’s Center hosts survivor speak-out followed by a campus march against sexual assault. When marchers return, UMBC’s TBTN spends the rest of the evening doing “craftivism” art healing projects and hosting a community resource fair. A smaller version of the Clothesline Project is also serves as a backdrop to the evening’s events.

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The survivor speak-out at UMBC’s TBTN 2016

Stay tuned for more posts explaining the significance of each portion of Take Back The Night!

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The march against sexual violence at UMBC’s TBTN 2015

For more information about UMBC’s TBTN (check out Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter too by searching the hashtag #UMBCTBTN):

Stay tuned for the next installment of what you need to know about TBTN 2017!