Sexual assault is difficult to speak about, especially if it’s a personal story, but for the founder of the #MeToo movement, speaking out gives a new voice to survivors.
Tarana Burke, a social justice activist and the founder of the #MeToo movement, visited Northwest as part of its Distinguished Lecture Series and delivered the 2017-18 James H. Lemon Lecture Oct. 24 in the Mary Linn Auditorium at the Ron Houston Center for the Performing Arts.
The #MeToo campaign emerged as a rally cry for people everywhere who have survived sexual assault and sexual harassment. Burke’s powerful, poignant story as the creator of what is now an international movement that supports survivors has moved, uplifted and inspired audiences.
Burke has dedicated more than 25 years of her life to social justice and laying the groundwork for a movement that was initially created to help young women of color who have survived sexual abuse and assault. The movement now inspires solidarity, amplifies the voices of thousands of sexual abuse victims, and puts the focus back on survivors.
In her lecture, Burke talked about her life growing up in the Bronx and how getting involved with the 21st Century Group helped develop her political prowess.
“When I was 15, there was a case of five young black men who had been falsely accused of raping a white woman in Central Park,” Burke said in the lecture. “It was infuriating to see them being portrayed as the guilty ones when they were being slandered by the media. It was then I asked what I could do, and I was told that I had the power to changes things. So I got together a group of people, and we went and protested outside of the New York Post, and it was the first time I had felt like I could make a change.”
Sophomore and secondary math education major Sarah O’Brien was aware of the #MeToo movement and was happy to support the lecture and the movement.
“I was interested in the topic of the lecture as the #MeToo movement is one close to my heart,” O’Brien said. “It has been important in my life as I have had friends that have gained a lot of support from this movement.”
Senior Ashley Silligman was glad to attend the lecture even though she was required to go for a class.
“Though required to attend for a course, I wanted to participate in going to this lecture to supplement my knowledge in the #MeToo movement and the background of the organization,” Silligman said. “This movement is one of empowerment and helping survivors to not just tell their stories, but to heal from their stories and their gathered support. This movement grew so quickly, and we all have seen its effects in the media via social media, the news, ect.”
Burke went on to talk about how it is up to students to make a commitment for the future and how we can help survivors of sexual violence.
“The challenge I leave for you is stand up and make these uncomfortable conversations more common in this type of environment,” Burke said. “While we have been only talking about it for about a year, it is still up to you as the next generation to stand up for survivors and help them heal from various acts of sexual violence.”
Silligman wants everyone to take this message to heart and work to make things better on campus.
“I hope that the students, faculty and community members left with a greater appreciation for the voices of the voiceless,” Silligman said. “That the voices of the victims and survivors are not there to just tell their story and be quiet, but are there to tell their story and talk about it. To talk. I want people to use their voices and talk about these issues that have been hidden for so long.”
O’Brien had a similar view and also wanted people to have a better understanding of what the #MeToo movement is about.
“I hope people left with a better idea of what the #MeToo movement is about. The goal of the movement is not to entirely fix the problem of sexual assault or even indict assaulters. The goal is to empower victims of sexual assault and help them heal,” O’Brien said. “The goal is to stand in solidarity with those that have been impacted by sexual assault. The goal is to show empathy and help victims of sexual assault begin to feel whole again. This is what we should be focusing on.”