By Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
At noon on Monday, Sewanee students and faculty gathered on the University Quad in solidarity with sexual assault survivors, especially those who are not believed or whose cases are quickly dismissed. Sparked by the recent sexual misconduct allegations by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, participants in the national walkout were encouraged to wear black and post their photos to social media with the hashtag #BelieveSurvivors.
Lala Hilizah (C’21) and Eunice Muchemi (C’19) spoke before the assembled crowd shortly after noon. Hilizah, a co-director of Bacchus and a resident of the Community Engagement House, gave an overview of the services that Bacchus provides students, and stated that their purposes are twofold.
“We are here to ensure that drunk driving does not happen on campus, and we are also here to watch out for the safety of our students,” she said. “I am here on behalf of the organization to say that we stand with women who have come out with allegations of sexual assault.”
Muchemi is the co-director of the Bairnwick Women’s Center, affectionately known as the Wick, with Chandler Davenport (C’19). Addressing the issue of social media activism, she stated that in this case it was important to take a photo and implement the hashtag, because “that way [we] will connect survivors in different places so that people will know that they have support as far as a mountain in Sewanee.”
After their brief speeches, Hilizah asked the crowd to get into small groups of five to discuss their thoughts on the issue at hand and how Sewanee as a community can combat the issue. The conversations lasted for about five to 10 minutes.
Hilizah and Muchemi then led everyone in a moment of silence, after which a photo was taken and the walkout concluded.
Muchemi urged everyone gathered to not let the conversations end here but to bring them “into your classes, your curriculum, to conversations in McClurg” so that the next person who reports sexual assault will not feel that their only option is to leave Sewanee.
“We recognize that efforts are being made, but if we as a community do not support the survivors, then we reshape that narrative,” she said. “How are we fighting this power? Where are the balances in the scales of justice if Kavanaugh wins in the Supreme Court? How do we show support, even in our own community, to the people who report? How do we provide those spaces for them where they feel their voices are heard?”
Muchemi concluded: “We wanted people to come together to start thinking about this, to talk about this. How can we do it in our classes; how can we do it in our organizations, in our chapel, and in other places where we find ourselves in a position of power? How do we use our power to support survivors and to believe survivors?”