In the past few years, it has been easy to get disillusioned by activism. For every editorial we write praising the action of protesters, the tangible reform enacted afterward seems limited. So much activism is alive in Berkeley, but for every two new rallies on Sproul, another protest fades. Numerous movements have been driven by anger, dissent and frustration at institutions and leaders, and many have collapsed under the weight of their own goals or due to conflicts with students’ schedules. And yet today we witness the movement against sexual assault still standing tall by setting a strong dialogue and showing the power student voices still hold.
In the pursuit to raise the attention surrounding sexual assault, the increase in reporting on sexual assault cases has been helpful; changes to the manner in which police publish alerts to the public have been helpful; the affirmative consent law Gov. Jerry Brown signed has been helpful. But the student-led social movement that swept the nation entirely changed the discourse surrounding sexual assault, embedding the notion that conversations about sexual assault should be part of our everyday lives, from our classrooms to our social media feeds. Students spread awareness by sharing real stories, offering support to victims and expressing their outrage regarding yet another sexual assault case on campus grounds.
Sexual assault happens far too often to too many people. When it is simply viewed as an end-of-the-year statistic, lost in a list of other crimes, it is easy to brush off. But when our lives are rife with stories on sexual assault, we become aware of the tangible effect these crimes have on our friends, classmates and co-workers. We change the focus from addressing victims to addressing survivors. We set the dialogue for how we want to talk about sexual assault.
This specific movement is continuous: It does not end with the codifying of a law or institutional changes. It is not simply a reactionary movement that expresses anger and dissent about an administrative or governmental decision. It will roll on until the statistics of sexual assault and violence dwindle, until an actual societal change is achieved.
This movement is hopeful: It hasn’t solved the culture of sexual assault, but it has garnered enough momentum and accumulated enough power to make change possible. It is empowering because students are at the forefront of action. This is where students have made their voices heard. They pushed, rallied and fought, and when they achieved changes and saw improvements, they pushed even more. Their relentlessness is inspiring. They are spreading awareness. They are taking steps that incite change. They are part of the solution.