It’s time to break the silence. Let’s talk about sexual violence. Because my narrative as an Indian womxn matters. Because my narrative is simply one narrative, and there are so many more.
With the increase of campus sexual violence, UC Berkeley’s administration has been pathetically silent about the issue that affects so many students. Last year, UC President Napolitano and Chancellor Dirks hosted a Sexual Assault Conference in response to students’ demands for administrative accountability. The conference was held on a Tuesday and Wednesday night at the DoubleTree Hilton near Berkeley Marina. It was completely inaccessible, and students had to even buy tickets to attend.
Frustrated at the administration’s blatant disregard for survivor support, I ran for ASUC Senate last year with the platform of hosting a free conference for students and by students. This year, my office has been laboriously working to make this event happen.
The conference will take place March 5 and March 6 on campus. The entire conference will be free and open to all identities because learning and healing should not come at a cost. The purpose of this conference is not just to provide a space to talk about sexual violence — though this is important — but also to change the conversation and the way we talk about sexual violence.
All too often, the dialogue around sexual violence presents a single narrative, such as a womxn being attacked in a dark alley. This definitely happens, but it is also important to address all the other forms of sexual violence that students experience. Sexual violence takes place anywhere from on campus or at a fraternity party to in the residence halls. Response to sexual violence on campus often consists of preventative measures that students should take, such as prohibiting hard alcohol or calling BearWalk. Though it is important for students to be aware of resources on campus, the problem is that it places accountability on students. Instead of teaching students how to avoid sexual violence, it is important that we hold campus culture accountable. The burden of avoiding this often falls on students, and the responsibility and blame often falls on survivors.
We need to change the conversation. The conversation not only places the blame on survivors but also only presents a singular narrative of survivors. Our identities and communities navigate sexual violence in intersecting ways, and it is impossible to separate our intersections from our experiences.
As a South Asian womxn, talking about sexual violence is a very difficult task. Talking about sexual violence is taboo in my community, so as a result, there is a lot of silence regarding the issue. My identities as a South Asian womxn and as a student are directly tied to the way I understand the issue. I have felt a lack of spaces on campus that allow me to deconstruct sexual violence in regards to my identity. I am grateful for the work of other student leaders but have always felt a piece of my experience has been untouched and unheard.
The conference aims to allow students to deconstruct sexual violence and how their intersections relate to their experiences. Because every community on campus has different needs, our conference team has organized a series of workshops and caucuses for Saturday that are community- and identity-specific. Students will be able to choose from various workshops and caucuses throughout the day so they can attend the spaces that best fit their needs and experiences. Our conference team is dedicated to creating a safe, inclusive and comfortable space in which students feel they can delve deeper into their experiences, while engaging in collective healing. Some of the spaces that will be available Saturday will be Black Students Caucus, South Asian Students Caucus, Womxn of Color Caucus, Queer Students Caucus, Trans-Identifying Caucus, Greek Workshop, Mental Health Workshop, Latinx Caucus and many more!
After the day of workshops and caucuses Saturday, students will be able to attend a day of healing Sunday. Sunday consists of a less structured schedule, with an emphasis on healing through decolonized yoga, chai&coloring, reflections and art. We hope that students will come out to both days of the conference, as both dialogue and healing are necessary components in changing the conversation about sexual violence.
Our team is excited to present the first ever student led sexual violence conference at UC Berkeley, and we hope to have as many voices engaged as possible. While I believe the conference is an important step in bringing a space for dialogue and healing, the conversation definitely does not stop here. I hope students will walk away with a platform to continue engaging their communities in this discussion and working to hold campus culture accountable. Campus culture is not conducive to survivor support or a culture of consent. How can the university empower students with knowledge when survivors feel so powerless on campus? How can survivors engage in healing when they are so often carrying the weight of activism? How can students of color, folx with (dis)abillities, trans folx and other identities on campus feel supported by a singular narrative?
These are questions that the conference will aim to bring to the forefront of the conversation. Because the administration has not been tackling the issue, it is time for students to break the silence and talk about silence. Come #ChangetheConversation with us this weekend!
I want to note that this article does not speak for all survivors or claim to represent any specific narrative other than my own.