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Imprints creates space for open discussion of survivor experiences

Please be advised: this article contains discussion of sexual violence.

The third annual Imprints Project drew students, staff and faculty members to the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center on the afternoon of Monday, April 29. Imprints features a series of survivor-support projects completed throughout Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The project, led by the pilot student group Consent Peer Educators, primarily aims to provide a space for survivors to find community and share how sexual violence has left an imprint on their lives.

Over the course of the past week, the group invited survivors to leave a handprint on a canvas, which was then displayed alongside survivor support cards at Monday’s event.

With the artworks as a backdrop, survivors and supporters shared their experiences with sexual violence.

Survivors’ left handprints on a blank canvas to signify solidarity on campus as part of the third annual Imprints Project. Photo by Kori Suzuki ’21.

Organizers began by reading anonymous responses to the question “how has sexual violence left an imprint on your life?” before opening the floor to give attendees a chance to share their own stories.

For organizer and participant Halley Norman ’19, the project provides a much needed space for solidarity and community among survivors.

“I think there’s a need for… space on campus that acknowledges the experiences of survivors and acknowledges the existence of sexual violence on campus, and the fact that people do experience and have experienced sexual violence,” Norman said.

Sierra Campbell ’21 echoed Norman’s sentiments.

“I think survivors on campus feel very disenfranchised and separated,” Campbell said. “Obviously there are a lot of survivors on campus but there’s not really a space for them to come together and show support for each other and be together in solidarity.”

In addition to fostering community, the project also intends to raise awareness around the pervasiveness of sexual violence.

“I just want people to be more aware of how many survivors exist,” Campbell said. “A lot of the stories people have shared with us are very intimate and vulnerable, and the fact that people walk around all day carrying this trauma and carrying these stories… that really impacts your everyday life. I just want people to realize that that exists and to be more aware of that.”

“If you don’t ever experience it and you don’t actually see it happen to someone, and particularly to someone you know, it’s easy to imagine that it doesn’t happen, or… that it could never be happening to the people in your life,” Norman said.

The same concerns inspired Clara von Dohlen ’18 to help organize the first Imprints Project in 2017.

“I wanted to make changes on campus because I was really frustrated with the rape culture, and the way that people responded to survivors was like we had some kind of disease, and I was really really sick of it,” von Dohlen said.

Von Dohlen said that as a survivor, finding community through Imprints was cathartic.

“It was just such a release to be in this atmosphere of people who think you’re brave and people who believe you and people who understand that sort of unspeakable trauma that just makes you feel like an alien around all these people who seem so far away from you,” von Dohlen said.

Campbell said that participating in and planning Imprints has been a positive experience for them as well.

“As a survivor, being able to provide that kind of solidarity for other people… it’s been really healing,” they said. “I know that for my community of survivors, being able to participate in something like this that makes them feel supported has been healing.”

Campbell emphasized the importance of having this kind of support in college.

“College is a time where I’ve seen a lot of people realize that they’ve experienced sexual violence earlier in their life and they had no idea about that,” Campbell said. “I hope [Imprints] can provide some sort of processing.”

Norman sees the positive impacts of the project among her friends, too.

“I’m not a survivor myself but a lot of my close friends are,” Norman said. “It might be easier [for me] to do this work sometimes because I don’t have the same risk of re-experiencing any trauma.

“It’s been so important for friends of mine and I want to be able to be a part of creating it and making sure it happens so they can continue having that space even if they don’t feel able to plan that space [themselves],” Norman said.

Planning the event this year turned out to be a bit more complicated than in previous years. Sexual Violence Prevention Program Coordinator and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Laura Linder-Scholer, who left her position in January, used to help organize the project. The college has yet to hire her replacement.

This year, then, students had to take on the organization of the project themselves.

Campbell, who is part of a sexual violence prevention working group on campus, said that they and a few other Consent Peer Educators attended a meeting with the Office of Title IX, Bias and Harassment to plan events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month and weren’t satisfied with the options suggested by the office.

“The programming that was presented to us when we went to the first meeting was not survivor-centered,” Campbell said. “There wasn’t a lot of time to come up with new programming, and we were like, ‘[Imprints] is an annual event that has seemed to foster positive community before so we’ll do this again.’”

Between Linder-Scholer leaving, graffiti expressing support for survivors on campus buildings on the first of the month, a 30-page report on issues in student-Title IX relations submitted to President Brian Rosenberg on April 12 and Timothy Dunn’s departure announced April 25, the organizers said that this could be a particularly stressful time for survivors on campus.

“All these conversations need to be happening, we need to be talking about the failures of Title IX to make survivors feel safe, but also it’s bringing up trauma for a lot of people,” Campbell said. “I think it just makes this space for healing and processing and solidarity so much more important.”

Campbell and Norman both stressed the importance of survivor-centered conversations.

“I feel like so many conversations around sexual violence end up being what’s wrong and what in the systems around us… is allowing this to keep happening to people, and it by all means needs to be happening,” Norman said. “Ignoring it is not ever gonna fix it, but it can be more positive, I think.”

“That’s important, but it’s not healing,” Campbell added.

Overall, the organizers hope that the Imprints Project can provide students with a little bit of that positivity.

“I think in light of everything [on campus]… and in light of the broader world, I think it is so easy to get wrapped up in darkness, as cliche as that sounds,” Norman said.

“I think this is an opportunity to bring all of that into the light, both in the sense of, look, this is actually real, this is actually happening to people everywhere, but also in the sense of, it doesn’t all have to be just looking at the problems all the time.”

May 2, 2019

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