RSVP sponsors Speakout against sexual and domestic violence

By Molly Schranz

The seventh annual University of Chicago Speakout Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence is being held today in Ida Noyes. The Speakout marks the beginning of Awareness Week, a week of activities sponsored by the University’s Resources for Sexual Violence and Prevention (RSVP) and Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, which aims to raise awareness and show support for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.

“It’s really powerful when we are able to speak about the truth,” said Dr. Rahul Sharma, director of RSVP, about the Speakout. “You are able to feel in the room an aura of support.”

“There is a lot of receptiveness in the room. The tone of that room is very powerful because of the sharing. It’s not an academic or intellectual thing. It’s just people sharing their stories,” she said.

The event is for anybody in the University community who wants to either talk about their experiences or to come to show support for victims in a safe environment.

“We have a whole set of agreements, you can call them ground rules, one of which is confidentiality. Anybody who comes to the room–whatever is shared by them stays in the room,” Sharma said.

Two microphones will be set up at the event, one for people who want to keep their stories confidential, the other for people who want to share their stories with the public.

“We come together and create an atmosphere of safety, trust, and support,” Sharma explained.

The Speakout remains mostly unchanged since it was started seven years ago by a graduate student and Reverend Alison Boden of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

“We knew that in other universities there was a tradition of having a speakout and that it promoted healing and support,” Boden said of the Speakout’s origins. “We want to have it be simple and have an open mike for survivors of violence, for them to be heard honestly.”

Although the event is open to the public it is mostly attended by members of the University community, particularly undergraduates who want to talk about dating violence.

“A lot of the problem of dating violence poses a special challenge on campuses in general. There might be an element of shock as well as being cut off from friends,” Sharma said.

The event also focuses on domestic violence and RSVP has made special efforts this year to reach out to graduate students. As in previous years RSVP has set up canvas boards around campus along with purple ribbons that survivors of sexual and domestic violence can pin up on the board.

The ribbons are meant to symbolize the enormity of the problems of sexual assault and domestic violence. Students can also pin up a ribbon to show their support for the victims.

This year RSVP has added a canvas board at the Law School. Ribbons stations will also be set up in the Regenstein Library lobby, the first floor of the Renoylds Club, and the Swift Hall foyer.

In addition to RSVP and Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, the Speakout and Week of Awareness are sponsored by a variety of student groups and administrative offices including the Office of Minority Student Affairs, the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Affairs, the University Community Service Center, Student Counseling Resource Service, Safe Space, Feminist Majority, and Survivors’ Advocates.