Sexual violence on college campuses has always been a prominent issue, especially at Rutgers. Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that Rutgers ranked eighth highest in the nation for reported sexual assault cases in 2016. To combat this, the Rutgers University Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) has had a huge year, pairing yearly events like the Clothesline Project with prominent guest speakers.
The latest guest lecturer, Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement visited Rutgers to talk about the work she’s done and the work to come.
Representatives from VPVA, Rutgers NO MORE, Rutgers Black Lives Matter and other students spoke prior to Burke’s portion of the evening. Spreading information, inspiration and inciting hope, the Rutgers coalition around combating sexual misconduct came together to stand in solidarity with Burke.
Burke’s story began far before the “Me Too” hashtag blew up and shaped the growing movement against interpersonal violence. Burke, a long time youth worker, found the inspiration for the movement when her experiences speaking to young women led her to found Just Be Inc.
After founding the organization in 2006, Burke continued to work with victims at various nonprofit organizations. She started saying “Me Too” to let those she worked with know they were talking to someone who could relate to their struggle.
In 2017, when actress Alyssa Milano co-opted the term to combat sexual harassment, a whole new light was shed on the work Burke had been doing. In a whirlwind few months, Burke has become a leader in the rising movement against sexual violence. She was included on the Time magazine “Person of The Year” cover, and was recently a guest at the Golden Globes. Through all that, Burke hasn’t let her raised profile distract her from the issues at hand.
“The work of Me Too is about healing, it’s about healing as individuals and as a community,” Burke said.
The Rutgers community has hosted a few more high profile guests in the battle against sexual violence in the past year. Alongside Burke’s visit, former Vice President Joe Biden’s speech in the first semester was another landmark moment for the issue on campus. VPVA also launched campaigns like “Turn the Campus Purple” to raise awareness for the subject.
Aylin Üncü, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, spoke about the impact of the events, and how some of the most important aspects of the programs aren’t the guest speakers.
“I think the fact that we have student speakers talking about their own personal stories is far more effective, and in reality the high profile speakers are affirming what our peers have to say,” Üncü said
Being able to see people who have been affected by sexual violence in the Rutgers community can help expose the culture that allows sexual violence. The personal testimonials in tandem with the guest speakers make the topics discussed hit closer to home.
“Our goal is that you shouldn’t have to feel alone like you’re being questioned and have no one on your side. VPVA can be with someone every step of the way. That’s the biggest thing that we do in terms of providing support to victims,” prevention education coordinator Brady Root said of VPVA’s mission to the Daily Targum.
VPVA, in association with many other University organizations, is doing its part to change the culture here at Rutgers. Students like Üncü are hopeful for the future with the raised awareness of these very important issues.
“In terms of change, there’s definitely more of a discussion, especially with the influence of national media during this time. Rape has actually decreased from a high spike a few years ago. Whether this is causation or correlation is hard to prove, but I think the stage is definitely set for real change,” Üncü said.