A culture change ‘is in the air’

Based on anonymous reports from surveys sampling thousands of college students, one in four college women report being rape or experiencing attempted rape in their lifetime, according to oneinfourusa.org.

“[Rape] is a direct symptom of a culture that aims to make its men violent and its women objects,” sophomore Emma Boel said. “As UVM students, we all need to work together to unlearn and rewrite this narrative.” The UVM Women’s Center sponsored the 10th annual Dismantling Rape Culture Conference April 9 in the Davis Center.

“UVM is an institution that resides inside of a patriarchal society, and rape culture exists here like it exists in the rest of America,” Boel said. “There are students on this campus who rape other students. There are survivors who find themselves silenced and ignored. It happens here,” she said.

Sophomore Dakota Raleigh had similar thoughts.

“As much as we like to think sexual assualt doesn’t happen at UVM, it does,” she said. “Part of changing that is changing our social culture that endorses it.”

The all-day conference was planned by a committee of 10 individuals, including UVM students and faculty and people from the Burlington community. There were also 30 volunteers who were primarily students, said Sarah Warrington, director of the UVM Women’s Center. “It’s nice to have a community of like-minded folks who get it and that this community even exists here,” Warrington said.  “That can lead to change.”

The conference started with Vice Provost of Student Affairs Annie Stevens, welcoming an audience of over 600 people, including college students, community members and out-of-staters. “Culture change is in the air,” Stevens said. “It is simply the right thing to do.”

Senior Sarah Richardson said she attended the conference for the first time this year. “I am so grateful that I was able to go,” Richardson said. “This is an issue that I am very passionate about,” she said.  “I think it is so important to be a part of conversations about sexual violence, domestic violence and unhealthy relationships.”

Featured speakers at the event included Sandra Kim and Stephanie Gilmore, according to  the UVM Women’s Center website. Kim is the CEO and co-publisher of Everyday Feminism, “one of the largest independent feminist media sites in the world,” according to the Women’s Center website. Gilmore is a writer, activist, publication editor and educator, according to the website.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of people, especially students who were at the conference,” senior Dylan Letendre said. “I think it shows that we are really starting to have conversations about rape culture on campus,” Lentendre said.

Participants could attend several workshop sessions throughout the day. Sessions offered included, “Recognizing and Rejecting Rape Culture,” “Supporting Male Survivors,” “ “Making Self-Care for Sustainable Activism the Norm,” and “Activism from Scratch: Changing Campus Rape Culture with Limited Resources.”

In reflection on the day, Warrington said, “There’s this sense that I’m not alone with wanting to have these conversations and recognizing that these conversations are valuable.”

To find more events combating sexual assault, community members can go to the “It’s On US UVM” Facebook page for a list of events during the month of April, the Sexual Assault Awareness Month.