By Melissa Greco Lopes
With bright blue t-shirts reading Stop. Ask. Clarify., organizers of the conference Survivor to Thriver: Confronting Sexual Assault on Campus spread a message of support and empowerment for survivors of sexual assault and gender violence. The conference, held on Tuesday, April 2, and Wednesday, April 3, gave participants the opportunity to hold difficult but critical conversations about sexual assault. More than 80 University of Rochester students, faculty, staff, and community members came together during the conference, which included a series of lectures, workshops, and panel discussions.
Catherine Cerulli, director of the University’s Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership, one of the sponsoring organizations, said one purpose of the conference was to demystify the process survivors go through after an assault. “It’s important that they are making decisions based on knowledge and not on fear,” she said. Cerulli noted that discussing the many services in the community designed to help survivors can encourage them to reach out and break their silence.
On Tuesday evening, more than 40 participants attended a screening of the film Not My Life, which kicked off the conference. Narrated by Glenn Close, the film depicts the scourge of human trafficking on a global scale, taking viewers into a world where millions of children are exploited through practices including forced labor, sex tourism, and child soldiering.
University President Joel Seligman began Wednesday’s daylong series of events by offering remarks about the importance of combatting sexual violence, an area he said is of “fundamental importance” to the campus community. After expressing his gratitude to those who organized and supported the conference, Seligman said, “As a former law school dean who supported domestic violence clinics at two different law schools, I have been exposed first hand to the horror of sexual violence. I join those in our community who wish to take all appropriate steps to prevent sexual assault.”
During the conference’s keynote address, former Division III student-athlete Maggie Maloy shared her personal story of recovery after an assault. As Maloy recounted her attack, which occurred when she was 15 years old, she interwove stories of her healing process, turning what was “without question the most terrifying time” of her life into an inspiring story of empowerment, forgiveness, and advocacy. During her presentation, which she has delivered on college campuses around the country, she told audience members of the importance of taking control of how you respond to moments of trauma. “You have to pull strength from within,” she said. “You have to acknowledge what’s happened, but focus on what you can empower.”
A panel discussion followed the keynote address, which included representatives from University Security, University Counseling Center, Rape Crisis Service, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Services, and the District Attorney’s Office. Panelists helped demystify the process by walking audience members through the many steps survivors can take after an assault, including medical examinations, interviews with law enforcement officials, and discussions with rape crisis counselors.
Activities moved to Wilson Commons in the afternoon, where attendees had the opportunity to view posters featuring ongoing efforts to prevent and respond to gender violence, while community and campus organizations shared information about their services in “Caring Circles.” Participants also had the chance to speak one-on-one with Maloy and panelists from the morning session. Two lectures delivered by English Professor David Bleich and Rev. Dr. C. Denise Yarbrough, director of Religious and Spiritual Life, rounded out the conference program.
The conference was made possible through the financial support of co-sponsors including Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership, University Intercessor, UHS Health Promotion Office, Equal Opportunity Compliance Office, The College, Office of the Dean of Students, Athletics and Recreation, University Health Service, Rochester Center for Community Leadership, Susan B. Anthony Institute, Communal Principles Project (CPP), Greater Rochester Association of Women Attorneys, Graduate Organizing Group (GOG), Women’s Caucus, University of Rochester Pride Network, UR Cinema Group, and Southside Hall Council. Supporters also include Panhellenic Association, Multicultural Greek Council, GlobeMed, Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, University Security, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Services, University Counseling Center, Rape Crisis, Monroe County Sheriff Office, Rochester Police Department, and Sexual Health Advocacy Group (SHAG).
Photos and video courtesy of Brandon Vick and Dawn Wendt, University Communications.