Since it’s Friday and all, I’d like to serve up some seriously inspiring campus activism in the form of Stephanie Tanny’s incredible keynote speech from the Campus Progress National Conference. Stephanie is a social justice activist and a survivor of sexual assault who, in her words, transformed her truth into power. As a result of her efforts, over $180,000 will be allocated to sexual violence education and support services for survivors on her campus. Stephanie speaks eloquently about the ways in which sexual and gender violence intersect with other movements and forms of oppression. I can say with certainty that her words will fill you up with awe and inspiration. I’ve also transcribed her speech below.
Good afternoon. Two years ago, around my 22nd birthday, I was sexually assaulted by three men of color whom I had known through my work on social justice and race issues. I did not want to report anything at the time, but when my university found out, they had me go through three mediation meetings with these men. All in one day, my perpetrators told me things like how I was wasting their time and ruining their reputations. That was absolutely the most traumatizing day of my life. My name is Stephanie Tanny and this is my truth. In order to turn truth to power, we must first start with our own truth in our own story. Truth: when I was first sexually assaulted I did not quite understand what had happened to me. I just knew that I had been taken advantage of, that someone I trusted used their power over me and took away my control. Unfortunately, truth, my story is not unique. 95% of perpetrators on college campuses know their victims. Truth: I felt protective of these mens’ identities. I went through school with an extremely small number of students of color, and I hate how men of color have such a bad rap. However, truth, sexual violence is an issue that affects all identities and all communities with the majority of these crimes committed by a small amount of people, mostly male-identified. And truth, did you know, according to multiple studies, including the U.S. Department of Justice, that 1 in 4 college women and 1 in 17 men will experience an attempted or completed sexual assault? Yes, that’s right, 1 in 4. That means that at least one, or even two of the women sitting at your table are survivors of sexual assault. In fact, truth, women of color and trans women of color are some of the most directly affected identities and encounter more barriers, quantitatively and qualitatively, when addressing the issue.
How did I turn this truth into power? I put together a taskforce; I interviewed and sought out the truth from other people who had attempted to report being stalked, harassed, and raped. We conducted research and presented our report of over 70 pages to university staff, professors, and the student body. This past April, 2011, we were able to pass a bill that will allocate over $180,000 toward education and support services for survivors of sexual violence on our campus.
I speak my truth here with you today because that is the only way we will ever move forward. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted or violated, remember that it is never their fault. It is never your fault. And you do not need to push aside this issue or other acts of misogyny for the sake of any movement: immigration, education, foreign policy, labor, racism. Every issue intersects with one another, and no matter who you are, whether you identify as a woman, transgender, especially as a man, you can always take a stand against gender violence. You can stop your friends if you see them