At our first ABCs of the summer, the alternative break experience was focused around Sexual Violence Prevention and Response. Throughout the week, we partnered with several different organizations in the Atlanta area, including Georgia Tech’s VOICE and local nonprofits like Atlanta Women for Equality, NAESM, and Defined with Purpose.
The framework for the week was centered around the need to unlearn dominant narratives surrounding sexual violence. Dominant narratives are stories told by dominant culture; ideas held by the majority of society that inform what is viewed as acceptable and/or normal. The first step in unlearning is to recognize that these narratives have been unconsciously learned by everyone in our society, and require continuous effort to be consciously unlearned.
We all have an immense amount of unlearning to do. Sexual violence is commonly thought of as interpersonal and a “woman’s issue,” but at the Atlanta conference, we pushed ourselves to deconstruct this issue further by looking at how violence exists at the systemic level and affects people of all gender identities.
One of our Community Agreements for the week was “We need each other to end violence. No one is disposable.” The responsibility to end sexual violence doesn’t lie solely with “people who do harm.” In fact, people aren’t inherently harmful - our society perpetuates violence which, in turn, affects individual attitudes and behaviors. While perpetrators have an important role in ending violence, so do survivors, bystanders, and community members. We challenged ourselves to broaden the traditional understanding of “justice” and recognize means beyond solely focusing on putting perpetrators behind bars or removing them from campuses.
The crux of the week was transformative justice, the goals of which are to 1) support survivors, 2) hold perpetrators accountable, 3) increase community responsibility, and 4) transform systems of oppression that perpetuate violence.
We worked alongside organizations whose missions align with these goals and participants broadened their understanding of prevention, safety, and justice on their campuses and local communities. Together, we practiced unlearning dominant ideologies. Together, we worked toward transforming our culture into one of compassion, accountability, and nurturance. Together, we attempted to discover an end to the epidemic of violence. Unified, we left the week stronger and ready to share our experience with others.