Pritzker students show their support for survivors of sexual assault

by Maria Mihailescu, MS1

In the final months of 2017, social media erupted with thousands of women opening up about their experiences with sexual assault in response to the multitude of high-profile celebrities that have come out about their experiences with sexual violence. The #MeToo movement has unveiled the magnitude of sexual violence that has persisted for generations in our society. The phrase has been long used by activists to remind survivors that they do not stand alone.

The publicity received by #MeToo has prompted national dialogue surrounding these issues. The University of Chicago’s Committee on Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention (SAAP) hosted a photo opportunity to give students a chance to collectively voice their support for survivors. The student government-run committee is chaired by MS1 Maria Mihailescu and engages leadership from Pritzker students Emily Papazian, MS1 and Nick Lyon, MS2.

Hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students participated in the week-long photo campaign, including over 70 Pritzker students and faculty members. The theme, #NotJustHollywood, served to remind us that while the majority of survivors’ stories are seldom heard, their voices and experiences are equally as valid as those published and politicized. Participants had the opportunity to write their own messages on behalf of the cause, and Pritzker students creatively expressed their support.

Students Hans Strobl, Chris DaSilva, Stefan Breitling, Donald Rodriguez, Cyrus Alavi, and Max Hemmrich
Students Hans Strobl, Chris DaSilva, Stefan Breitling, Tamari Miller, Cyrus Alavi, and Max Hemmrich

A multitude of messages conveyed the importance of using our voices to collectively defeat rape culture for future generations. “I fear for my daughter when I think about the world she will soon have to learn to navigate,” shared MS1 Ijezie Ikwuezunma. “I know grown men would cry having to endure what women face on a daily basis. We must call out acts of sexism and vulgarity and persist to prevent them.” He reminds us that by actively opposing sexual assault, we work to prevent its recurrence. Stefan Breitling, MS4, added, “It is important that men recognize the toxicity of this masculine culture and work together to defeat it; it’s time we all become better feminists”

Other students expressed the importance of preventing sexual violence by challenging the commonplace meaning of consent. “The conversation needs to shift away from the single ‘yes or no’ dialogue and more towards the active and continuous process in which consent is reinforced through body language, social cues, and non-verbal communication,” said MS1 Kavia Khosla. “This is something both parties and all genders need to converse about.”

M1s Sarah Heimberger, Tess Allan, and Anase Asom, and Maya Krasnow
MS1s Sarah Heimberger, Tess Allan, Anase Asom, and Maya Krasnow

While the #MeToo movement has raised national awareness around sexual violence, students agree we must keep the ball rolling and continue progressing towards a safer future. MS1 Gena Lenti is confident that women will hold this momentum and said, “Sometimes we’re drawn to believe that ‘strong women’ are those that ‘keep up with the guys.’ We must come together to eliminate such thinking and empower one another to overcome the inequalities we face.”

 Nichole Smith and Madison Wilson
MS1s Nichole Smith and Madison Wilson

Pritzker students continue to actively fight for women’s rights. Students leading Doctors for America, a student organization dedicated to social justice, rallied on January 20 alongside 300,000 others in the second annual Women’s March of Chicago. Future plans include continued collaboration with SAAP and upcoming events in April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Special thanks to undergraduates Kosarachi Achife, Jacqueline Cheng, John Schultz, and Zoe Dove for their outstanding efforts in organizing January’s photo opportunity.