By Elizabeth Zakaim
Colorful, hand-written letters decorated boards in the Library Atrium all week long in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The event, Love Letters to Survivors, was sponsored by the College’s Anti-Violence Initiatives (AVI).
According to AVI’s online mission statement, the program “leads the campus effort to address issues of sexual assault, domestic/dating violence, and stalking. (It) works with community partners to create a campus environment that is intolerant of abuse and responsive to needs of victims/survivors.”
The letters were showcased for all students to examine and read over, whether or not they had been personally impacted by sexual assault.
“They are put on display in the Library Atrium for the campus community to read and learn more about how to support survivors,” AVI Coordinator Michelle Gervasi said. “Love Letters to Survivors is a call to survivors of sexual assault, their loved ones and TCNJ community members to publicly celebrate survivorship and create an environment of support.”
Gervasi works hard to educate students of the College on sexual assault, consent and bystander intervention. She also provides counseling and other support services for survivors.
According to Gervasi, the placement of the letters on the first floor of the library was intentional. She hopes that the display will spark a dialogue about the issue of sexual assault on college campuses.
“The best way to spread awareness about power-based personal violence and prevention is to talk about it. We want to raise the visibility of the issue by having intentional conversations with students, faculty and staff,” Gervasi said, hoping the art display would leave a lasting impact on the College community. “Let others know that addressing violence matters to you. Tell those impacted by power-based personal violence that you believe them and that you’re here for them.”
Students studying in the library or passing through on their way to class could take a moment to admire and read the letters. Many responded with positive feedback.
“The letters are really nice,” senior biology major Syndi Barish said. “(They) illustrate the prevalence of sexual assault and that the victims are not just victims.”
Instead, the event referred to “victims” as “survivors” in an effort to empower those affected by sexual assault.
“I think the letters are extremely heartfelt and bring attention to a serious issue,” sophomore English major Alexa Zupko said. “I definitely believe that it helped (raise) awareness due to its position in the library and the colorful letters. There is no way to ignore the display board and thus, there is no way to ignore this ever-growing problem on college campuses around the United States.”
Zupko said she was proud of the College’s efforts to spread awareness of sexual assault on campuses. By showing support for sexual assault survivors, she hopes her peers will feel more comfortable speaking out and sharing their stories.
“The majority of campus assaults go unreported,” Zupko said. “So I think that victims who are unable to report their assaults due to the fear of being shamed or of not being believed will feel brave and gain the strength to take action if they want to.”