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UW-Eau Claire joins the #MeToo movement with photo campaign and new organization

February 15, 2018

“Me too.”

When put together, these two words have been used to create a national movement regarding sexual assault.

The phrase trended on Twitter for weeks at the end of 2017 and helped broaden the conversation about the culture of sexual assault, especially in athletics and the workplace. 

Jessica Short (far left) a sexual assault survivor involved in both the #MeToo photo campaign and the new SASAS organization, Kallie Friede (middle) a GSRC graduate assistant and organizer of the photo campaign, and a university photographer look at the different photo options for the campaign. © 2018 Nicole Bellford

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus is no exception to the movement and will participate in a #MeToo photo campaign, while a pair of students launched an organization this semester to advocate for sexual assault survivors.

Creating the #MeToo photo campaign

The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) will present a #MeToo photo campaign at the university’s Fireball drag show Feb. 23-24. 

Kallie Friede, a graduate assistant for UW-Eau Claire’s GSRC, put together the photo campaign after being inspired by Time Magazine’s “The Silence Breakers” issue, which acknowledged woman who spoke out against sexual assault and harassment.

Friede encouraged  survivors on campus to share as much or as little as they want in a 150-200 word statement. Those who choose to sign their name took a portrait style picture to be displayed alongside their stories in poster format at the annual Fireball event.

Friede was assaulted in her first-year of college and had trouble sharing her story to others, but she said she’s hopeful that the photo campaign will help others find closure and support. She said the process of sharing experiences and stories about sexual abuse can bring others together and promote a sense of recovery.

“I think it can be really cathartic and healing to have a space and a platform to share those experiences,” Friede said, “but also making sure that happens in a way that feels comfortable for people who chose to participate.”

The LGBTQIA+ community has an increased chance of suffering from sexual abuse, which is why Friede said it was important for GSRC to host an event related to the #MeToo movement.

“When you have that many people in a space, there is power in that,” Friede said. “We can create that sense of community.”  

In terms of the #MeToo movement as a whole, Friede said she is happy to see the nation participating in a conversation about sexual abuse that has been long overdue.

“I think it’s really cool to be alive and to watch this reckoning happen,” Friede said. “It makes us ask what we can do to break down those barriers for people, so that we don’t live in a culture where harassment is pervasive and normalized in so many ways.”

The photo campaign posters will be available for viewing solely at the Fireball event and will not be posted online, Friede said, to respect the privacy of survivors.

New survivor support organization

Organizing against sexual assault doesn’t end there. A new organization launched on campus this semester called Student Advocates for Sexual Assault Survivors (SASAS) has dedicated itself to supporting survivors, educating the community on sexual violence and helping to find solutions.

SASAS co-founders Grace James and Taylor Limberg, both juniors at Eau Claire, spent semesters planning and coordinating the launch of their new organization.

James, a criminal justice student and president of the organization, said she and Limberg created the event in response to the university’s limited existing resources for sexual assault survivors.The co-founders then created a Facebook group for the organization, which currently has 28 members.

James experienced sexual assault while in a high school relationship. At the time she said it was difficult to realize what was happening. It wasn’t until she attended a skit about consent during her first year on campus that she was able to come to terms with her experience.

“It felt way too familiar,” James said. “It was like my life was being played out on stage.”

As a whole, James said she finds value in movements such as ‘Me Too’ and being open about sexual assault experiences.

“When we think of victims and survivors we think of people who are detached from us,” James said, “whereas ‘Me Too’ makes the point of saying ‘this is your family, your friends, your sisters.’”

Limberg, an environmental geography student, was assaulted in the fall of her first-year on campus. She said she wishes an organization like her own had existed at the time to help her through the aftermath of her experience.

Moving forward, Limberg said she hopes SASAS will promote a sense of togetherness in the movement.

“The biggest fear for many is feeling like they will be judged on the situation and not being believed,” Limberg said. “When we all come together and offer support to one another, we are able to channel our negative experiences and start a movement of our own.”

SASAS meets at 7 p.m. every other Thursday in the Davies Student Center.

The Making of the Movement

The MeToo movement did not start with hashtags in 2017. Civil rights activist Tarana Burke launched the campaign more than a decade ago after hearing a 13-year-old girl share her story of sexual abuse.

the New York Times, the survivor’s story left Burke at a loss for words in 1997. In 2006 she created the nonprofit known as Just Be Inc., aimed at providing victims of sexual assault the resources to heal. Burke officially gave the movement the title of “Me Too,” encouraging others to speak up and share their story.

“For too long, survivors of sexual assault and harassment have been in the shadows,” Burke said in a press release “We have been afraid to speak up, to say ‘Me Too’ and seek accountability. For many, the consequences of doing so have been devastating.”

In 2017, Burke’s movement made headlines as actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet that started a nationwide social media trend. In the midst of sexual assault allegations against Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, Milano posted a screenshot and accompanying text, urging survivors to step forward and showcase the prevalence of sexual abuse across the nation.

“Me too,” Milano’s screenshot post said. “Suggested by a friend: ‘If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me Too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

“If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” Milano posted alongside the screenshot.

By the following morning, The Guardian reported that Milano’s tweet had nearly 60,000 replies, with #MeToo being the No. 1 hashtag on Twitter. Since Milano’s post, the hashtag has been used in 85 different countries on Twitter and has been posted over 100 million times on Facebook.

Looking at the impact

Jessica Short, a junior microbiology student, is featured in the #MeToo photo campaign and a new member of the SASAS organization.

While attending a university in Texas in her first year of college, nearly 2,000 miles from home, Short experienced sexual abuse from someone she thought of as her friend. The semester following her assault, Short transferred to UW-Eau Claire. She kept her experience to herself until she found out about the chance to participate in the #MeToo campaign. 

The #MeToo photo campaign, taking place in poster format at Fireball, is modeled after Time Magazine’s “The Silence Breakers.” © 2018 Nicole Bellford

“I was extremely nervous,” Short said. “This was something I had kept very private up until now. Even some of my closest friends didn’t know the whole story. It was a humbling experience to be surrounded by others with similar stories.”

Aside from involvement in the photo campaign, Short said her decision to join SASAS centers around activism.

“I wanted to do everything in my power to help others like me and to educate survivors,” Short said. “I also hope to raise awareness and develop prevention campaigns on our campus as well as our community to make it safer for everyone.”

Overall, Short said she is proud to attend a university that is willing to engage in the movement.

“That is part of the reason I think this project will be so powerful,” Short said. “It’s UW-Eau Claire students coming forward and saying ‘Me Too,’ along with so many other people across the nation. It allows for a more focused effort in our community.”

A version of this story was originally published in The Spectator.

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