Next Steps: An Exclusive Interview with Organizing For Survivors (O4S)
Voices: Can you talk about your perspective before knowing what the future would hold/why you started this movement?
O4S: (Lydia) I have survived multiple violences over the course of my lifetime. I have witnessed and experienced intimate partner violence, domestic violence and assault consistently throughout my life, and, as a dark-skinned, queer Black femme, recognized early on that my experiences would always differ from those of my lighter-skinned or cis-het or nonblack counterparts. My early experiences taught me that I would be forced to bear the burden of proof if I ever disclosed, that I would hardly ever be believed or affirmed in that process of disclosure, and that I would not be treated tenderly in the aftermath. Starting my sophomore year, I struggled reporting different assaults through Swarthmore’s Title IX office, and was silenced by these same inequalities. I remember going to my first Survivor’s support group and feeling completely out of sync, even though the facilitator was also a black queer woman. White women dominated the space, were most actively listened to, and always received the platform to speak about their experiences in the group and at Orientation and Voices of Healing. I felt that I had no room to talk about how being assaulted by another black queer woman affected me, how my familial history of incarceration and the codes of silence around harm affected me, how I didn’t know if I was harming racial solidarity by choosing to report. By the end of my sophomore year, I was so frustrated and demanded that we create a support group for survivors of color. However, nothing came of this request because the two people who were best equipped to hold this space were already so overwhelmed and burdened by their numerous responsibilities as black administrators at the College. There were also no therapists at CAPS who looked like me or identified similarly. Beginning to understand how my qualms with Title IX were rooted in systemic inequality, I dedicated my Swarthmore experience to trying my hardest to facilitate healing for the most vulnerable people on this campus. I founded O4S with these core values.
(Barbara) In my perspective, what helped to bring us together, is that we [Barbara, Gretchen, Gabriela, and Maya] were separately working on things that were Title IX related that got us thinking. And then Lydia wanted to help out with that, and then Makayla, and then we heard about you guys’ [Morgin and Priya’s] efforts and realized that we had a lot of the same goals and that we were all frustrated and pissed about a lot of different shit. We thought it would be really great to come together, which is how I perceive it.
(Priya) I agree, I think that for me realizing that there were asking the same questions and asking for the same changes, and finding out that those conversations were happening parallel to Morgin’s and my conversations made me realize more clearly that the administrators who I was talking with were not engaging in an honest and genuine way with what we were saying because they were hearing this from a lot of different places and not responding in a meaningful way. That brought me some clarity and made me feel like it was appropriate to do something different than to keep meeting with them in private.
Voices: Turning this movement from being small to a little bigger to a movement of over 130 people, what has it been like collaborating with so many different survivors and allies on this issue? What was the process like?
O4S: (Gabriela) I think it started with Lydia’s article that they published in Voices, and they made an email address organizingforsurvivors[@gmail.com] so that people reading their article who felt like they wanted to add to the conversation or had questions could contact them in a way that didn’t link to their school account. So after seeing the overwhelming response to their article, we decided that we should make it not just us talking about things, but open it up to others on what they wanted to see change. That’s when we held the first community forum, and the day before that Makayla published her second article, and that created a lot of attention of people realizing just how bad things were regarding the Title IX system. Then we had 65 people show up to this first forum, where we were finalizing the demands list and figuring out what people were thinking they wanted.
(Morgin) Personally, not speaking for the group, but for me, this has been super affirming, on one hand, to figure out how many people have had the same experiences. Part of working through administrative channels in a small group is that you think you’re the only one dealing with a lot of it. I assumed I was the only person who had problems with Beth Pitts, until I found out that many people did. I think that pattern has happened to me with a lot of different problems and a lot of different administrators, and I’ve heard that from other people too. But for me just realizing how many of your experiences are actually shared ones, and how many people are willing to put in the energy from stopping these things from happening to other people. The other thing is it’s been extremely challenging and important to hear other people’s perspectives that come from different places, different identities, different sets of experiences both within and outside the school. Even in the brief time we’ve been doing this, I feel like every day I’ve been learning so much more about what the problems are really, and how deep they go, and how far they reach.
(Barbara) And how good this school is at dividing us, which makes me even angrier, just finding out how many people are affected. I don’t think it’s a random coincidence that we didn’t know each other’s bad experiences with Title IX.
(Priya) I would echo what everyone said about this, but I also think that it’s become clear to me that the school is taking advantage of the fact that these cases are very private and personal and it takes a lot of time and coincidence to find people with the same experience because it is so private and personal. I think that, like Barbara said, the fact that we didn’t have the school telling us, “Oh we’ve had students with the same concern” is deliberate and it made this process of us coming together - like we could have come together a year ago - slower. It’s become clear to me that this set of issues makes it really easy for the admin to hide, and I’m really thankful that we finally did find each other.
Voices: You’re all upperclassmen; most are seniors. What are your thoughts on that?
O4S: (Gabriela) It’s really scary, and I’m afraid we’re going to lose momentum, but I’m glad that Annie has started joining the team recently because we need more people who are not upperclassmen, not only because I think it’s good to hear other people’s voices but also because it will help us continue what we’re doing. I just don’t want things to die out, because I feel like Swat has a tendency of that happening, and we talked about this at our meeting, but we have no institutional memory, and I think a part of that is because they wait for people who tend to be activists to graduate and then there’s no one to replace them in the movement when they graduate, so I’m hoping that doesn’t happen now with this.
Voices: What issues have you run into in this movement so far?
O4S: (Lydia) I founded O4S with these core values [Beginning to understand how my qualms with Title IX were rooted in systemic inequality and dedicating my Swarthmore experience to trying my hardest to facilitate healing for the most vulnerable people on this campus], and with a deep commitment to starting a conversation about revolutionizing the values of our administration so that we as an institution might move towards a more transformative foundation. However, over the course of the past few weeks, I felt that my original mission had not only gotten lost, but also drowned out. I recognized that my positionality in the core group was unique, as I am the only survivor of color. I recently found success bringing up this conversation with the core, and advocated for an organizational return to the values I hold.
(AynNichelle) Last semester I did an interview for Lydia’s research that they were doing on trauma and college students, and after that interview, Lydia told me that I was one of the only people who checked off all the boxes when it came to the stuff like gang violence, low income experiences, first gen experiences, health care problems, all kinds of things, and there’s no one survivor’s experience, and Lydia was the first person who helped me understand that and who gave me permission to feel that in all of those ways.
So when I found out that Lydia was doing this work, I anticipated that all those things I knew about Lydia and her values, or just the values that a survivor needs, I knew that Swarthmore was not a place where that would be fully embraced. Things like transformative justice, we don’t need to put people in jail, were things that people were really conditioned to believe, because if you commit a crime you go to jail.
I think I came into this movement because I think that Lydia really really understood that and really really understood that this wasn’t just an issue for one person, and in talking about this issue in a particular way, it could be healing for more than just one individual or one survivor. Those challenges were anticipated, but they’re not discouraging. They’re learning experiences, so every time we hit a wall, it just shows us what is it about our community that people just aren’t understanding and how can we move forward from there. I think that a shortcoming I see occurring is us getting caught up in institutional memory, us getting caught up in this idea that we have to do something to change something, or that we need to be recognized for something and that we need have our names on something and that we have to be responsible for a direct thing for us to be effective. If we focus more on ourselves and what we are doing and less on the big picture, that’s when we start to harm victims, that’s when we start to leave people out, that’s when we start to harm others. Those are challenges in every movement and every institution that everyone faces, and I think that moving forward just doing what we’re doing now, just having conversations about our goals and inviting people in, and not just expecting to be perfect and going down in history. For example, the Spring of Discontent, when actually most of those policies that the Spring of Discontent offered were not implemented at all. There were major changes instituted by those people, but thirty years from now no one will remember the Spring of Discontent, but they will know that a couple of changes had been made. So to say that the Spring of Discontent activists were ineffective is a very revisionist-type thing. Moving forward, I would just like to recognize what we can do and what we are doing and just build off of that. That’s a challenge I see happening over and over again around any type of activism. I was raised around a lot of community organizing, but I think that we know that a lot of people care, a lot of people are invested, and a lot of people are ready to work. We’ve been doing a lot of work on ourselves, as individuals, in like what do we need to be right now? And I’ve seen that in so many people. I’ve seen a lot of change in people so quickly in the last two weeks, people who I never thought would give a fuck are showing up to meetings - being completely silent, and leaving early, but showing up and they’re coming back. Those are really important things not to take for granted.
(Morgin) I think you had a really good point about how to be in conflict and have problems, and not stop. It’s a small campus, it’s really stressful - so it’s like you make a mistake, or you harm someone, or you cause a problem and the answer is, “okay this group is going to dissolve.” We’re not doing that, which I think will hopefully speak to everyone’s commitment and strength, and for everyone to be uncomfortable, and for us to be uncomfortable to model the accountability that we believe is required of the institution and required of each other by being willing to do that work. I didn’t immediately foresee things to happen so quickly, but I think it was strengthen us individually and together.
Voices: Can you talk about your approach? (Demands vs. asking, posters, making it time-sensitive) Why was it important for the demands to be time-sensitive?
O4S: (Barbara) The institution has a history of saying that these things take time, and everything takes time and everything is delayed, and that’s such an excuse in how they frame it. I do believe that recreating a whole structure can take a lot of time, but the fact that that’s their answer, but it’s not like “here are these steps, and let’s implement these steps to fill the time it’s going to take.” I think all of us when we were making the demands together, we had a lot of frustrations and still have these frustrations with administration. This is so important. Who knows when President Smith would have gotten back to us if we hadn’t said one week.
(Priya) I think, to speak briefly to demanding things vs asking for them, we did that intentionally, not to make a spectacle or a show of it. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means for a group of students to make demands of an administration. It’s really important to me that we have the right to do that. This is a private college; I consider it to be an intentional community, a place where people came to be students because they believed that the school had a certain set of values, and I do believe that we have a right to hold them to that set of values. For me, that’s a big part of why presenting a list of demands is an acceptable route, and why I wanted to take this route that I’m glad we did take. One of the things that I’m hoping has a lasting effect on the community-- alongside substantive policy change--s a message, especially to younger students who are just getting here, that they have a right to push administration when the administration isn’t living up to their values.
Voices: How did you decide which demands to include and exclude?
O4S: (Chatter: Did we exclude any? I don’t think we excluded any, just condensed them.)
(Gabriela) I think we decided to include them because our first community forum was focused on people bringing up the things that they wanted to be added to the demands, and then we tried to listen to everyone’s feedback and categorize what people said.
(Barbara) We emailed the demands to people so that they could read it. We had chances for feedback. I don’t want to say it’s a comprehensive list of demands, because even though in one vein a lot of people came together to make them, but then I realize that even though it was a lot, it might not have been all the people who wanted to be involved. I talked to a lot of people after the community forum who said, “I didn’t even hear about this until this time,” or “I would have liked to have known about this or done this,” which is why I’m hesitant to use the word comprehensive but for the space and the size of the type of group that we were at the time, I would say it was inclusive in that aspect.
(Morgin) There’s nothing stopping us from adding things and changing things. I don’t see any reason why not. Seeing in some sense how that can be a working document is important to me.
(AynNichelle) The purpose of our demands is strictly communication with the administration and nothing else. This is what’s going on right now, and moving forward our work is completely different from that. The demands is not the work, the coming of the conclusion and having the conversation and developing the demands are going to keep changing and keep becoming defined. They’re going to get closer to the solution that the deans are going to implement.
(Gabriela) Something we mentioned last night at the meeting was what our vision of the future was, and it might include some of those demands, but it’s focusing more on how those demands fit in the new system of Title IX that we’re reenvisioning where transformative justice is the core.
(Barbara) I think a lot of our demands can easily fit in there, and a lot of the points that we we’re trying to do very specifically outline what we want from the administration, and those demands that do outline specific direction for the administration fit into the transformative justice model. And I think it’s important to just look into them, and just make sure.
(Gabriela) To continue to edit them and make them a living document so that it continues to fit with this vision, but not getting bogged down in keeping them exactly how they were, to continue to reflect what the community needs and wants.
(AynNichelle) And being really open to this idea that change does not have to look like how we want it to look. It’s not, for example, having Dean Miller reading over these demands and saying, “I quit.” We don’t know what change looks like because we’re in this moment right now but this feels like things are changing. I feel changed, I feel like other people have changed, I feel like everything is changing right now. Right now we’re building up a lot of leadership, a lot of interest. One thing that I’ve always cared about, what I’ve always been interested about, and I haven’t been able to do so well in my experience with SASS is accessing freshmen and accessing people. I think that this is something that freshmen are very passionate about and very strongly interested in, so it’s important to foster that leadership and foster that interest because a lot of the freshmen don’t know what this school is like. A lot of them don’t know what it’s like to be here for two years with your assaulter. There are so many more things they don’t understand about this school and about themselves, and it’s important for us to be there for them and be like, “No. This is yours too, and how you want it to look.” I’m really excited about that aspect of it, and if we just do the best that we can do, there’s no way that people [just blow it off]. They’ll be like, “There’s still work to be done. I need to pick this up.” I think us just living and embodying is just picking up so much attention - not just attention, but respect and “I want to do that too.”
(Priya) I believe in this idea of hearing feedback and incorporating it to this list of demands and saying that there’s more that we want. I also don’t anticipate us dropping demands because I do think that the list of demands that we wrote, and the process that we wrote it in, is part of the transformative process, and the administration responding to those demands is part of that process. In my mind, the way the demands were written was collections of people saying “I have experienced this problem,” or “I have experienced this harm,” and then a roomful of people turning it into a demand to the college that would address that problem. If the College responds to those, that is the College holding themselves accountable, and accountability is a fundamental part of transformative justice. As we move towards a more explicit vision of transformative justice, meeting those demands is part of it.
(Morgin) I think that transformative justice, how we’ve been talking about it takes two forms: how it’s the instituting transformative justice responses to sexual violence on this campus and then it’s also a transformative justice to the harm the institution has done. So that’s changing the conditions that have led to the sexual violence in the first place, and then it’s holding the administrators accountable, that’s holding pub safe accountable, that’s everything so that violence can be meaningfully prevented in every way that we can get it.
Voices: Can you talk more about transformative justice and why it’s so important to the movement?
O4S: (Morgin) Transformative justice resists the urge that the institution, and the world, has to make violence an individual person acting in a vacuum and to link it to its causes in a lot of important ways and the systems that produce it. For me, it’s been thinking about the way that punitive justice doesn’t actually make me feel better, and doesn’t prevent further harm in a lot of ways. Transformative justice is about incorporating healing into the a vision for justice, because the adjudication process for me did not feel very healing. It didn’t feel good before, during, or after it - so what would have? What would actually have addressed the harm that I experienced that didn’t make me miserable? And what will prevent people who caused harm from causing more harm? What are the institutions that allow them to cause harm, and what individual transformational change needs to cause that, to change behavior and values on a deep level. I think we need to talk about that or it’s never going to work.
(Barbara) If we treat individuals in a vacuum, like “you’re wrong,” then the person who is/was a perpetrator can never really be rehabilitated. Because if they’re so inherently wrong to their core, then nothing can be done about them. In my opinion, no one is completely unsalvageable, and if you cause harm you have to own up to that and you have to reconcile that to the survivor and the community of hurt, but it doesn’t mean that you need to be thrown away. That’s something that a lot of us are thinking about and why that model of transformative justice is very central.
(Morgin) It’s holding accountable also the people around people who caused the harm. Who lets harm happen, who is around that lets a culture where harm’s normal? Who evades responsibility? Especially when we’re talking about institutions that are bigger than groups of people, how can we understand the role of power in that, too? That’s something important for me, understanding the complexity of violence, and the many people who are complicit in that, not just the people who cause harm, but lots and lots of contextual parts around them.
(Priya) I also realized, based on a lot of people’s questions at the last meeting, I think that the framework of transformative justice and the overarching vision of transformative justice gives us the means to tackle some of the hard questions about what we do in our personal lives about violence. We live in a really small community, including with people who have caused harm to other people, and I think coping with that and knowing how to handle it on an interpersonal level is something that I have found transformative justice to be a very illuminating framework to address. In a lot of cases, when people are hesitant to lend their support to demands like ours, or anything similar, sometimes it comes from a place of fear of what we’re asking folks to do when someone in their life has caused harm, fear that we’re asking them to abandon people that they know and potentially people that they love. I think transformative justice gives us the language, tools, and resources to figure out how to hold those people in our lives in a way that’s fair both to them and to the people who they’ve harmed.
(Morgin) And that’s not no consequences. That’s just real consequences that don’t just push away the problem.
(Priya) That’s consequences that prevent harm in the future and provide peace and justice to the person who has been harmed.
(Lydia) When I think about and dream about what our campus culture could look like, I see transformative justice as the ultimate response to the inequities we face when attempting to address harm. I read that transformative justice differs from restorative justice in that it calls into question whether healing and justice can truly occur in contexts where structural inequality is upheld. The main goal of transformative justice is to address harm on the micro level while simultaneously addressing and shifting the power structures that create and sustain the perpetuation of violence. Adopting a transformative framework assumes new terminology, like ‘person who caused harm’ rather than ‘perpetrator’, to humanize all participants in the process. This intentional language detangles the connective tissue between a person’s actions and their identity--an area where RJ falls short. Upon reading about the points of convergence and divergence between RJ and TJ, I reckon that the policies and practices inherent in transformative justice most closely align with prison abolition and are thus difficult for institutions to grasp without an existing liberatory framework--Swarthmore must adopt a liberatory framework in order for us to do this well. Though, in practice, RJ and TJ could end up looking quite similar, specificity matters: the theoretical definitions of restorative and transformative justice differentiate reform from revolution. I am in the business of promoting the latter.
Voices: So [lindsey norward, editor-in-chief] has interviewed a few survivors who don’t identify with the movement so far, but are also advocates of transformative justice. Why do you think that transformative justice is such a shared vision, even among people with widely differing experiences?
O4S: (Priya) I think transformative justice is just at its core a very humanizing framework. And so I think it’s accessible to a lot of people who are coming from a lot of different places because of that.
(Barbara) Yeah. Jumping off of that point, I was talking to a friend of mine who is a person of color and she expressed her fear of--well, not fear--just like, thoughts around being punitive--you need to be--okay. You need to hold people accountable but also, taking in their race and socioeconomic status into that. And it’s like, you know, if someone causes you harm they need to be, in my opinion, held accountable--that’s a fact. But at the same time, when you look at jail and who’s--like black and latinx men like overpopulating those jails because of horrible things in our society that are deeply rooted in the founding of this country. And I think humanizing, like Priya was saying, is so, so important because through our current system, we’ve, allowed to, attach labels to black and brown men, like “you are this, you are that” and I think that it touches every single person in the US and beyond, of that stereotype. Because that’s what we all have grown up with. So, having this model and I don’t want to say “it’ll fix it and it’ll be perfect” because everything has problems and nothing is perfect but I think it’s a really, really good place to start and build a foundation on, in terms of humanizing the people who have been like historically and currently continuously unhumanized.
(Morgin) I also think part of why humanizing is important is that’s how you can get--like if someone’s a monster beyond humanization, then also, you can’t ask better of them. Then it also lets them off the hook in some sense. Because you’re a person with choices and you have a whole set of experiences and relationship and you made choices. It’s not something intrinsic to your character, so this urge to push people away removes them from the possibility of real accountability, in the way that humanizing them can also encourage reflection and transformation and accountability and reparations, in a way that throwing people away and labeling them as monsters can’t ever do. I also think it feels better. I’ve been thinking about this. People feel better when the solutions are deep and rooted and address the core of harm.
(Gabriela) It just feels like it is the only real solution. At least to me, the more that I learn about transformative justice and the more I think about it, it just feels like it is the only thing that is actually addressing the problem in a way that will make it a sustained solution, instead of just being another band-aid.
(Priya) And in a way that doesn’t have more gaps.
(Gabriela) Yeah, in a way that in order to fix these problems, like you all are saying, you have to start at the root. Otherwise, they’re not going to get fixed.
Voices: So I know you’ve received some push back around the posters and more aggressive stance and action. Would you like to speak on this?
O4S: (Morgin) I think the one thing I would say is that we are trying to walk a tough line I think in a lot of ways between expressing anger and getting the appropriate kind of attention and speaking truth in some ways to like a lot of really powerful institutions, but then also not wanting to hurt people who have already been hurt and not wanting to do undue harm in any way that that’s preventable in trying to achieve our end goals and that intention’s there and I think our intentions are good and also we are willing to own impact and we’re in the process of figuring out what that looks like.
(Barbara) One thing we’ve been talking about is presenting more affirmations.
(Gabriela) And presenting like, something I think we’ve been trying to figure out is that balance of, what does it take for everyone to heal and making sure there’s a place for all of those different styles of healing to take place. Like the anger and the places of support. So mixing having those positive affirmations with having those moments of releasing the anger that we might have at the administration.
Voices: You primarily choose to publish your personal articles, demands, and letters to administrators in Voices. Why?
O4S: (Priya) I think we all believe in the mission of Voices and that it’s most closely aligned with what we’re doing. And we know that there’s not a great trusting relationship between the Phoenix, the Daily Gazette and certain people on campus. I think both of those publications are loaded in a way that’s difficult to navigate, just because of harm that’s been caused by things that were published in the past. And we’re hoping that Voices can avoid that kind of harm.
Voices: How have students responded to you in conversation and in action? Have you gotten a lot of emails? Have people been coming up to you?
O4S: (Gabriela) Yes and yes.
(Barbara) I think a lot of people have been coming up to me in the past couple of weeks and have just been saying some really great stuff about how they appreciate that there’s this open platform for them to voice their things and a place for them to take part in some of the actions that we did the past week, like “coffee talk” and just like other stuff. And I think like speaking to the actions of the past week, those were some forms of the way that some people wanted to heal in that way. And people who have gotten something out of doing that as part of their process have mentioned it to me personally and it’s been good to hear, and I think they’ve probably mentioned it to other people as well.
Voices: How have faculty responded to you?
O4S: (Morgin) I’ve actually been really, really impressed by the faculty response. And honestly, sharing our concerns and experiences with faculty was the first experience for me of validation by people hired by this college, honestly, the first time that I have felt like deeply believed and also had faith in their response and honesty and willingness to work with us. So I’ve been like really touched by a lot of the faculty response.
(Priya) On a personal level, being kind of pushed to, but then being able to kind of talk to faculty about these things that impact our lives outside of class...it’s made me feel much closer to all of the faculty that I have worked with throughout my four years than I ever have before. And I’m actually grateful. Again, I’m grateful for the way that they’ve responded and the message from them is that they really care about our well-being and our whole selves.
Voices: Are the professors that have shown up to community forums personally invited or have they just expressed interest?
O4S: (Priya) We’ve invited a lot of professors. We know that our meetings are usually at night. And I think they generally know when the meetings are. And a lot of them have said, you know “I wish I could come but I can’t be there at night.” So I think the people who show up are just the ones that are able to.
(Morgin) And I think we work to get more and more faculty involved if they feel comfortable.
Voices: How many faculty members have shown up?
O4S: (Priya) We’ve been in conversation with a lot of faulty. I think like getting support from them is not the same process as getting support from students and a lot of it is kind of like personal conversations.
Voices: What was your reaction to President Smith’s demands?
O4S: We don’t consider the response from President Smith to be the end of the conversation and we look forward to continuing our work. We will release a full statement about how we’re responding soon.
Voices: In interviews with women of color, some have expressed feeling left out of the movement. How has this impacted O4S?
O4S: (Gabriela) I think as we said last night, and I know myself particularly, I feel really bad that people have felt that way. Because that is certainly not how I want this to be. I want this to be something where everyone feels included. And I want to do everything in my power to make everyone feel welcome.
(Barbara) I would like to say that being and having talked to the women of color, while there are women of color who feel left out of this movement, there are women of color who feel very included in this movement. And I think that’s important for like our narratives to be just as present as the opposi—I don’t want to say opposition because it’s not. Both things need to be held into account. Because women of color, we don’t have one way of feeling about organizing and about sexual assault and ways of healing. So one thing I think is very important as a me statement, not me speaking for O4S core or whatever, but as a Barbara Taylor statement, is that it’s really important that the narrative of women of color not feeling involved in O4S is not something that I, as a woman of color involved in O4S, am comfortable with. Or not that I am comfortable with, but I don’t think it should be the only narrative. And I think that I’ve talked to people who may not be on the same page as me and I think their concerns are extremely valid. And they’re something that we are critiquing because I think in some of the ways that we’ve constructed certain things, obviously, it makes a lot of sense. And it’s not that they need me to validate that, but just for my own understanding.
Voices (to Barbara): How has your experience been validated as a woman of color in the movement?
O4S: (Barbara) yeah, so working within the core, I think—in the past, as a woman of color in general, not things specifically related to this topic, I think I’ve felt continuously invalidated by my white peers because I’ve felt unheard, and when I would say something, like I had inherently less value. But in this experience, I think that working with people in the core and in the movement, when I say something, I think that it means as much as I think it means. And I think that’s a way I’ve been validated by my white peers, doing things that they should be, like listening to me and hearing me out in a way that I hadn’t gotten before. And having the power that I should have to add substantive change to this movement. And speaking to other women of color, they have expressed similar ideas. And obviously I’m in the core group, so I’ve been adding more than people who are not in the core group, on the scale that they are involved, they also feel like if they want something done in the movement, that they’re not going to be silenced by people.
Voices (to Barbara): have you had a different experience navigating institutional spaces as a woc in o4s?
O4S: (Barbara) Just to clarify, I don’t think that because I have power in this movement that women of color in general have all power in this movement. I think there are some, and I think that we can always diversify our opinions with different types of women of color. So yeah, I didn’t want it to come off like “oh, I have power, so don’t we all have power?” With administrators, the main administrator I talk to for this, and for other experiences, have been people of color. I don’t really interact that much with white deans, so I don’t have too much to speak on that. The choice to not interact with white deans--there’s a number of reasons why I have chosen not to interact with Liz Braun on this situation, but I have talked to Dean Lewis, and I’ve talked to other deans of color on other issues not related to this, and I think that because it was POC to POC, I didn’t feel that same power imbalance than if it had been me versus only white deans.
Voices (to everyone): What are your goals moving forward?
O4S: (Morgin) I think that’s a good question, like how are we going to meaningfully address these critiques, which I find very valid and important, I think I speak for all of us here. So how are we going to do that, what is the kind of relationship building that needs to happen? What are the changes in messaging, or the changes in outreach, what does it actually look like to change the foundation of this movement in that way while retaining what we think is the vision in terms of transformative justice and our end goals? I think there’s a lot that we can shift and be critical of and reflective of and intentional about as we actually do the process of movement, and I think that’s a really big one for us going forward.
Voices: How will you be enacting healing for survivors and providing space for that? What is your approach to this topic?
O4S: (Priya) I think something I heard very clearly at the forum last night was that we know that everyone’s healing processes are not all the same, and I heard last night that being able to do direct action was healing for some people. I think our goal going forward is to honor that and also make sure that one person’s healing does not impede someone else’s. So just being intentional with every message that we put forward, and I do think that we were being intentional last week but we have more information now and we can be more thorough going forward.
Voices: How do we account for survivors who don’t want to tell their story but still want to be respected/heard?
O4S: (Gabriela) I think that’s something that we’re going to have to work on. I think part of what we’re trying to do is to open up to people who don’t feel comfortable reaching out to the group to reach out to us individually with who they might feel most comfortable with to let us know not necessarily their story - we’re not asking people to give us a reason - but just what they want to see, or if something that we’re doing has hurt them in any way so that we can try to better make sure everyone is heard, or that we can help lift up people’s voices if they don’t feel comfortable saying them at the forum.
Voices: constantly being inundated with title ix reform around campus can be exhausting and/or triggering to survivors. How do we validate their truths?
O4S: (Morgin) I think part of it is acknowledging how about where I feel now about everything, is not how I’ve always felt, by any means. People come through these windey processes that don’t necessarily end up at the same place, that don’t necessarily hit the same places. I want to pay more attention on how we can honor that if we do have this platform to talk. How can people find resonance in a lot of different parts--I was not ready to say anything for a long time after my experience, and that’s true for a lot of people. I think it’s important to show recognition with other people who are in that place, and who may never want to make posters and yell, and that’s totally fine. I think showing the range of other people’s experiences even within our experiences is really important.
(Gabriela) I feel that a lot of people have said that to me, one on one, that they don’t feel like they can be involved because they find it too triggering to even be in these conversation spaces. I think that individually we all think that that’s okay, and I’m sorry that it hasn’t been more clear and obvious to the outside because I think that within this group we all have friends who are not involved because of that and that we all understand because everyone is in a different spot. We do not want to force people to do something that they do not feel comfortable with. I hope that we can show that in our actions better in the future so that people don’t feel like they’re being attacked for not joining. Of course someone should not do something they don’t feel like they can. Everyone has their own experiences.
Voices: What is the collective reality we can all realize together? How will you make people feel supported?
O4S: (Barbara) We really want to have conversations with people, and if they’re up for it, we want people to come up and share their concerns with us if they feel that is something they can do. I think through that process can help people understand each others’ intentions better and give weight to, “Here’s why I don’t think O4S is for me,” and we can be like, “We hear you,” and give feedback.
(Gabriela) And for us to grow in a way to make everyone feel uplifted.
(Priya) Something that makes me hopeful about the strength and sustainability of what is happening right now is that I have so much respect for everyone I’ve been working with in the core group and beyond because I think that people have been able to have really hard conversations about the nuances of this, and we’ve been able to have them in a way that is open to changing the course if we think it is necessary. Related to that, we’ve been approached by some people who have been uncomfortable in being in this movement in that they’re not in a place where it is feasible for them and some of them have been upset at what is happening because it is so visible, but I’ve also been approached by a lot of people who are grateful that there are people who have been willing to speak up - people who have said, “I know I’m not in this place where I can do this yet but I’m really glad it’s happening.” I think there is a really wide range of these experiences. I also know that I’ve been approached by people who have said, “I’m not necessarily ready to do exactly what everyone else is doing, but I want to have a conversation about what I can do, to work behind the scenes in a way where I don’t have to be public or visible,” and I’m excited to have more of those conversations. I think there’s a lot of room because what we’re doing is pretty wide reaching because we’re trying to have such a transformative conversation. There’s a lot of room for people to participate in ways that are appropriate for where they’re at.
(Morgin) I think that’s also people bringing their own individual skills and interests and experiences as well. Like, “you want me to do CS stuff, I’ll do CS stuff,” or art, or like baked goods. We’re trying to make room for that, so that we can make room for different lines of interest for people that do want some kind of involvement. In terms of how to hold people’s realities and concerns and needs that are involved, I think that is a tricky and ongoing conversation that we need to figure out. Maybe it’s about what are the communication lines, does it have to be a personal conversation if people aren’t ready for that? Maybe it can be a forum, it could be email, and listening to what’s being said that isn’t directly shared.
Voices: Last thing, can you explain why you decided to center the frats in the way that you put up posters and put a concerted effort towards that? How have you been interacting with the idea that there are different spaces on campus that people might be affected by?
O4S: (Priya) I just want to clarify that we’re not necessarily foregrounding or centering the fraternities above other things. It’s an important demand to a lot of us, but it’s not the first and only. I think people got that message that it was because it was our first day of flyering, but I just want to clarify that the reason we flyered about the fraternities and the deans was because we anticipated and assessed through our community forum that those were the demands that people had the most questions and confusion about. The hope was that we could spread more information about them. I think that by starting with the fraternities, and this is on us, we gave the impression that it was our first and foremost and most important demand, and that’s not true. What’s true is that we think it’s one of the thornier demands, one of the demands that receives the most pushback, and one of the demands that needs the most explanation, and we wanted to make sure that we got it right, the fraternity position that we were trying to explain. I think it is understandable why people thought that, but I hope we can correct that narrative and explain that while it’s the most controversial, it’s not the most important on that list.
(Barbara) I wanted to add something, in terms of being a woman of color and the fraternities. I definitely feel like the frats aren’t a place for me because I’m a black woman, and because I’m a black queer woman. That being said, the demand is important to me because, for example, Olde Club right now has been an important for POC to have their parties, and that used to be a frat. Old Club, WRC, and Kitao were all frats before they were democratized. As a black woman, I would like the reclamation of that space, and I would like for it not to be like, “This is the DU building and this is the Phi Psi building” so that future black women can have that same feeling that I have about Olde Club right now.
(Morgin) That’s something I’ve been trying to be more clear about when talking about the fraternities, and I’ve appreciated the feedback on that. When you’re talking about the fraternities, you are in a sense talking about people who have experienced harm at the fraternities, there’s so much exclusion before you even get to that point. It’s not a neutral space at all, so for people to have experienced harm there, it also means, in a lot of cases, that they felt comfortable enough going there in the first place. That’s why it’s about space distribution in power and not just about the specifics of people’s experiences but also how that also reverberates through campus. I do think the cultures of fraternities matter to other party spaces too, and I think why it’s a part of, but not at all the center of transforming a lot of institutions that create violence across campus. I also would like conversations about transforming fraternities, but I want that conversation for public safety, too, and lots of other stuff. I think it’s that this campus is easily sparked by fraternity conversations but isn’t particularly interested in talking across the board about things like the role of public safety and the deans and Title IX in the same way. I think it’s the way that we’ve been framing it, which I take accountability for, but it’s also this context where people are like, “oh, did people say anti- or pro-frat? Let’s talk about that.”