The Office of Support, Healing, Activism, and Prevention Education (SHAPE) is hosting the fifth annual Survivor Solidarity Month (SSM) this April to raise awareness about sexual violence, provide safe spaces to cultivate dialogues, and educate members of the campus community about how to better support survivors. This year, SSM’s theme is “Community Responsibility and Care.”
“Sexual violence is something that impacts so many people—whether directly, or as a result of supporting someone we care about,” SHAPE Director Johanna DeBari wrote in an email to The Argus. “Bringing the conversations out into the light where we’re trying to reimagine a world where harm doesn’t happen, feels really valuable.”
This year’s SSM programming incorporates both in-person and Zoom events led by students and staff. The programming includes Bystander Intervention Training, Healing Connections sessions with SHAPE and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), various workshops on supporting survivors and being an ally, Survivor-Centered Yoga, and several webinars on topics such as transformative justice, living with trauma, and building healthy relationships. A full list of SSM events can be found through the SHAPE Office’s website. According to SHAPE intern Charissa Lee ’23, this programming can bolster a strong sense of community.
“Our goal is to cultivate a caring community that uphold[s] mutual accountability and responsibility to prevent sexual violence on campus, as well as center[s] survivors in all spaces,” Lee, who is co-organizing SSM for the second year in a row, wrote in an email to The Argus.
Although the SHAPE Office plans SSM, many students are involved in organizing, including the SHAPE Interns: Lee and Avanthi Chen ’25, who lead the SSM Planning Committee, and Alejandra Sanchez ’22 and Melanie Garcia ’24, who are committee members.
Sanchez has been on the planning committee for SSM since last year and helps bring in speakers, plans the social media educational strategy for the month, and works on infographics for various events. Sanchez elaborated on the importance of the month in building awareness on campus.
“I think that as a community (or even as a society) we struggle with knowing how to talk about sexual violence in a way that is safe for survivors but also does not reproduce cancel culture or the carceral state that often just leads to more violence and little accountability,” Sanchez wrote in an email to The Argus.
She added that although planning SSM requires a lot of work and emotional labor, the effort is ultimately worth it to help people learn how to better support survivors.
“I think the preventative work that we do as part of survivor solidarity month…is a huge part of holding people accountable because they can’t say that they didn’t know how to ask for consent at every step of a sexual experience, how to give pleasure so that their partners don’t feel objectified, or how to care for their partners after sex, when we are giving them the resources and information to do so,” Sanchez wrote. “We all have learning to do and I think dedicating a month to actively doing so and having conversations that are difficult but good for us in the long term is so important.”
Garcia has also worked to develop SSM and emphasized how vital the month is to building a stronger, healthier community that highlights the presence of survivors on campus.
“Survivor Solidarity Month is important to Wes because survivors are all around us,” Garcia wrote in an email to The Argus. “They are in our classrooms, in our hallways, but not always in our hearts. We are not as trauma-informed as we should be as a society, but if we can start in the classroom, if we can integrate tools on how to be more compassionate to our peers, that’s a step in the right direction.”
Garcia originally got involved with SSM through the SHAPE Office’s book club last fall. Now, she designs graphics and posters for different SSM events. Additionally, Garcia plans to attend many SSM events and participate in the community conversations.
“I still have many things to unlearn, and I hope students take initiative and attend events if they can,” Garcia wrote in an email to The Argus. “However, the SHAPE Office door is always open. There are great year-long resources here on campus if students are open to learning…. I hope that students understand that sexual violence is complex and multi-layered, but together, we can unpack it as informed citizens. We should strive to be a healing-centered community—a college campus that does not judge but understands. To listen with open minds and understand with our hearts.”
Sanchez helped organize a talk with Mary Speta, the Chief Operating Offer for a women’s safe home in Hartford. The talk was conducted on Tuesday, April 5 and centered the sex trade and different policies that support sex workers’ rights, including survivors of sexual trafficking.
“…We had 21 people join the call and it was super informative,” Sanchez wrote. “I urge people to check out and donate to the organization she works for called Amirah, Inc. which supports women leaving the forced sex trade industry by providing them with a safe home, professional development, spiritual support, and a loving community.”
DeBari hopes that SSM will allow students to reflect on the messiness of the world, both their own and others’.
“I hope students will feel hopeful that another world is possible, where sexual harm doesn’t happen—that we may not know exactly what it looks, but that there are practices, skills and shifts in our own values and behaviors we can make to get there,” DeBari wrote. “I believe wholeheartedly that restorative justice and the values supporting these processes can be healing in life-altering ways. I’ve also heard from students that this is the type of support they want—so I hope students feel heard that I’m listening, we’re listening, and trying to shift the structures that exist to be more in line with what feels most valuable to students.”
To register for an SSM event: https://forms.gle/spGdJhjevguND5iJ6
Rachel Wachman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.