TRIGGER WARNING: The following discusses emotional and psychological abuse, and the issue of sexual assault at Wesleyan, and may be triggering for some readers. Community and official support resources can be accessed here, here, and here.
Students for Consent and Communication have had a busy semester so far. After staging a “How Much Longer Will We Carry That Weight?” demonstration, confronting the Board of Trustees about the alarming frequency of sexual assault on campus, SFCC brought their latest campaign online. With an “Abuse Is Abuse” photo campaign, showing students holding up signs describing forms of psychological and emotional abuse, the group looks to push the administration into action about creating a definition and policy about that abuse. (Photo campaigns in general are having quite the week, and for good reason.) Their petition, which you can read and sign online, has over 90 signatures at the time of publishing:
We, the community of Wesleyan University, believe that emotional and psychological abuse poses a direct threat to the health and safety of our students and community.
We as a school stand in solidarity with survivors of emotional and psychological abuse.
We strongly believe that the Department of Education got it wrong and that we can do better.
We demand a strong and clear policy that defines emotional and psychological abuse and advocate for its inclusion in Wesleyan’s existing Sexual Misconduct Policy.
I reached out to Nina Gurak ’16, one of the co-presidents of SFCC, about the campaign. Below, you can see a few of the photographs from the campaign, which are also on Facebook and Twitter. On a related note, there is a forum to discuss Title IX policy and procedure tonight at 7PM in the Daniel Family Commons, which will inform policy changes for next semester.
Can you tell me more about the SFCC’s photo campaign and the impetus behind it?
Nina Gurak: So basically the photo campaign is to raise awareness about emotional and psychological abuse and to advocate for its inclusion in Wesleyan’s Sexual Misconduct and Intimate Partner Violence policies. Over the summer, the Department of Education ruled under the Campus SaVE Act—which was passed as part of the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and requires schools to define and adjudicate cases of sexual assault, stalking, and intimate partner violence—that schools did not need to define or adjudicate cases of emotional or psychological abuse in dating or sexual relationships.
SFCC created this photo campaign to raise awareness about what emotional and psychological abuse is and to link to our petition to encourage the administration to adopt policies that recognize this kind of abuse and protect students from it. While Wesleyan is under no legal obligation to have this type of policy, we believe that this policy validates the lived experiences of survivors on this campus and could serve as a catalyst for other institutions to adopt similar policies, including a clear definition of what emotional and psychological abuse is. We also want to make sure students are aware of their rights and take an active role in shaping university policy so we reached out to students to create examples of psychological and emotional abuse and ran a discussion to discuss healthy relationships and why defining this kind of abuse matters to the student body. The pictures are from the discussion and the examples we generated.
Can you tell me anything about how you sourced the people and the statements in the photographs?
NG: The people were participants in a discussion we had about intimate partner violence. The words don’t represent the individuals holding the signs experiences, but instead were crowd-sourced from a bunch of Wesleyan students when we asked students what emotional and psychological abuse means to them and how they’ve seen it manifest itself at Wesleyan.
What plans do SFCC have moving forward? What sort of short-term and long-term plans does the group have, and specifically in terms of making changes happen at the university?
NG: As a follow up to the posters and petition we are working on planning a film screening of a popular movie (whose rights we do not have so I can’t tell you what it is) and using it as a catalyst to talk more about intimate partner violence, an issue that is so often overlooked on this campus.
SFCC is committed to representing student interest on the student Title IX committee. We’ve specifically advocated for fair and consistent sanctions, anonymous reporting options, and expanding mandated training for public safety officers and campus staff. This semester we have been focused on emotional and psychological abuse policy, but next semester we are planning to run an educational campaign about supporting survivors and expanding education about student rights under Title IX and making plans for our annual Take Back the Night Event. Ultimately, we would like to see the university even more responsive to student demands and issues with the process, but more importantly expand their education campaign. The university needs to invest in strong prevention and fact-based education efforts especially surrounding intimate partner violence and stalking which are both woefully under-reported on this campus.