UCSC Students Speak Their Truth

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“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open. Everytime survivors tell the truth about their life, the world splits open,” Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha said, reflecting on a saying from one of her professors.

“Abuse is in the drinking water,” Piepzna-Samarasinha said. “There is violence everywhere, but also know that we are resisting it, even if it doesn’t feel that way.”

After a march from Quarry Plaza to the Oakes Learning Center (OLC) last Wednesday, over 30 students, faculty and survivors of sexual assault gathered for Take Back the Night (TBTN). In the OLC, attendees shared their stories in an open mic testimonial.

Following the testimonial, Piepzna-Samarasinha — a femme and queer author, healer and survivor of sexual violence — gave a talk during which she discussed survivorship and healing as a process in which everyone needs support.

“By surviving, we are a gift, we are a prayer, we are the people who made it, who they couldn’t kill,” Piepzna-Samarasinha said. “We have all the trauma stories inside of us but we also have all the strengths — scar tissue is the strongest tissue in the human body.”

UC Santa Cruz has participated in the worldwide TBTN movement for over 30 years. This year’s TBTN included a series of events throughout the week, including pre-testimonial candle decorating, a march and rally and an art as healing workshop, where students could reflect on the events and express themselves through art.

“We want to make TBTN a more inclusive event for folks who identify beyond the gender binary,” said UCSC Women’s Center Director Sonia Montoya. “TBTN has been a long national campus campaign and the dominant representation has been hetero women.”

Montoya explained that TBTN is an inclusive event for all gender identities. The campus campaign has previously been predominantly represented by hetero women, Montoya said, and that shouldn’t be the case.

“[Sexual violence] needs to be addressed in a way that everyone’s voice and stories get heard and they are no longer silent,” Montoya said. “That’s the most important thing, that everyone is given the opportunity to speak their truth — and their truth comes in all different forms.”

One in 4 women is or will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. At the event, students and faculty gathered all under an umbrella of support for sexual survivorship in a fight to speak out and end sexual assault and violence of all kinds.

“I really hope that students feel more informed, and that by the stories that [were] shared, they get visibility, [and that people understand] that sexual assault and violence does happen,” said second-year Yazmin Ocampo, a UCSC Women’s Center intern. “Even though you are one person, you can make a change by being more informed, using the resources offered on campus or by denouncing what happened to you.”

Piepzna-Samarasinha expressed her frustration with the thought that — to her — it doesn’t feel like “1 in 4.” For her, it feels like many more have been sexually assaulted, more like “9 in 10,” as many of the people she knows have been sexually assaulted.

At UCSC, survivors have spoken out as victims of any kind of sexual violence. UCSC was recently added to the nationwide Title IX investigation and 18 formal cases of sexual violence on campus have been formally recorded and filed for investigation.

“I don’t know how many cases that have come forward that the university mishandled and didn’t get reported. And that’s real, this is the time we are upon,” Piepzna-Samarasinha said. “It’s okay to not be okay, it’s okay if mourning is your full-time job, because it’s like running a marathon every day in your head. Anything you did to survive is okay.”

Piepzna-Samarasinha also questioned what would happen if all the names of all of the people who committed sexual violence were chalked on the sidewalk? If all of the names of abusers and rapists came to light, and they weren’t protected by anonymity? Would anything change? Would people look at them differently?

“We don’t deserve to heal by ourselves, we deserve to heal collectively. There were so many tears here tonight, tears are salty jewels from heaven,” Piepzna-Samarasinha said. “Tears soften trauma in our bodies and [allow] us to let go of things that are painful. I really want to honor everyone who is crying and those who don’t know how to cry yet.”