Chelsea Asplund/The AS Review
What started out as a class assignment has turned into a life-changing experience for Western junior Brittany Parton.
The assignment is titled “Take Action,” for which Parton and her classmates in their Intro to Women’s Studies class must come up with a subject they are passionate about, then take that subject and develop an interactive component to engage people outside of class in an educational or informative way.
“One of the major principles [of the class] is that it’s not just about book learning,” Parton said. “You have to take action about the whole thing.”
On Tuesday, May 17 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Parton will present the “Take Action! March: This is What a Sexual Assault Survivor Looks Like.” Beginning outside the Wade King Student Recreation Center, Parton will give a very personal public speech regarding her rape and subsequent legal experiences and the social injustice she has experienced associated with them.
After the speech, she will begin her march to Red Square hand-in-hand with volunteers and friends, wearing a shirt stating, “This is what a sexual assault survivor looks like.”
“It’s like taking the worst skeleton out of your closet and wearing it for everyone to see,” Parton said.
Those walking will wear armbands of different colors, each representing their connection. Red will represent allies; black for sexual assault survivors and purple is for Women’s Empowerment and Violence Education or Western’s Men Against Violence volunteers. Participants are also encouraged to carry signs and posters, all bearing their own personal statements.
Once at Red Square, there will be a five-minute silent vigil around the fountain. Parton will be hosting an informational booth with other coordinators, with resources from campus centers, until 3 p.m. She said she is also willing to answer any questions about a topic she said has been silenced for too long.
“I think it will be - well I want it to be - a really emotional and personal thing for me,” Parton said. “I want it to stretch my comfort limits because I think there are too many silences not to do it.”
In the fall of last year, Parton was raped multiple times by the same attacker, and sustained a severe concussion and other injuries that required hospitalization. After going through the Crime and Sexual Assault Support Services process and other campus resources, Parton found herself suddenly having to return to a normal life, not feeling normal.
“The biggest thing that got to me was that I felt like I couldn’t relate to anyone on campus,” she said. “I felt like everyone was privileged and they could interact with boys regularly and didn’t have to deal with anything I had going on.”
Months later, Parton was reminded of her ordeal when she received a phone call from a prosecutor: her rapist had been arrested. She was now expected to miss classes to do interviews and testify in court, reopening wounds she had worked so hard to heal. And on top of that, Parton had to share her story with strangers who would determine the strength of her case.
Parton spent one night in the campus police office documenting text messages she was getting from her rapist. The following morning, running on three hours of sleep, she was late to her 8 a.m. class. Her professor did not accept any excuse or cooperate with CASAS, and the situation led Parton to drop the course altogether.
On the advice of her father, Parton signed up for Intro to Women’s Studies, which is eventually what brought her to her project. She was inspired to share her story with her class, fueling her desire to share it publicly.
Parton said nearly one out of four women will have a non-consensual sexual experience in their lifetime, and the majority of them occurring while they are in college.
“I would look around and I’m thinking, ‘This happened to me and there is such a high percentage of others who this could have happened to,’ I look around and wonder, ‘Did that happen to her?’” she said.
Senior Janelle Cutuli met Parton through theater classes and doing makeup for “Pirates of Penzance” last quarter. Cutuli, who was sexually assaulted in 5th grade, will also be participating in the event by wearing a matching T-shirt in support. While others expressed their concern about wearing it, Cutuli said she had no hesitations.
“If it’s happened to you, people might assume you don’t want to talk about it. But it is something that I think needs to be discussed,” she said. “It’s such a big part of your life and it’s influenced such a big majority of your life, after it happens, it’s kind of weird when it feels like you can’t go talk to people because it’ll make them uncomfortable.”
Cutuli, an education major, has been as resident adviser for the past two years. As part of the annual required training, advisers write personalized poems with the title “I am From” to share personal anecdotes about themselves to their co-workers.
“I think it’s very interesting because sometimes we expect the resident advisers to be more open and stuff like that, and a lot of them are,” Cutuli said. “But we’re only human, and we don’t know how to deal with all these subjects and sometimes there’s some heavy stuff out there.”
Parton said she hopes, if anything, the march brings recognition to the thousands of voices that have been silenced because of sexual violence.
“Not only did I want the whole thing to make a statement, but I wanted it to be an in-your-face statement. It should be. People should be allowed to be a little bit angry that there is this huge, huge issue,” she said. “And why aren’t we?”