Students Share Stories at IHH

By Isabelle Dietz

 

The tagline for the It Happens Here (IHH) event Monday, April 22, was “Let’s talk about what we don’t talk about.” At 7:30 p.m. the McCullough Social Space was filled to full capacity — with organizers forced to turn people away at the door to watch in Crossroads Café — as audience members waited to listen to readings of student experiences with sexual violence.

“Last night was a wonderful opportunity for the school to learn about a problem that affects all of us,” said Luke Carroll Brown ’13.5, an IHH leader and organizer of the event. “The amount of courage shown by the 23 students who shared their stories is absolutely remarkable. They put themselves out on a very public limb so that the rest of us could learn from their experiences. Their actions were exceptionally brave and exceptionally helpful.”

Of the 23 stories, 18 were read anonymously and five read out loud by their authors. Some of the pieces were monologues while others were poems. The stories were projected behind the student readers.

“I feel like It Happens Here is the most powerful event I have ever been a part of on this campus,” said Rana Abdelhamid ’15, one of the readers for the event. “It is such an honor to have had the opportunity to read the story of a young woman who had the courage to share her experience with the rest of our community.

“At the same time, since my piece actually happened at Middlebury the experience was sobering and a bit overwhelming,” she continued. “It reminded me that yes, it does happen here and that she could be my friend or my classmate. It makes me also reflect on what we can possibly do to make sure this doesn’t happen anymore.”

The stories this year were longer than those from last year, and more students chose to read their own stories. The stories were submitted through an anonymous website (go/ithappenshere) created at the beginning of spring semester. All of the stories submitted were presented. All traffic from the go links is now being directed to IHHMidd.org, which now has the majority of the event’s stories in video or text from.

“It was powerful,” said Dustin Lowman ’15. “There’s not much else to say. The simplicity of the night and the honesty of the readers was soul-shattering.”

Students entering the McCullough Social Space were handed flyers describing the event and giving the College Handbook definitions for consent and coercion. The flyers also had a sticky note attached to the back, so that students could “join the conversation” around sexual assault. Students were encouraged to write on their sticky notes and add them to the large map outside of the Grille.

“Watching the crowds of people cram into McCullough, I was at first worried that this event would have a sensational tone to it,” said Kalya Koltes ’15.5. “But as soon as the first story was read aloud, I was deeply moved by the presentation’s simplicity. I have a lot of respect for the people who shared their experiences.

“Events like these show us how important it is to break the silence and stigma about any form of sexual assault,” she continued. “I hope that the conversations will continue after this event and impact people’s understanding of this complex issue.”

Director of Chellis House Karin Hanta reminded students at the beginning of the event that counseling services was ready to handle any emotions stemming from IHH.

After the event, many students congregated outside of the entrance to continue discussion and tack up their sticky notes.

On Tuesday, April 23, there was a follow-up dinner in Redfield Proctor.

“We thought it would be a good way to decompress from such an emotional event,” said Carroll Brown.

“I hope that the event might lead to a cultural shift in the way we think about sexual violence,” said Emily Pedowitz ’13, an IHH leader and member of the Sexual Assault Oversight Committee (SAOC). “By opening a space to hear our peers’ stories, I hope Middlebury can grow to understand sexual assault as a common and difficult experience, to be better able to support those who have experienced this, and also to foster empathy and knowledge of consent in all students so that rates of sexual violence on Middlebury campus might decrease. I really do believe the first step to all of this is sharing narratives and growing from each others’ experiences.”

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The next related event is Monday April 29, when Grace Brown, creator of Project Unbreakable, will give a talk in Dana Auditorium.