UnSilencing Violence

Content Warning: This article contains depictions and discussions of sexual violence and (non)consensual sexual activity.

Here is a word defined by Susanna Westberg that you most likely will not find in the Webster Dictionary, but may have more meaning than the average lingo:

UnSilence verb 1. to break silence, speak out or share what may have previously been silenced by self or others

Try thinking of unsilencing as a form of storytelling, only the story that is being told is one that people are not going to feel comfortable telling or hearing — it’s not a fairytale or happily ever after kind of story by any means. This is the primary theme of the Violence UnSilenced, an exhibition organized by the Sexual Violence Prevention Committee to break the silence of sexual violence on the Guilford College campus and by extension in our world.

Gnawing Pain, Anonymous, 2014 (detail)
Gnawing Pain, Anonymous, 2014 (detail)

Maya Angelou said that there is no agony like an untold story inside of you. This exhibition raises awareness about the realities of sexual assault, creates a dialogue and works toward ending sexual assault. It is an empowering experience to tell a story that has been kept inside for so long and these stories are the ones that need to be told and heard.

So knowing this, how do we create a safe space for everyone to be “in the know” on this issue? We talk about it. What better way is there to talk about it than through art? Art starts conversations, teaches vocabulary on certain subjects, creates an emotional, psychological and educational response which is why this exhibition is so effective. Guilford community members directly or indirectly affected by sexual violence submitted their art work in the form of poetry and art work to the SVPC as an expression of their experiences. While I walked through the exhibition, learning the stories provoked a real sense of strength and empowerment that these artists have. It got me to thinking about how I know that sexual violence happens around me, yet how little in my life I have encountered conversations about it.

The act of unsilencing can expose any and all injustices that have occurred historically or are deeply embedded in our culture.  Susanna Westberg of Campus Life and member of SVPC points out that “these experiences and individuals are often shamed or even threatened by others and by cultural norms. Everyone is impacted by sexual assault in some way and this exhibition is a means for people to ‘speak’ out (unsilence) with their thoughts, experiences or reflections on sexual assault, sexual violence and consent through creative means and share with the community”.

Now, when it was initially revealed to me that everyone has been affected by sexual violence I thought “…really?” but I’m realizing that, yes, it’s true. Our culture is affected by acting hatefully, inhumanely, inconsiderately to one another and effectively silencing important issues such as this. Specifically those that have experienced sexual violence are shamed for what was done to them or made to be the ones to blame in these situations. So, if we are all impacted by sexual violence in one way or another, that also means we are all aware of the harsh realities that this world holds; we are all responsible for being aware, advocating for those cannot speak and starting this a conversation.

For those on campus looking for more information or with concerns on the subject of sexual violence, contact Campus Life or Gaither Terrell at the Milner Health Center. SAASA holds meetings Tuesday evenings in the Hut at 8:30 pm for additional student support.

Violence UnSilenced is on display in the basement of Mary Hobbs until March 14 in the Greenleaf. A reception is being held tonight at 6:00 pm.

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