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SpeakOut! Brandeis Tumblr hopes to dispel misconceptions about sexual assault on campus

Published: March 28, 2014
Section: News


SpeakOut! Brandeis, a newly created website by an anonymous group of Brandeis students, seeks to dispel the misconceptions about sexual assault on campus. Hosted on the social media website tumblr.com, SpeakOut! is described on its website as “a student-led initiative to promote awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment on our campus, and allow those affected by it to anonymously share their stories.”

Sheila McMahon, the sexual assault services and prevention specialist hired earlier this year, said that the intention of the group, which she does not work with directly, is to allow survivors to share their experiences without fear of being identified. The website does not provide any identifiable information on survivors or alleged perpetrators.

She adds that the group is powerful and that it’s something that can make people uncomfortable.

“On a college campus, especially in a community that’s small, with many talented, thoughtful students, I think it’s hard for some people to imagine that these things are happening to our students. I think it’s a very important conversation students have initiated,” McMahon said.

And a conversation certainly has been initiated. The anonymous coordinators of SpeakOutBrandeis.tumblr.com, have recently included a tab on the page that lists on- and off-campus resources for survivors of sexual assault and harassment.

Victoria Jonas ’15, a member of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA) and a student involved in spreading awareness about sexual assault on college campuses, spoke about what she believes the mission of SpeakOut! serves on the Brandeis campus.
“SpeakOut! fills the gaping hole that had been present in community conversations around sexual violence—survivors, specifically survivors on small, contained, liberal-arts college campuses, very much live under a shroud of silence surrounding experiences of sexual violence,” Jonas said. “SpeakOut! creates the necessary venue to anonymously and safely share these experiences, and to break down the barriers around understanding sexual violence at Brandeis. Feeling ‘heard,’ and like a member of a community is an incredibly important part of healing from any sort of trauma, and before SpeakOut!, there was no such opportunity for students who had experienced rape or sexual assault at Brandeis.”
Jonas added how McMahon is making effective changes in the Brandeis community.

“She brings expertise and compassion to a difficult role, and the fact that Brandeis created such a position is indicative of the strides the university is making toward a safer campus surrounding sexual violence,” Jonas said.

SpeakOut! is unaffiliated with the work that McMahon does on campus. She heard about the project from a number of students who had come to her to tell her that they had posted something on the website, or because they had a reaction to something that was posted.

“They are doing a lot to organize and coordinate resources available to students on campus,” said McMahon, who is listed as a valuable resource on the SpeakOut! page. Her work complements rather than stands in opposition to the efforts of SpeakOut!, write the anonymous coordinators of the page.

On-campus resources that will keep reports confidential include the Psychological Counseling Center, McMahon’s office, the Health Center and the chaplains. Employees outside of that group are legally obligated to inform the Title IX officer of the assault.

While McMahon is not a mandated reporter, she does have to report crime statistics to the police department, but she clarified that she reports only numbers and not any personal identifying information. Brandeis is obligated to publish these statistics every year.

McMahon hopes that further efforts will be taken by the administration to attend to the needs of survivors. Individual survivors react differently to assault, she said, and some can take years to put a name to what happened to them and to recognize the incident as what it was.

“Stepping across that threshold,” she said, referring to the door to her office, “is an incredible step forward.”