The images of rape culture were spread throughout the room with phrases blaming survivors on artwork, particularly the face of an unknown person. However, portraits of women, coasters with inspirational messages and a crowd of supporting staff and students defeated the negative words, and showed just how strong survivors and their community can be.
Ohio State’s Survivor Gala event was held Wednesday night in the Ohio Union West Ballroom. The celebration was devoted to the strength and courage of sexual assault and violence survivors.
The event included an empowering art gallery, a live band and four performances that each discussed the topic of sexual violence.
Shamina Merchant, president of Ohio State’s Undergraduate Student Government, said the survivors’ strength is exemplified through their attendance at the event. She said each survivor is continuing to participate and contribute to the campus community.
“Empowerment is about recognizing each individual’s worth,” Merchant said. “So, if you look at a lot of the art pieces today, you can see how each individual, even the ones who have been through some traumatic experiences, still have the power to keep doing so many amazing things.”
Merchant said providing support to survivors with events like the Survivor Gala contributes to empowerment, allowing them to be the best they can be.
“The real focus of tonight is on the survivors. A part of it, I think is very important, too, is that we ask survivors and their allies to contribute artworks to be on display,” said Dave Isaacs, a spokesman for the Office of Student Life. “Coming and seeing the artworks and performances is very powerful for understanding them and celebrating all they have accomplished.”
The artworks that were on display consisted of powerful statements, poems and photography aimed at helping the individuals in attendance feel supported and reminding them that they are not alone.
One painting was particularly powerful; it had a drawn woman’s body with statements that are often associated with rape culture, such as “boys will be boys” and “skirt too short.” These phrases are examples of excuses made to defend the assaulter and place blame on the survivor.
“When you look at those pieces, you see the incredible power in it. Someone who attended tonight said they’ve claimed their voice and what we’re doing is nearly amplifying it, and I think that it’s really good that they have a voice,” Isaacs said. “So, what we see here in display tonight I think that is a very special thing.
Merchant said sexual assault and violence occurs everywhere, including Ohio State’s campus.
“Sexual violence is unfortunately an issue that’s pegging communities across the country and Ohio State is no exception to that,” Merchant said. “To me, I think as we come together as a campus to recognize that it is a problem and that we need to continuingly work to support our peers.”
Resources available for sexual violence survivors who are not students at Ohio State include Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio and Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization.