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Artists and activists protest violence against women

Two events dealing with issues related to race, sexual assault and healing will debut in February as part of a celebration of Black History Month at Lehigh University. The programs, co-sponsored by the University’s Women’s Center and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, will take place on Monday, Feb. 7 and will feature a group of artists and activists from the A Long Walk Home, Inc., a non profit organization that uses art to document and to end violence against women and children, particularly in communities of color.

SOARS: A Story of a Rape Survivor is a multimedia performance featuring a photography slideshow and a six-woman cast of dancers, spoken word artists and music. SOARS will be performed at 8 p.m. in Room 303 of Whitaker Auditorium.

In the performance, a diverse cast of women will explore the impact and aftermath of sexual assault by documenting one woman’s journey from victim to survivor through the use of poetry, music, photography, West African dance and modern dance. The performance will conclude with a speak-out that engages the audience in the evolution of the survivor’s story.

The day’s events will also include a brown bag lunch discussion on the Kobe Bryant case at noon in Room 403 of the University Center. It will be titled “Kobe and Beyond: A Look at Sexual Assault, Race and the Media.”

A blend of expressive art and social activism

A Long Walk Home, Inc. was created by sisters Salamishah and Scheherezade Tillet after Scheherezade learned that her sister had been raped in college. Employing a creative approach to the process of recovery, Scheherezade photographed the stages of her sister’s healing, which included going to therapy, struggling with her body image, developing her spirituality, and creating new relationships.

“The SOARS performance is a compelling blend of expressive art and social activism, and it is one of the most powerful representations of trauma and healing I've ever seen,” says Kristin Handler, director of the Women’s Center. “A Long Walk Home, Inc. is one of very few organizations that address sexual violence from the perspective of black women.”

Seth Moglen, assistant professor in the English department and faculty member in Africana studies who has studied and written about social violence and trauma, adds: “SOARS promises to be an exceptionally valuable event. Sexual assault is shockingly widespread in American life today – and African-American women have been especially vulnerable to this kind of violence, from the era of slavery to the present. In this context, it is particularly important that we hear from African-American women on the subject of rape and racism.

“This performance presents an important opportunity for the Lehigh Valley community to hear from eloquent African-American artists about the effects of sexual violence – and about the personal and cultural resources that enable us to heal,” he continues. “SOARS is an important presentation about the personal and creative processes by which we can, individually and collectively, come to terms with rape and its effect on our communities.”

An opportunity to disclose and get help

Earlier in the day, the brown bag lunch on the Kobe Bryant case is sure to provoke a lively discussion, since the Bryant case has been a flashpoint in discussions about rape and race in the U.S., Handler says. Salamishah Tillet will lead the discussion.

The topic is current,” says Stephan Coggs, assistant dean of students in the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Lehigh. “The Kobe Bryant case is definitely being discussed on college campuses. The brown bag lunch is a good opportunity for students to engage in a meaningful discussion about race and sexual assault.”

Handler says that such sexual violence education programs often result in an increase in requests for help in recovering from sexual assault. “Programs like this do affect people,” she says. “They bring up an opportunity to disclose and get help.”

Steve McAllister, the Women’s Center’s sexual violence prevention coordinator, adds that such programs tap into a network of students who feel passionately about issues related to sexual assault.

“There are a number of students who are extremely committed,” he says. “But our goal is to reach the others – the ones who felt that these issues don’t really affect or concern them. We want those students to become educated on the issues, of course, but also to become engaged, to gain knowledge and insight, and to know that there is someone here to help them.”

For more information about the program, please call the Women’s Center at 610-758-6484 or visit the performers’ website

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Tuesday, February 01, 2005

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