Monday evening I spoke at a film screening of the Invisible War  at Clarion University. The local sexual assault program Passages, Inc.  teamed up with a student group there to host the film and several other events in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) . This event was the first in a week of on-campus events to increase awareness and educate the campus community about different aspects of sexual violence. In the past, I’ve discussed attending similar screenings, and want to emphasize once again how moving this film can be. It’s rare on a college campus to have a crowd of people attend a film and stay for the full 3 hour program from start to finish. This happened at Clarion.
I am so impressed with the organizing work that young, dedicated feminists put into bringing this film to campus and using it as starting point for larger discussions. After the film concluded, we opened up the floor for questions from the audience. So many people volunteered questions about larger systems accountability and what a meaningful response to sexual violence could look like in an institutional setting. Several folks discussed the ways that system failures could touch civilian justice systems, including their own college’s judicial process. These are the kinds of critical questions that are so important to building momentum in a social movement.
More and more, young activists are holding these important discussions. You should never stop questioning the systems that you know and observing the ones that touch your life, even in a distant way. Critical consciousness-raising has long been an important part of feminist activism. I’ve come to understand consciousness-raising as an activity distinct from awareness-raising. If you’re holding an awareness campaign, you might be sharing some facts or talking points about an issue. If you are promoting critical consciousness, your goal is to spur others into action as a result of their new knowledge. Consciousness-raising promotes social change and I see it as an important component to good prevention work. Awareness…meh…I can take it or leave it. Consciousness gets this feminist all kinds of fired up.
Just as this group of students at Clarion took their SAAM message a step further by encouraging other students, staff, faculty, and community members to make important connections between systems, many other student activists across the country are doing some great work. That’s why I was excited to see the report from SAFER in honor of what they like to call Sexual Assault ACTIVISM Month on student activists. Titled “Moving beyond blue lights and buddy systems: A national study of student anti-rape activists”  is tells you from the get-go that we are way past relying on risk-reduction as our sole approach to prevention.