You Are Not Alone: Voices from Last Thursday’s Healing Fire

Speech given during the Healing Fire held on Thursday, Oct. 18th 2012.

My name is Ali Simeone, and I’m a Peer Advocate of Sexual Respect. I want to let you all know that the Peer Advocates are here to support you through your experiences; we know this past week has been especially trying — please don’t hesitate to talk to any of us. Also, I am a co-facilitator for Break the Silence, a support group for Survivors of Sexual Disrespect. If anyone needs to speak to me about these issues, I am a resource.

In light of all the sexual disrespect awareness at Amherst College these past few weeks, many people have had their eyes opened, maybe even pried open, to the sexual misconduct that occurs on campus.

Awareness about sexual disrespect — from seemingly innocuous remarks and misogynistic t-shirts to rape, harassment, abuse, stalking and assault — are incidents that need to be talked about. We need discussion; we need to face negative aspects of our culture, even if it hurts.

Awareness can make us face what we don’t want to.

Sometimes, with the pain of awareness comes the pain of regret, shame, doubt and fear.

Sometimes, there’s a voice inside that says:
Why couldn’t I speak up?
I should have said something.
Why didn’t I choose to do more?
Why can’t I talk about what happened?

Though crucial to understanding and processing our own experiences with sexual disrespect, in any form, these questions can become poisonous. These questions can break us down, make us feel helpless, make us feel less than because we just couldn’t do what someone else did.

I think our college works under this overarching belief sometimes: What am I not doing? What should I be doing? He/She/They are so put together. Why can’t I be like that?

And with issues of sexual disrespect, this is especially dangerous because there is a culture of silence. We’re afraid to open up, and when someone else does, we are ashamed we can’t do the same.

As a Peer Advocate and as a member of the Amherst College community, I see this mindset all too often — and I, too, limit myself and discredit myself in some capacities for what I feel like I could not do in terms of my own experience with sexual disrespect.

But this is unhealthy, unhelpful and can cause more harm than not.

Let’s change this. Right here, right now.

Let’s change the frame from: I can’t. I shouldn’t. I didn’t…to, what can I do to help myself? What can I do to help other people?

We must understand as a community that healing is an individualized process. All too often, we deny ourselves the ability to heal because we don’t accept what we can do for ourselves. Understanding ourselves and what we can do is ultimately necessary to our well-being as students, and as people in this community.

After this emotionally tumultuous week, honor and respect those that have spoken up about sexual misconduct and disrespect. Honor their bravery and their courage to speak and shed light on serious problems that have occurred here. Honor their healing processes — but please don’t forget to honor yourself. Honor the fact that you have the courage and the bravery to help yourself as well, in whatever form that will take. You as an individual are supported and loved. Love yourself and accept that healing can take time, and there isn’t one set way to do it. You have to find what can help you — and that in itself is the bravest thing you can do.