Carry Me Down

This past week I had the discomfort of making space for my grief. It was Semik on Thursday and that’s gonna take a minute to unpack. So let’s dig in, shall we? This story is one that I have never told in its entirety before, and may not ever do so again.

Semik is a Slavic tradition of memorial and rituals for the dead who were taken before their time. Think of it much like the Slavic version of Dia de los Muertos or All Hallows. Add in some ritual fasting and fertility festival and you have yourself one exhausted grad student.

I lost a friend to suicide a year ago this week. On the day of Semik, actually. Which made this year all the more potent. I had to sit with my grief and go through the process. And let me tell you-holding space for your grief is not only exhausting, it’s the only way to go.

Instead of my normally bubbly self, my field instructor mentioned my reserved silence. I told her what was going on and she checked in with me a couple times again after that. I gave my clients all I could and I went to work and survived. I made peace with my pain. I gave myself permission to cry. And that was the only thing I could do.

So why am I talking about it now?

Because I am human. And no matter what exactly that means, grief is a tie that binds. Everyone will experience it in their own time and manner. And being less than a year from my licensure as a LMSW, I know that if I can’t make space for authenticity, I can’t do my job.

So if you’re feeling broken. If you’re feeling overwhelmed. If you’re struggling with your grief, your sadness, your fear. You aren’t alone in these. You are surviving and thriving-whether it looks like it or not.

Grief can come down on you like a wave while you’re drowning in an ocean. It can crush you into nonexistence and bring you to your knees. It will grind you down.

I read once that grief is just love with nowhere to go. I’d add regret to that as well. And guilt.

It was June 13 of last year and I couldn’t sleep. I had tried everything but I couldn’t settle my thoughts. I decided to pull up some guided meditations to “force reset” my brain. I listened to a couple without much luck and then settled on a shamanic drumming meditation. I’d never done one before but figured I had nothing to lose.

In the course of this 30 minute meditation, I felt myself relax and begin drifting. I was coming to the end of the meditation and was somewhere between awake and asleep-that place where you know you’re not quite either but you’re closer to sleep than awake. And as I began preparing for the end of the recording I heard the words “Come find me.”

I ripped the headphones out of my ears and tossed my iPad across the bed. Instead of being in the place of tranquility, as I had been moments before, my heart was racing, my body surging with adrenaline. What had that been? Was it part of the recording? (I went back and checked much later-it wasn’t.) It took ages to fall asleep after that.

The next morning I had a message from a friend asking if I’d heard about a mutual friend. I said I had just talked to her, that we’d been discussing a new student group she wanted to start. He asked if I had checked my email. I said I hadn’t. So I logged in.

And there it was. A death notice. The night before, around the time of my meditation, our mutual friend had died by suicide.

If I could accurately describe the way the world moved from under me, I would. It was like the universe shifted a fraction of an inch and I had stayed still. I became nauseous and despondent.

Come find me.

Had it been her? Did I believe that? What if I did? What did that mean?

In the days coming I became so overwhelmed with the need to protect myself from further destruction that I hid every sharp object. I talked to every friend I had ever had a mental health conversation with. I made preparations for my own safety and sanity. I was terrified that this was something that would come down on me if I didn’t protect myself in every way possible.

And on the morning of her funeral, I couldn’t find it in me to go. I got a text from someone who had promised to be my moral support asking where I was. I said I was running late and would be there soon.

“You weren’t there for her in life, so you might as well be there for her funeral.” I said to myself. I got in the car and sped the whole way there. It was the first Catholic funeral I had ever been to.

I carried that guilt with me for a year. And this week, I passed it into the universe. I made peace with my grief and let go.

Tonight there was a lightning storm where I live. The first I’ve seen since I moved from Ohio.

Do I understand this as a sign? Sure I do. Because that’s who I am -the pagan girl who thrives in the storms, who is called She Who Guides the Water. Do I miss her? Of course I do. The third person in my life taken by suicide. The third too many.

Hold space for your grief. Give it a place to go. Don’t let it consume you.

We are all in this together, folks. Tomorrow is a brighter day. We just have to make it there.

One More Rebellion

To understand where this post is coming from, it is important to know that I’ve been in a very pensive, reminiscing attitude lately. I’ve been working on a new book in which much of the young adult culture of the early 2000s plays a part. But also, I’m about to start the semester and that’s the point where I start thinking about how I got to where I am.

Part of the business of growing up is a little thing I’ll call “going corporate”. Masses of people leaving behind the neon hair, the black and red eyeliner, the studded belts and chucks for business suits, natural hair colors and 9-5s.

And I’m not having it.

So many people my age (and older) make comments like:

“I don’t know what I was thinking about that hair.”
“I can’t believe I wore that/dressed like that/went out like that.”
“I’m so glad I grew out of that.”
“I’m so glad that phase ended.”

And that’s fine… for them.

But I look back at the pictures, the memories, the status updates and I don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. And the thing is, I can’t remember ever thinking I’d made a mistake. In my closet you’ll find business clothes-interview attire, internship outfits. But you’ll also find band tees, studded belts, two pairs of chucks, and skinny jeans (yep, even my size). My makeup is all deep and vampy.

So imagine my surprise when the suggestion came across my screen that instead of just 2019, we should be celebrating 20NineScene (Scene being the neon cousin of the emo culture that I reference above.). And I could not be more excited.

Because you see, we are the cycles we have lived through. Yes, I believe in moving past periods of time that are too negative for you, that are toxic. After all, what kind of (future) social worker would I be if I supported toxic environments? But why should I (and may others) feel that there is something to be ashamed of by exploring who we are?

So this 2019, instead of walking longingly past Hot Topic and pining for the days when I didn’t feel like a kid in their parent’s business suit, I’m going to allow myself one final rebellion. I want to slide into 2020 (and the return of the Roaring 20s) in the throes of the crimson and black smudged eyes, the black-like-my-soul outfits, the spiky hair, the splashes of neon breaking up the monotony. I never stopped listening to the music I did in high school, and in fact I prefer it to the stuff now (I’m exactly that old). Grunge music like Nirvana and Three Days Grace. Emo punk like All American Rejects. Emo pop like Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy. Dashboard Confessional. My personal favorite, Boys Like Girls. My Chemical Romance. And so many of the glorious others.

In high school, I had so many dreams about who I would be when I approached my current age. And I’m honestly nowhere close. I thought I’d be done with school, traveling, maybe even semi-famous. And if I’m honest with myself, I still hold out for that. It’s why I took a chance on a manuscript that I sent out before winter break to agents. I believe in that manuscript like people praying in church. It’s raw and honest and hopeful-everything I am at my core. I believe that someone will look at it and see the potential, will give me a chance to prove that it’s worth it. I believe in myself.

And none of that would be the case without the high schooler who felt the world a bit too much. Who needed validation more than air. Who wasn’t afraid to rock the red eyeliner, the spiked hair, the black wardrobe. I believe in her as much as she believed in the future. And that’s why I’m completely in support of 20ninescene. Because why on earth would I ever choose to lose who I am just to “go corporate”?

One Eye Open

If the America of my youth could be said to be the “melting pot”, my adolsecence found Columbus to be the snow globe version of the whole. I was surrounded by differing opinions, religions, ideas and lifestyles-and found merits in almost all of them. Some of my favorite moments were when I could engage a stranger in a conversation that brought my faith in humanity up. I remember working at Subway one day and being able to understand the Latina woman before her son translated and then wished her well in her own language. She started laughing and the son and I spoke of how wild it is that I would take the time to treat his mother as an equal (well, formal equal). I remember interacting with a Muslim woman who became overjoyed that I would understand her not eating pork, and that I knew it was her holiday. If Columbus was my own personal melting pot, I became delighted to explore the rest.

I’ve had a lot of eye opening experiences-and not all of them for the better. When I was assaulted, I saw the depravity of human nature. I saw the victim-blaming and felt the humiliation that came from not being able to cope. When I moved to Kansas, I was confronted with the fact that people didn’t accept my belief system, and that the names of the LGBT club members were not released because of fear of violence and possibly death against them. I was a blue dot living in an overwhelmingly red state. I came to understand why it was such an issue to blend in when you were born to stick out. I was rebuffed for my naïveté-that I should not have been surprised that the things that made me (and millions of other people) different, were suddenly the things that made it dangerous.

And then I understood.

You see, I had always been on the other side. I was the ally that showed others that not all (insert category here) people were bad. I was the person who worked hard to be the best ally I could be-without ever really understanding the gravity of what I was allying for. And now, being on the flip side-they’re even more important. I’ve met friends who accept me for who I am, and that’s wildly important. Because how many times have we all needed someone to make the darkness stay away? 

But I now understand why speaking Spanish to a woman in a predominantly white neighborhood was a novel thing. I now understand why being kind and considerate to a Muslim woman was considered something out of the norm. It isn’t because they expect every single person to be vehemently against who they are- it’s that too many people are against who they are. They, much the same as I, were looking for a beacon, a person to tell them that it is okay to keep being absolutely just yourself. That there is a place for all the differences, no matter how alone you might feel.

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” -Dr. Seuss

As a White Woman, I’m tired.

I know-I’ve set myself up. But hear me out.

I’m tired of watching my friends with higher melanin counts be discriminated against. I’m tired of hearing stories of Muslim women getting their hijabs pulled. I’m tired of seeing violence against minorities. I’m tired of police instigated violence against those minorities. And I hear you, getting up in arms-I’m tired of police getting a bad rap for the crimes of the few bad apples too.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? I’m tired of a few bad people ruining life for everyone else. I’m tired of ableist, sexist, racist, classist culture that tells people I love that their love isn’t good enough to count as the real thing. I’m tired of the people who decided that unless a person fits a certain mold, they aren’t worth anything.

I’m tired of people coming into fast food establishments on Sundays and looking down at the people working for being there on “God’s day”. Because if you didn’t come in, we wouldn’t have to be there either. And while we’re on the subject, I’m tired of being looked down on because it’s not a cross around my neck, it’s the symbol of my belief system.

I’m tired of people whitewashing. I’m tired of watching the political ideologies systematically remove the concerns of myself and the people who need to be heard so that those with the most money can continue to sweep us under the rug. I’m tired of our news outlets labeling every murderer and deviant as “mentally ill”-unless of course we’re talking about rape and the perp is a collegiate, white athlete.

I’m tired of listening to people apologize for their broken English because they’ve been trying, but it’s hard. I know it is. You’re trying-no need to apologize. And while we’re on the subject, I’m tired of seeing the fear in people’s eyes when they’re out and about. I know I’m not imposing that fear on them, but I belong to this culture and can’t help but feel it’s my fault in some way.

I’m tired of being caged in a rape schedule. I’m tired of living in a country where more than half of the people didn’t want DJT to be president, but because of a 200-years-outdated system, and laws which require fealty over logic, here we are. I’m tired of speaking with my international friends and hearing them talk about “Americans” with hesitation and an almost disgust-and completely understanding why. I’m tired of feeling like I belong to a country that hates diversity-because that’s the most awful thing a country could do. Apart from create refugees and then not take care of them.

I’m tired of being poor. And now, I know that comes with degrees-and I’ve heard the “it could be worse” speech-and that’s true. But I know what it’s like to go through a food pantry line and receive moldy, outdated food and have to make it work because that’s all you got. I know what it’s like to live on pizza rolls and peanut butter and jelly (all off brand of course) because that’s filling, but not really nutritious. I’m tired of being poor enough that it hurts, but not poor enough to qualify for help.

I’m tired of seeing people on the news who served the country and are now homeless. I’m tired of seeing families on the street because life was hard on them in one way or another. I’m tired of abusive spouses or partners taking their anger out of others. I’m tired of the justice system that is “innocent until proven guilty” unless you’re talking about rape or domestic violence, because then it’s guilty until, well, always guilty in some way.

I’m tired of people being removed from their homes because they weren’t born here. I’m tired of seeing families broken apart by immigration officials, because their kids were born here but they came in hopes of a better life and now they’re getting that life ripped away from them. I’m tired of hearing the word “illegal aliens”-because it’s impossible to be an illegal human being. All humans are equal-because we’re all humans. And it’s beyond time for our social structures to catch up.

I’m tired of people getting denied healthcare because their bodies came a little frayed at the edges when they entered this life. I’m tired of people rising from the ashes who forget what it’s like to be at the mercy of the system.

I’m tired of abuse of our people. I’m tired of waiting for the corrupt government to tell me that instead of waging war on women’s rights to choice, they’re waging war on poverty, on neglecting human rights. That they’re going to provide healthcare to the people in Flint-because they’re owning up to what happened. I’m tired of wondering if those poor kids understand that the government fought for them to gestate nine months, but because they’ve been born, no one cares if they survive. I’m tired of staying up all night wondering if the heroin epidemic that took people I went to school with could just end if our education system didn’t cause so many mental health problems.

I’m tired of watching the injustices done against the First Nations. Since the first white people came to America, all we’ve done is pillage and murder and worse. And for what? Manifest Destiny? Since when does the white people’s god desire human blood to be spilled in order to gain redemption? And why are we still taking? Why is there so much greed for something that we’ve already taken by force? I’m tired of watching the government I have to pay taxes to use my money to wage war on the health and well being and sacred lands of the people who were here long before the ones who look like me.

I’m tired of being lumped in with the people of past generations who believe that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps-because so many of us don’t even have boots. I’m tired of people looking at my generation, the most diverse one yet and lumping us all together as lazy, ungrateful, entitled. Because maybe all we’re entitled to are the liberties denied us by those who want to use our own identities against us.

I’m tired of being made to feel ashamed because my sexuality doesn’t exist. I’m tired of being ashamed because my mental abilities aren’t neurotypical. I’m tired of being made to feel less than because my weight is “more than”. I’m tired that it’s 20-effing-17 and we still don’t have equality-even though it’s been fought for for much longer than I’ve been alive.

I’m tired that there are people who think human rights are negotiable. I’m tired that people are abducted from my neighborhood and sold into modern day slavery, with the promise of money to fix their poverty. I’m tired of explaining over and over again that feminism is equality-and it had better be intersectional or it’s not even feminism, it’s just a lie. I’m tired of fearing for my friends who are transgender, because the patriarchy is so ready to have them removed.

I’m tired.

I grew up with stories of having dreams, of independence, of resistance. My fourth grade teacher threw out the lesson plans and we spent all year learning about African American individuals who would largely go unnamed in history. My seventh grade teacher spent the year teaching us about the Holocaust and how when books were burned, it was work on progressive sexuality first. I grew up with a fondness for people like Thurgood Marshall, Sojourner Truth, Phillis Wheatley, Noor Inayat Khan, Cleopatra, W. E. B. DuBois, Amra binte Abdurrahman and Sayyida Nafisah. I was taught the stories of First Nations people-the story of the Great Turtle, Coyote and Iktomi, and the to-be-feared power of a woman during her cycle.

So yes. My skin is a pale tan. But my heart breaks for the suffering of people who bleed the same color as I do. And it is for these reasons that I have accepted my admissions offer to the 2017 Fall cycle of law school where I will focus on a combination of criminal law/trial advocacy and tribal law. I cannot speak for anyone other than myself, but I can stop this cycle of being the white woman tired and start being the white woman trying.

All For One and One For All

Feel overwhelmed each time you turn on the news? It looks more and more like a scary world out there. And to some extent, that is true. It’s so frustratingly easy to get overwhelmed and afraid, being paralyzed by it. And I get asked the question a lot: how do I keep fighting even though I feel like I’m not making a difference? Here’s what I told someone.

Resist, persist, insist, enlist. The right path is not always the easy path, but it is always right. You bring so much kindness and spunk and thought to the world. And so I will share a story. When the votes were tallied and 45 became 45, a professor asked what she was supposed to tell of students-many of whom were voting in a presidential election for the first time. And here is what I told her: Tell us it is possible to lose a battle and still win the war.

Right now, we are winning some and losing others. It’s a fight which is taking every ounce of sanity we have. But we’re doing “it”. Not because it’s easy, but because it is right. We’re seeing good people step forward, perhaps for the first time. And that’s where I think you can help most. Kindness is contagious. If one person sees it, they spread it. We just need someone to start the chain. Each day, something small. You’ve been campaigning for the earth mother and for people for as long as I’ve known you, at least. Plant some flowers, give them away. Plant some kindness, watch it bloom. And whether you see it immediately or not, millions are right beside you, planting.

💙💙💙

But first thing’s first-self care. Remember to heal yourself before you take on the world.

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You see, what the world needs more of isn’t business, infrastructure or money. The world needs more kindness, acceptance and happiness. We need to treat other human beings as our equals, giving them the same love and attention that we ourselves need. But what about the earth? That’s something that needs our devotion too-but it’s much bigger than any one of us.

So here’s what we can do.

Start small. Be kind as often as you can, and start with being kind to yourself.

Dream big. If you want to change the world, you have to have a pretty big idea in mind.

Find your passion. If you feel really strongly about feeding the homeless, saving the bees, reducing polar ice loss, caring for the sick or fixing a broken social institution, pursue it. Now is the time to make those changes, to start movements.

Get involved. Find organizations that support what you do and see how you can help. Time is just as valuable as money.

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It’s a hard fight we’re in for. To change the world requires nothing less. But to reiterate what I said above, nothing that is worth having comes easy.

And it is on that note, that I must impress upon you that what the world needs most is for you to realize that you have the power to be important. It does not matter what age you are, what ethnicity or gender or health status. It does not matter what religion, what political opinion, what country you belong to. It does not matter what your cultural heritage is, who you love, or what your socioeconomic status is. You have the power to be a positive force in the world.

I’ll wrap up with a story.

As I was helping some protests in my area concerning the Dakota Access Pipeline, several people were speaking about the reasons they were there. Many spoke of the injust treatment of the First Nations, many spoke of the need for clean water (I live just a few short hours from Flint, Michigan-another hotspot for water need). Some spoke of feeling “the call”-the feeling that they needed to be present. But no matter the reason, we all came together because it was something we felt needed to be done. Soon after, our governor recalled the police officers he’d sent to Standing Rock-because we were present.

As I was attending political conventions and rallies this last year, opinions and emotions ran high. There were central issues discussed, there were concerns presented and voices raised. We came because we were concerned, many of us were scared. We showed up. As I lobbied for better mental health laws, for human rights bills, for individual liberties and freedoms, thousands and millions of people were with me, marched with me, called with me, fought with me.

These big actions are not so different from the ones we take every day. Coping with depression, caring for a disabled loved one, sacrificing wants for needs, forgiving people who have wronged you, working hard to graduate or get a promotion or maybe even just getting a job in the first place. We use what we have to keep going.

That’s how you carry on. That’s how you win. You show up, be present. Keep fighting. Be kind.

You are valid. You have worth. You are irreplaceable.

Put on Your War Paint

Op-Ed Piece

It took me a long time to embrace femininity in the Western cultural sense. In some respects, I still haven’t accepted it. But there is one thing that I do which is both expected and looked down on all at the same time (ah, double standards!) and that is makeup. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and so this post is going to talk about the social norms and standards of body modification (as seen through a “Michelle” filter).

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Bias: My mother refrains from makeup because it irritates her skin something skin to an allergic reaction. I mention this only to show that I really didn’t have any emphasis placed on makeup growing up. I lived on a farm, and the chickens, cats, dogs, rabbits and equipment don’t care if you have on eye shadow. That being said, there came a time when the social pressures reached my small town and viola-a standard was created.

I was in fifth grade (so, age 11) and I wore shorts to school. Not the kind that would send teachers into a panic, but the kind that said “these were definitely overalls without the straps”. Two of the girls I saw in the library were looking at me and I went over to say hello. Before I knew it I head “Eww! You’re so hairy!” and my cheeks grew red, tears welled up and I ran home and shaved for the first time. That was also the last time I wore shorts to school. My legs were covered in nicks and cuts the next day, but I could (if I wanted to) roll my pant legs up and show everyone that I was a mature 11 year old with smooth legs.

It was also about that time that I found myself unable to say the word legs-because I was deeply aware of the latent sexuality of the female body. I couldn’t walk out of a room when men were present without being awkward, for fear that my legs were being watched. This had nothing to do with the people who were there, but everything to do with the way my brain took notice of the hypersexualization of my gender.

It was my freshman year in high school when I began to experiment with color combinations and a proto contouring (this was early 2000s, such a thing didn’t exist yet). I remember putting on navy blue lipstick and going to class, being gauked at and made fun of all day by people I didn’t even know. I remember hearing words like “goth girl has to go cut in the bathroom” and “she’s so weird”. I just happened to really like the color. And I never wore it again.

I created a certain “style” that I used each and every day. Black eyeliner, bright colored eye shadow, chap stick (because I thought bright colors on my lips would be a source of more ridicule). I have bright blue eyes (usually) and the colors compensate very nicely. One day though, I wore red eye shadow (something akin to Gerard Way’s look~check out My Chemical Romance). And I was asked multiple times if I was crying-because that’s how my look was interpreted. So out went the red.

Anyway, these stories are important, because they illustrate one very vital point: Makeup is a demand for women in America, up until you actually express yourself. Body modification is acceptable (and expected) up until you decide how to do it (or not).

I spent most of my college career not really wearing makeup. It wasn’t worth the chance of harassment. I mean, honestly, I was trying to learn, not pick up dates. And the more I studied, the more I understood the truth that I’ve been rediscovering for years:

Bodily autonomy is a good and sacred thing. And no, I don’t just mean reproductive rights. I mean choosing what happens to your body because you want it to (or don’t want it to)-not because of or for someone else but for your own self. I’ve been wearing various quantities of makeup for a few months now. I want to figure out my signature look before law school so I have time to perfect it and wear it that way forever. But why?

Because for me, it isn’t a cultural expectation. It’s the way I show my culture that I chose what happens to my own body.

I wear dark eyeliner (and lots of it) because I like it. I wear bright lipstick (of various shades) because it makes me feel awesome. I contour my face because I want to. I modify my body with piercings and (soon) tattoos and shaving (or not) and hair cuts because I choose to do those things for myself. I’m not “looking pretty” for other people. I’m not “getting dolled up” for other people. I’m looking the way I look because I like to look at myself. I like to catch my reflection in the windows of the buildings on campus and know that I am unstoppable.

Are there days when I look at myself and go “ehh, better not”? Sure. I’m not caught up in the way I look as the only facet of my identity that matters. But what I am is convinced that I am beautiful for myself and myself only.

For the record, I tell people that I’m “searching for the right shade of war paint” while I experiment with color combinations. Why? Because that’s how I see it.

I’m not decorating my face with dainty lines to look airbrushed and model-like. I’m looking to make a statement. I guess I am at war. At war with an oppressive culture. At war with those who would see women denied basic rights. At war with a justice system that’s institutionally racist and sexist and anti-religious equality. The first thing you see is my face-and if it doesn’t match how fierce I am on the inside, you won’t know to be afraid of my passion.

IMADTTO: The Conclusion

Hi folks.

Last night I received word on the President’s Prize, the project I’ve poured my heart and soul into for these past few months. I set out to combat rape culture on college campuses and in the end, it was decided that my project (for whatever reason) was not up to the level that my university wanted and therefore was rejected. I spent last night at somewhat of a loss. I believed in my project, it was the very first thing I put my whole self into and I received a very short “There were so many wonderful applicants, but unfortunately you will not be continuing on.” email and I debated what to do as my next step.

I decided that I wanted to share what I’d done with you all, so that you might know what I’d spent so much time working on, but also to use as a way to put some accountability on my university. I hope they do incorporate some of my ideas-because my pride is far less important than the safety of women everywhere. But if these ideas come into use, I hope they put them to action with as much devotion as I would have-because for them it’s just policy, for me it’s an entire life’s worth of passion. I’m only going to put the second round project proposal, because it is the most complete-but there were many other drafts, and additional pieces of work that needed to be included in the process of review.

I invite critiques and thoughts-because, as I said, this is something I’m devoting my whole life to-and am applying to law school for- so making this project better and better can only help me enact it in the courtroom.

I have to deal with losses as a lawyer, with grace and humility. I don’t want to lose, nor do I like it, but I am human and it very well may happen. I’m doing the best I can to plug forward, shake it off and carry on. My pride is wounded, but my compassion and drive are not. (Oh, and I changed the logo colors to Sexual Assault Awareness and Domestic Violence Awareness colors-a change I am very happy with.)

tl;dr: I’m placing my project proposal on my blog so that I can use it as a platform to save the world in a different route: my own self.

Michelle Brewer-Bunnell President’s Prize Project Statement

IMaDtTO Logo for Future.png
Project Title: IMADTTO (I Made A Difference To That One)

Problem Statement:

          Rape culture on college campuses is a social pandemic which needs to be addressed and eradicated. There are three target areas that I seek to focus on as key elements in the fight against rape culture: prevention, prosecution of crime and response to survivors. These elements are broken into sections of action that IMADTTO addresses as research, outreach, education and advocacy.

I maintain a blog on WordPress which, to the best of my abilities, I use to further stories of perceived injustices-focusing on rape culture. I use the critical thinking skills I have cultivated to seek out the legislation, proposed bills and the stories themselves so that I may present the facts. I also use that blog to discuss ideas for the improvement of society in respect to rape culture. I have opened the conversation to my readers and subscribers to tell me their ideas and stories. Since I have done so, it has been made abundantly clear to me that survivors of sexual assault desire to have their stories heard by someone who shows them respect and believes them at face value.

I have been approached by friends I have known for years, by family members and by complete strangers alike and asked if I could just listen to them. Among their stories, a vein of similarity popped up repeatedly: the need for gender inclusive education (whereby the message of body safety and awareness was given to all young adults), the need for a safe space to talk about their experiences and the need to be believed. It is these three suggestions from which IMADTTO came into existence, and will excel. The stark need for a program like IMADTTO is highlighted by the cases of Brock Allen Turner (Stanford University) and the Steubenville rape in 2012.

This project will positively affect everyone. The students are the target audience-both at a collegiate and high school level. By increasing body positivity and safety, young adults will be prepared to enter a world where they understand their rights, are fully capable of protecting themselves and are aware of what resources are available to them should they encounter an unsafe situation. On a slightly larger scale, this project will be beneficial to the parents of college-aged children by giving them the peace of mind that their children will be attending a college which is prepared to protect its students.

Ohio State will benefit from admissions increases, emerging as a leader in student safety and body positivity. Ohio State will serve as the role model for how rape culture on college campuses can be combatted. This commitment ripples through the national and global level, because Ohio State is rich in diversity and what student learn while attending will provide them the opportunity to be ambassadors to their home states and countries.

Project Outline and Timeline:

IMADTTO operates at four specific sections: research, outreach, education and advocacy. For each of these sections, individual tasks have been allocated. The research section will initiate the project. A survey will be created to assess potential problem areas on campus, the individual’s knowledge of available resources for the issue of sexual assault, responses to stigma and pop culture rape culture, as well as gauge their interest in a support group for survivors of sexual assault. This survey will serve as the basis for my own research (in accordance with IRB). This section will also include creating a compendium of resources available across the state to be used as part of the education and outreach sections. The research conducted in this section will be used to present at the latter two conferences I will attend.
Education will focus on the themes of body safety and body positivity. Under this category, a website and mobile application will be created in order to disseminate the information gathered in the “Research”. This will include a map of the areas deemed “issue” (that is to say, where students felt needed extra precaution when using) areas, the compendium of resources, links to news articles and legislation about sexual assault and rape culture, as well as important information such as basic self-defense tips. This information will be dispersed at twenty-five (25) high schools, as well as talks at each of the five (5) branch campuses, plus main campus. How to duplicate this project at other universities will be made available on the website as well.
The capstone for this section is the introduction of a sexual assault learning module in the Freshman Survey course, and a discussion for the parents at Freshman Orientation. The learning module will be a condensed, statistical exploration of rape culture and sexual assault that will be inserted into the pre-existing Freshman Survey course. The Freshman Orientation discussion with parents will be an introduction to the ways in which Ohio State is looking out for its students, including how a perpetrator will be dealt with. This creates accountability between Ohio State and the parents to ensure that all students are protected and informed.
Outreach focuses on publications. A newsletter featuring words of hope, self-care, the stories of survivors, and thoughts from professionals (such as nurses, social workers and police officers) will be created and distributed in both print and virtual format. This newsletter will also include progress reports for IMADTTO, as a way of holding the project accountable and also informing the general public about the successes of the project. Three books will be created, as conversation starters: one children’s picture book, one middle grade book and one young adult book. These books will focus on the theme of body positivity and inclusiveness at age appropriate levels.
Advocacy will take on a sustainable entity of its own. Small groups (of about 4-6 people) of survivors will come together to create support systems and lasting friendships during their time at Ohio State. These groups will serve as a type of “first line of defense” for survivors including-but-not-limited-to encouragement, providing escorts for the other members of their group to and from activities, get well cards, providing meals or support on “trigger” days (days in which the individual may suffer from the memory of a traumatic event). These groups will be for morale boosting purposes, but also provide a basic level of support by other people who understand the necessity of the group. There will also be collaboration with local law enforcement and politicians to promote an Ohio Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights, modeled after the National Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights, which was passed just this year.
Apart from the support group, this project will be, essentially, a networking and structural one. In order for IMADTTO to become functional, I must prepare the foundations of each section (the survey, the website, the newsletter, educational materials) and use those to further the project. As the foundations are completed, the project will require assistance and guidance from both curriculum advisors and orientation organizers (for the survey course and orientation discussion) as well as the cooperation and coordination efforts between myself and the leadership of the schools which I will be presenting at. Once this is accomplished, the project becomes more self-sufficient. The course work and discussion materials will be available, as will the publications, finalizing the third tier. The research presentations head off the final leg of the project, support groups will form and be self-managing.
Achievements to date include the information gathered from my blog, in which the basis of this project has come into formation. The compendium of resources has been started, but is at a national level, compiled into an alphabetized list. This is a fantastic starting point, and will be made available on the website. I would like to make an Ohio-specific list for IMADTTO. I am also currently working to complete general IRB (Institutional Review Board) modules so that I can begin the project immediately.
There are several project goals over the course of the year. Within the first three months (July through September) the survey will be created and dispersed, data compiled, presentation materials created, website and newsletter created, and branch campus visits scheduled. In months four to six (October through December) will focus on the publications as well as drafting the Freshman Survey module and the Freshman Orientation discussion. The support groups will also be organized and commence in this time frame. The third quarter (January through March) goals are completing and publishing the children and middle grade books, speaking at the high schools and working with law enforcement and legislators to draft and propose the survivor bill. The final three months (April through June) will be centered on enacting the learning module, the orientation discussion and ensuring that IMADTTO has impacted the university in a positive way. Instructions will be created for those wishing to continue the support groups, newsletter and website (or final arrangements made). A research paper will be produced (and presented), and the young adult chapter book will be made available for purchase.
There is nothing about this project which will take more than 12 months to achieve, however, there are some items which will require ongoing effort. The Freshman Survey learning module, the Freshman Orientation parental discussion and the support groups will be the lasting sectors of IMADTTO, in the event that no one continues the newsletter and regular website upkeep. For the learning module, this will be in the hands of the faculty and staff who teach the survey course, as well as the curriculum advisors. The parent discussion will be in the control of the directors of orientation. The support groups will either end at the discretion of the individual groups, or will be in the control of Sexuality and Civility Empowerment.
I will measure the success of IMADTTO based on both quantifiable markers and abstract ones. The successful creation of educational materials, the website and the completion of the goals listed above will serve as indicators for the overall success. I will also view success based on the level of reach which the project will have. The introduction of the survivor bill and the implementation of discussions about changing rape culture and making sexual assault survivors less stigmatized, while a little more abstract, are no less important.

Budget Description:

In total, this project will require $48,469. This money will be utilized for marketing, data collection, producing educational materials and dispersing information. No external funding is required. Marketing will involve “swag”, or promotional materials to be distributed to the schools I visit, as well as at various times throughout the academic year. These items will include the link to the website, resource compendium and other valuable information. Data collection will include the cost of running the survey through Survey Monkey. This will also include the price of maintaining the website and domain name (if not included in the university’s page) and mobile application costs. Producing the educational materials includes printing handouts, producing the newsletter in print form and also startup costs for the books. Funds to sustain the project, as well as scholarships for the creation of artwork for the children’s book and mobile application design. A budget for travel is included not only to ensure transportation to the schools I intend to visit, but also to three conferences given by professionals for the sole purpose of combatting rape culture in their various professions. It is at these conferences that this project’s findings will be presented.
These financial resources directly affect achieving the project goals by ensuring the conception and implementation of the project itself. Without the research aspect, this project cannot fully address the concerns of the Ohio State population. Without the education aspect, IMADTTO cannot affect prevention of sexual assaults (or knowledge of availability of resources). Without the outreach aspect, no one will know what IMADTTO’s purpose is, what is being done and how to start the discussion about sexual assault. Without the advocacy aspect, no actual change will occur. Students will have to navigate the justice system alone, Ohio might not have a survivor bill of rights, law enforcement will not know which areas students feel unsafe in. By attending the conferences I have selected, I will be able to bring the knowledge of other professionals from a variety of backgrounds to Ohio State to continually make the information I have gathered both useful, timely and culturally relevant.

Additional Information:

Although I am not the only one to think of addressing the issue of sexual assault and rape culture, I do not believe there is a program which mirrors IMADTTO in its breadth and the way it is broken down. Of the programs which exist in the state of Ohio, the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio and Sexuality and Civility Empowerment will be the resources I utilize most as I take on this project. Along with this, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network will be paramount to the successful accumulation of knowledge.
The marketing sector of this project will be taken care of both in person and through social media. I have a decent following on various social media platforms, and by utilizing the power and prestige of the university, I can access a vast database of networking moments through other students and faculty and staff. The in person marketing will come from meeting with students at their schools and at Ohio State’s Welcome Week.
In order for this project to be successful, each and every one of my interactions will be a form of partnership. Because I will have access to an entire university of staff and faculty who have insights into things I may not, such as research they’ve done over a specific facet of my project, the scope of my ideals will be far less limited. My faculty mentor will be the discerning rod for any questions I may have. From procedural decisions to research methods and write-up questions, I will use my mentor not as a crutch to lean on, but as a net to capture the things I might miss because of inexperience.
Apart from financial and networking assistance, all I require is a place to set up my work and internet access. This ideally takes the form of an office, so that I may organize my work in such a manner that causes maximum efficiency. I would also require a place (such as Sexuality and Civility Empowerment) for the support groups to meet if they so choose to do so on campus.
As with any project, there will be challenges. I anticipate that my own limitations in technology will be an issue, as will recruitment in the early stages of the project. As for the technological issues, I have designed a scholarship for the mobile application so that I can both give back to the university, but also so that I can devote my time to the website. Should there be problems beyond that, I am not too proud to ask for assistance and get my hands dirty! As for recruitment, I have set aside money in the budget for a reward for participants. There will be a raffle (for those who choose to enter) of 20-$50 gift cards. Any unforeseen problems will be handled with care and patience, and with the help of my faculty advisor.
I started down this path because of my own personal outrage at court cases like those involving Ke$ha, rapist Brock Turner and the Steubenville rape. In those stories I saw human beings who, like me, had had their bodily autonomy fractured and I saw the incredible strength of the survivors. It is with all of this in mind that I submit this project statement, in hopes that I might be the leader that my time at Ohio State has prepared me to be.
This project is more than just an opportunity to be the change I want to see in the world. It is the springboard I will use to further my career goals and ambitions. With graduation pending, I am applying to law schools around the country. It is a degree in criminal law which will afford me the honor of upholding justice and running for District Attorney. As District Attorney, I will continue the work I humbly began with my blog: fostering awareness and open dialogue between peoples of different backgrounds. I carry this one piece of truth with me each day, as both the inspiration for my passions, and also as the compass with which I make my decisions:

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” (Seuss, Dr. The Lorax. New York: Random House, 1971.)