Friday, July 10, 2020

Sexual Assault Awareness Month at MSU: 'It's not just a month anymore'

April 18, 2019
    Sister Survivors Amanda Cosman and Mimi Wegener stand in front of the newly planted "Survivor Tree" during the Survivor Tree Dedication Ceremony east of the MSU Museum building on April 16, 2019. The tree planting ceremony is to honor survivors and family's members effected by sexual violence.
Sister Survivors Amanda Cosman and Mimi Wegener stand in front of the newly planted "Survivor Tree" during the Survivor Tree Dedication Ceremony east of the MSU Museum building on April 16, 2019. The tree planting ceremony is to honor survivors and family's members effected by sexual violence. —
Photo by Connor Desilets | The State News

Several events — including the planting of a Survivors’ Tree, the placing of teal prayer flags and It’s On Us Week of Action — have taken place on MSU’s campus and around East Lansing as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As the month goes on, there will be more community-wide commemorations intended to bring attention to survivors of sexual assault. 

The Beaumont Tower carillon bells played songs in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month on April 16. The concert, titled “Carillon Concert, Our Time: Me Too,” was organized by the College of Music, the College of Arts and Letters and the MSU Sexual Assault Program.

Some of the songs played were “Our Time: Me Too” by Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra, “Scars to Your Beautiful” by Alessia Cara and “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child.

“Music can be a healing power,” Dean of the College of Music James Forger said. “The carillon is symbolic at the center of this great campus, and to have pieces that are meaningful to survivors play and be spread across the campus is terrific.”

Juliet Hess, an assistant professor of music education in the College of Music, said music creates vulnerabilities and unique environments where people can feel empowered. She said the College of Music is trying to think of ways people can feel valued.

“I think there’s unfortunately an ever-growing heightened awareness of sexual assault brought on by the tragedy of the events surrounding Larry Nassar,” Forger said. “How can you create a climate where people feel freer to come forward and to say something is not okay?”

When it comes to recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Hess said the recognition should extend far beyond the month of April.

“It’s not just a month anymore,” Hess said. “We have this dedicated time in April to think about sexual assault awareness, but actually, we’ve been thinking about it unfortunately not long enough.”

After the carillon concert, there was a ceremony for the planting of a Survivors’ Tree outside of the MSU Museum. 

The tree — an American beech — was donated by Grewal Law PLLC and planted for survivors of sexual assault in conjunction with the opening of the Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak exhibit

“This tree symbolizes our commitment to try to do better,” MSU Museum Director Mark Auslander said.

Trustee Brian Mosallam spoke at the tree planting ceremony. He said it was important that the MSU Board of Trustees were represented at the ceremony to show their solidarity with survivors of Nassar’s abuse. 

“I think that it’s important that as we plant this tree in honoring our courageous survivors and their courage — it’s not to turn the page on this chapter,” Mosallam said. “As April passes and May 1 comes and Sexual Assault Awareness Month is gone, it’s not to say that we shouldn’t be talking about this anymore. This is something I think is very important that we never forget as an institution.”

Frank Telewski, curator of the W.J. Beal Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, said he’s pleased that the tree has been planted on MSU’s campus in remembrance of the fight for accountability survivors and advocates had to face with the university. 

“This carries on a long tradition not only here at Michigan State, but of humanity in general — that we plant trees in recognition of our lives, as a reflection of who we are,” Telewski said. “We look to trees for strength.”

It’s On Us Week of Action — held April 1 through April 5 — kicked off the community’s recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Several events were held across campus, including a trauma-informed yoga session and a keynote speech about a culture that allows rape jokes

Additionally, teal prayer flags have been placed along Grand River Avenue, near Abbot Road, on M.A.C. Avenue, between Charles Street and Division Street and between Bailey Street and Collingwood Drive. 

These flags were signed by at least 4,000 students. Parents of Sister Survivors Engage, or POSSE, partnered with the City of East Lansing to install the prayer flags.

On April 18, Take Back the Night — an annual event “dedicated to shedding a light on the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence with the intent of transforming culture” — will take place for most of the day. There will also be a candlelight vigil held at the museum.

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