Say What?! event sparks dialogue on sexual violence, language


Suzanne Holt, director of the Women’s Studies Program, held a group discussion in the Multicultural Center in the student center on Wednesday, April 3 about language and sexual violence. Photo by Emily Lambillotte.

Kelsey Leyva

Staff and students engaged in a lively discussion about how language relates to sexual violence Wednesday night at an event titled “Say What!?: I Am Going To Hit That Tonight.“

Dr. Suzanne Holt, director of the Women’s Studies Program, facilitated the discussion. A majority of the conversation focused specifically on language and social media.

“I think even more to the point is social media because there one can use language in an even more careless, even more cavalier fashion without the risk of something happening back to them,” Holt said. “It’s not like I want to be the word police or be a censor, I just think that we just need to be aware of how loaded words are.”

Holt said that the world is lacking a universal “OK” when it comes to certain words or phrases in people’s daily language and compared the need for that structure to sports.

“It occurs to me that sports are one of the few remaining genres, one of the few remaining domains where we play by the rules,” Holt said. “That’s not where we live. And I think that’s why we love sports because we kind of wish life was like that.”

Just as there is a variation in the definition of certain words, there is also variation in the views people have towards those words. Students had differing views on the notion of females “asking” for attention based on their appearance. Kayla DePew, sophomore community health education major, found the dialogue to be frustrating.

“I think it’s very important that we can have the open conversation with women about women because our input is truly what’s important there,” DePew said. “But I think it becomes complicated and frustrating when you’re talking to people who have a general idea that you share but you disagree on very fundamental things.”

Despite the frustration, DePew still believes that the dialogue and other events about language and how it relates to sexual violence are necessary.

“Overall, women’s voices are important no matter what they’re saying,” she said. “If you’re hearing about women from women, it’s always going to be an important discussion no matter if you agree or disagree.”

Jennifer O’Connell, Sexual Assault Response Team education intervention coordinator, helped put together the event and found the differing views to be beneficial to the conversation.

“I thought that that helped,” she said. “It wouldn’t have been much of a conversation if everyone said the same thing. We all should have a difference of opinions and be able to express them and get that conversation going. I thought that was good.”

O’Connell was pleased with the student interest in the event and foreshadowed to having more events like this in the future.

“I was really happy with it [the event],” she said. “I was excited that people were willing to speak and talk. It was a really good dialogue to get started on campus and this is just the beginning of this dialogue. We’re hoping to do more.”

Contact Kelsey Leyva at [email protected].