From left: Aisha Hinds, Wade Davis, Yaba Blay, and Tarana Burke hosting a dialogue about one of Black America’s points of contention. (Javanna Plummer)
Trigger Warning: This story part of the “Noise” series by Rwebel Media, which features stories primarily looking at sexual assault. In this story, I give details about reporting my assault, post traumatic stress disorder, and rape culture on college campuses. Reader discretion is advised.
Tarana Burke, the founder of ‘me too.’, recently visited the Atlanta University Center on the second leg of a ‘me too.’ tour. She co-organizes this tour with Dr. Yaba Blay, a professor at North Carolina Central University and a producer of the web series “Professional Black Girl.”
While visiting historically Black colleges and universities across the country, Burke, Blay, and special guests dialogue about how rape culture impacts the Black community and how this in turn permeates onto HBCU campuses.
On this stop, Burke and Blay were joined by Wade Davis, a public speaker and former NFL player who serves as the NFL’s first LGBT+ consultant, and Aisha Hinds, a TV and film actress who played Harriet Tubman on “Underground.”
During a fireside chat at the Ray Charles Performing Art Center, the quartet balanced humor with anecdotes to drive a candid conversation about rape culture. By the end of this chat, there was a sense of healing through activism.
At the onset of the event, Burke explained what necessitated this tour. While rape culture affects college campuses generally, survivors from HBCUs seem to be especially vulnerable, since HBCUs are a subset of the Black community, Burke noted.
Accordingly, issues we see in our community are duplicated on HBCU campuses. To this effect, Burke and Blay talked about R. Kelly.
There is no girl
to attract a man
who wasn’t already
Tarana Burke, ‘me too.’ founder
Burke said that when the Lifetime docuseries premiered, dissenters on social media brought up the alleged complicity of survivors as justification for what Kelly did. Burke’s favorite meme responding to this notion noted: “There is no girl fast enough to attract a man who wasn’t already attracted to little girls.”
When Burke said this, the audience of mostly Black women chanted or nodded in agreement. By saying this, Burke was breathing life into a truth we all know painfully well: at young ages, Black girls are assigned maturity so that they become responsible for the predatory actions of grown men.
A shot of the audience at the fireside chat. (Javanna Plummer)
Since many HBCUs serve majority Black populations, this is a truth students must grapple with when matriculating through these campuses. However, there is another layer to the rape culture HBCU students face.
In addition to a culture of non-believing, universities generally do not respond well to reports of sexual assault. Recently, Australia Say, Miss Fisk University, shared a letter on Twitter documenting her experience reporting a campus assault.
Say wrote: “We, as a University community, must start holding people accountable for their actions. Whether you have enough evidence, or not, there should be something in place to make students feel safe.”
For survivors at HBCUs, our pain is two fold. On one side, we have the rape culture from America seeping onto our campuses. On the other, we have a battle within our own campus community to be heard. On all sides, we lose.
Really, the work that Burke and Blay are doing is imperative and timely.
A tour banner set up on stage. (Javanna Plummer)
Two years ago, my assault changed my life.
Immediately after, I began experiencing loss: I lost friendships that I valued deeply, I lost the sense of purpose I was just beginning to find, and I lost faith in institutions that I expected to lift me up.
Since I reported my assault, I was supposed to be exception. Alas, I became the rule; I joined the long list of survivors who seek justice and fail. Yet, on the same token, I was failed – by my old friends who sided with someone they never met, by a University that let an accused rapist live in the same apartment complex as his victim, by a larger Black community that protects abusive Black men.
TV and film actress Aisha Hinds interacts with young women from the AUC after a fireside chat while rocking a collared crop top that says “Ghetto until proven fashionable.” (Javanna Plummer)
By no fault of mine, my assault became my story, and since it took up so much mental space, I decided to redirect that pain into advocacy.
I decided to never stop speaking on what happened to me, for fear that silencing myself would set a violent precedent for other survivors. I decided to make noise, and that is a freeing feeling that I refuse to redact. ~ℝ
Javanna is the editor of "Rwebel Magazine," the architect behind "Rwebel Radio," and the pioneering force of "Xscape." Through her words, Javanna hopes to inspire creativity, passion, and forward-thinking.
Javanna is the editor of “Rwebel Magazine,” the architect behind “Rwebel Radio,” and the pioneering force of “Xscape.” Through her words, Javanna hopes to inspire creativity, passion, and forward-thinking.