By Millie Zhou
As a current postgraduate student, learning about decades of sexual abuse across university campuses left me with a heavy heart.
I decided to have difficult discussions about sexual violence with my friends and colleagues across colleges – not in spite of the weight of the burden, but because of it. Because we know it is a heavy burden that survivors never chose, let alone chose to carry alone, I feel we need advocates to offset some of that burden and carry it on their behalf. In my opinion, we need to have these uncomfortable conversations about silenced survivors so that their experiences can find a voice. The cost of not engaging in these conversations and showing solidarity with survivors and movements (e.g., #MeToo, Oxford SU It Happens Here, Transforming Silence) is knowing that we choose silence; and knowing that silence has been seen to perpetuate the systemic failures of our institution.
I have been volunteering with the Transforming Silence project, which aims to bring about systemic change regarding sexual violence. Transforming Silence is hosting a symposium on sexual violence and power in higher education, entitled “Silence Will Not Protect Us”, which will take place on 25th February 2022, followed by a workshop on 26th February. The symposium will focus on the history of sexual misconduct in Oxford; the activist movements who resisted it; how university policies can be seen to re-traumatise survivors; and the ways we can advocate for change. A number of academic scholars at the forefront of these issues have already been confirmed as speakers. The symposium is open to everyone and event details can be found on the website. Updates will also be posted on social media platforms (Twitter @transfrmsilence and Instagram @transformingsilence).
Systemic change at the University of Oxford and beyond is a monumental task, but the Transforming Silence symposium is a step forward. By engaging in difficult conversations and advocating for changes, we aim to begin to transform the culture of silence.