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Beyond #MeToo: Students at Cabrillo College move past trauma and become healers

Jenna by Janice Goff-Lafontaine

The annual Speak Out project which comes to Cabrillo College April 11, is a way for victims of sexual assault to share their stories of healing. The showcase’s stories and photographs are a testament to the strength women, and perhaps one day men, feel now that they have started recovering from their experiences with assault.

This year photographs and testimonies will open at a gathering in front of the HUB at Cabrillo College on Wednesday 2 p.m. April 11 and will run until the end of the semester in May. Participants will be there to tell their stories and answer questions.

Now that sexual harassment, domestic violence, rape, and other forms of sexual assault are beginning talked about openly, some wonder what to do with that truth.

“We are greater than our trauma,” said Jaqueline Mendoza, 24, who participated in the project a year after it’s Cabrillo debut in 2014. Now, along with Dianne Avelar and the founder Janice Goff-Lafontaine, she is part of the organizing team. Though she appreciates the strength women are finding in the #metoo movement, she never participated in it herself. She has talked about her assault, but prefers to talk about what it is to realize the power within herself and other people that have had similar experiences.

“It’s not enough for me to say ‘me too’,” said Mendoza. “Because statistics will tell you it’s happened to everyone.”

 

Jaqui By Janice Goff-Lafontaine

The traumatic experience these women have undergone is only a tiny part of what the creators of Speak Out want observers to take away from this installation. The recognition the #metoo movement has found makes it important to see past the sensation, and start focusing on the empowerment, self acceptance, and reclamation of one’s body these women are living every day.

“We need to continue that conversation beyond the headline,” said Goff-Lafontaine.

The participants of Speak Out “got involved because it wasn’t focused on what happened, it was focused on healing,” she said. For 10 years Goff-Lafontaine brought her book “Women in Shadow and Light” to women’s self defense, women’s sexuality, and women’s history classes, and spoke to students at Cabrillo College about assault and the healing process. After every presentation at least one student would come to her with a story of their own, and ask to be involved if ever she wrote another book. She decided it was time to turn the focus to their stories. In letting the students speak for themselves she found that together they created a self-healing community.

“It’s like throwing a stone in the water, and the ripples just go… they have all become healers,” said Goff-Lafontaine. Each person that tells their story becomes part of the healing process for someone they might never meet. The participants do talk about their traumatic experience, but after that brief conversation they are asked when and where in their body they began to heal. The creators work with the participants to shape a photograph that embodies their feelings of perseverance, strength, and pride. The photographs defy the stereotypical victim-image society recycles.

Jessica By Janice Goff-Lafontaine

“When all you have is your strength that’s when you realize how strong you are,” said Mendoza. “I wanted every decision I made to be mine.”

She described the liberating feeling of coming back into a place of peace within herself. Mendoza is a first generation Mexican-American, and she would not let the statistics about minority women fill her with fear, or control the way she lived, as it once had when she was a child.

“I walk with myself,” said Mendoza. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, even though I felt the shame.”

But despite the shame she felt because of the way she had been taught to view sex, her body, her culture, and her gender she knew what happened to her wasn’t her fault. For Mendoza that truth was one of the hardest to come to terms with. Each person that’s interviewed for Speak Out struggles with this truth, but they can say it with such sincerity to someone else.

“Why is it that we can say ‘you are a good person, it wasn’t your fault, and now you’re a healer’ but we can’t say that to ourselves?” Goff-Lafontaine wondered.

“This does not define you. This is not who you are. It’s just something that happened to you,” she said. She has said it many times, she will say it many more, and she hears the women say it to each other. She hopes this project will be embraced and carried over to colleges everywhere. The project is already debuting at Daytona State in Florida, and the University of Texas in Austin. Speak Out is an annual event that opens every April.

 

        Strong Together By Janice Goff-Lafontaine

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