Women’s Health, Gender and Empowerment COE sparks collaboration in the name of #MeToo

July 3, 2018

The #MeToo movement has inspired women around the world to demand sexual respect and safety. At UC Santa Barbara, UCGHI Women’s Health, Gender and Empowerment Center of Expertise (WHGE COE) members are using the movement’s momentum to explore what it means to be an ally in the age of #MeToo.

In June, the WHGE COE, in partnership with campus units and community agencies, brought together diverse voices, both on a panel and in the audience, to talk about different issues around the #MeToo campaign.

The event was initiated by Melissa Smith, WHGE COE deputy director, Laury Oaks, faculty ambassador for the COE and chair of feminist studies at UC Santa Barbara and Claire Amabile, student ambassador for the COE. All three emphasized the importance of collaboration in bringing these important conversations to campus. “We started reaching out to groups on and off campus and the response we got was really inspiring,” said Amabile.

The trio soon grew to a group of cross-disciplinary planners, panelists and supporters – including Campus Advocacy, Resource & Education (CARE) at UCSB, the department of sociology, Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (STESA) and the UC Santa Barbara chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action.

“It’s exciting to see how the COE’s faculty and student ambassadors can play a bridging role in fostering collaboration on and off campus,” said Smith.

Melissa Smith introduces the panel. 

Through the event, organizers sought to “deepen our understanding of rape culture, discuss how to be allies to survivors, learn about campus and community resources and learn how to take action to create change in our communities,” said Amabile.

The panel – including, Becca Williams, assistant director of advocacy services, CARE; Kristen Minami, prevention education coordinator, CARE, Tristan Bridges, assistant professor of Sociology, and Christian Sierra, community education coordinator, STESA – highlighted “strategies for making campus a safe place to go after someone says #MeToo,” said Amabile. “They stressed the importance of allies listening and believing and knowing what resources are available to survivors of sexual violence.”

Each of the panelists shared knowledge from their respective areas of expertise ranging from gender and masculinities to prevention education and survivor advocacy, which “allowed for deeper and more nuanced conversations among attendees seeking to increase their understanding of survivor allyship and support survivors during the time of #MeToo,” said Lauren Gunther, assistant director of Prevention Education, CARE.

The combination of scholarly research, activism and resources on campus made this a productive event, emphasizing the idea that “everyone in a community has a responsibility to recognize and intervene to prevent rape culture,” said Oaks.

Left to right: Tristan Bridges, Becca Williams and Christian Sierra.

“CARE’s involvement added great value to the event,” Oaks said. Their active presence on campus and experience in communicating about the subject matter helped us frame our ideas and promote an event that was truly open to all.”

Indeed, CARE provides confidential advocacy and support to students, staff and faculty impacted by sexual assault, dating/domestic violence and stalking. “We work with various campus departments and entities to provide campus-wide prevention education and [are] dedicated to working with student organizations and leaders to develop programming aimed at preventing violence and creating culture change,” said Gunther.

Enhancing anti-harassment efforts is on the forefront of many working with the UC Santa Barbara community right now. In May, UCSB vice chancellor for student affairs, Margaret Klawunn, institutionalized a series of student-led demands to combat sexual assault on and around campus. CARE is highly involved in this effort.

“Along with more resources devoted to anti-harassment efforts, student activists have called for a survey of incidents and campus responses, as a way of ensuring that responses continue to improve,” according to Oaks.

The WHGE COE signature project, Empower Campuses for Sexual Respect and Safety, does just that. According to Smith, the project has student ambassadors and faculty partners mapping sexual violence prevention activities and resources on UC campuses with the goal of building an evidence-base for effective campus sexual violence programs and policies that can be taken to scale in the US and internationally.

Smith is optimistic about future collaborations with CARE, STESA and other allies working to improve campus and community resources. “The WHGE COE signature project survey and subsequent phases could improve programs and policies by tapping into existing student concerns and working across organizations to address key gaps in campus responses to sexual violence,” said Smith. “We plan to keep the conversation going and to bring student activists to the table as well,” she added.

In the meantime, WHGE COE student and faculty ambassadors will continue to cross-fertilize ideas and inspire work and collaboration on the UC Santa Barbara campus and across the UC system.

“We hope to organize more events that explore how to make the #MeToo movement more intersectional, how to foster new masculinities in our communities and how to talk about the grey areas of sexual violence,” said Smith.