Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April 21, 2021

Dear members of the Mount Holyoke Community,

April 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which is dedicated to raising awareness and providing support for survivors of sexual harassment, sexual assault and gender-based violence. The observance, known as SAAM, invites each of us in the Mount Holyoke College community to think about our role in preventing individual and collective acts of gender-based harm. SAAM is a call to action as we seek to eradicate harm, support accountability, and create more spaces for embodied healing justice in movements around the world.

While officially SAAM is 20 years old, efforts to call attention to gender-based violence and discrimination began long before and grew out of social justice movements led by Black and Indigenous women of of color. These movements remind us that people living at the intersections of oppression — such as communities of Black, Indigenous,and people of color (BIPOC); queer, transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals; disabled people; people living in prisons or immigration detentions — are among the most vulnerable to gender-based violence and least likely to have access to support services. SAAM urges us to call attention to these disparities and keep these realities at the forefront of our collective work. 

Each year the National Sexual Violence Resource Center determines a theme for SAAM. This year the theme is “We Can Build Safe Online Spaces.” As more of our lives move into virtual spaces as a result of the pandemic, so too must we hone our skills for practicing digital consent, intervening when we see harmful content or behaviors, and building online spaces that are free from harm. 

On April 16 we heard from J. Ko from the Palante Tech Co-Op on how to use methods of harm reduction in digital spaces to keep ourselves and others safe. This event was recorded and will be made available once it’s captioned. 

We’re also hosting two lunchtime brown-bag virtual sessions that will be available for our entire community to view. The first was a session entitled “What is the current state of Title IX.” The second, scheduled for April 30, will examine the history of sexual violence in Black and Indigenous communities, with a focus on contemporary strategies and organizing techniques to combat these erasures. This event, “Speaking Up For Each Other: The Long History of Gender Based Violence and Racial Injustice,” featured the organization A Long Walk Home, which seeks to help women and girls combat the issues of racial harm and gender-based violence. 

In this vein, we continue to offer healing spaces with a specific emphasis on trauma survivors holding pain connected to abuse, incarceration, isolation, racism, intimate-partner violence and gender-based harassment, facilitated by Tomiko Jenkins, a licensed clinical social worker. Our next healing circle, Healing from Trauma: A Focused Care and Restorative Space for Survivors, is on Tuesday, April 27.

To raise awareness of the issues faced by so many, along with important strategies for combating harm, we are highlighting two films that you can link to from the events calendar. On April 29 we will also recognize Denim Day, an international effort to call attention to the fact that no survivor should be blamed for their assault based on what they were wearing. 

Also on April 29, we are pleased to welcome a very special dialogue with Elizabeth Smart, the keynote speaker for this year’s SAAM programming. Smart is an outspoken survivor who uses her story of abduction to amplify the voices of girls and women whose stories have not received the visibility that aided in her rescue and recovery. This event is co-sponsored with AccessAbility Services, the Division of Student Life and the Weisman Center for Leadership. For details and registration, visit our SAAM event page

I want to express special thanks to Jane Kvederas ’22 of the Student Government Association Executive Board and DEI Fellow Angelis Liriano ’22 for being part of our planning committee this year. 

For students needing additional support throughout the month of SAAM, please call Counseling Service’s 24/7 care and support line at 413-538-2037. You can also attend Drop-in Talkin’ on Monday evenings from 6 to 8 pm in Blanchard 209.

Best, 

Shannon DaSilva
Associate Director of Equity and Compliance/Title IX and 504 Coordinator