Two recent Nova Scotia university graduates are giving student activists fighting sexual violence on Canadian campuses a place to tell their stories in a new, nationwide project that’s currently seeking submissions.
Addy Strickland and Emma Kuzmyk are putting a call out for stories, poetry and speeches, with the goal of eventually publishing them in an anthology.
The aim of the project, called Writing Activism, is “to share the work that they’re doing and celebrate it, because that doesn’t happen often enough,” said Strickland.
“The stories of anti-sexual violence activism on campuses aren’t usually stories that get widely shared. They’re hard to find,” she said.
“They’re also the kind of stories that aren’t often celebrated, in large part, because institutions don’t want them celebrated.”
Writing Activism is looking for stories about what student activists have faced, such as rape culture, institutional backlash and bad school policies, as well as the organizations and projects that grew from those challenges and the ways in which they’ve survived.
The anthology won’t just celebrate those stories. It will also give activists a chance to pass along what they learned “for those who are going to take up the torch and keep it going,” said Strickland.
Strickland and Kuzmyk both spent their student careers at St. Francis Xavier University fighting against what they call an “epidemic” of sexual violence at Canadian universities.
The two were enrolled in the school’s Social Justice Colloquium and participated in protests over the school’s handling of sexual assault cases.
They also helped create the StFX Peer Support Program, a mental health and sexualized violence resource, and have facilitated anti-sexual violence training at the school.
Strickland said they didn’t want to give up that “difficult” work after graduation.
“We’ve given four years of our life to doing this kind of work, and so to just sort of graduate and leave everything behind seems a disservice to everyone else who’s doing that kind of work as well,” she said.
“So we really wanted to create something that would last, would sum up our experience and the experiences of so many other people.”
‘A survivor in every classroom’
According to Statistics Canada, 71 per cent of students at Canadian post-secondary schools witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviours in 2019, and about one in 10 women experienced a sexual assault in a post-secondary setting during the previous year.
Research from the American Association of Universities suggests about one in four female undergraduate students and nearly seven per cent of male undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault.
Those numbers are far too high, said Kuzmyk.
“There’s typically a survivor in every classroom, in every group that you’re in, and it’s something that really needs to be considered,” she said. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t know somebody who’s been directly affected.”
Kuzmyk noted the relationship between activism and art, and how art can also be used as a form of healing.
“A lot of the time, activism is something that can be really challenging, and something that’s difficult and time consuming and straining, but there’s also a lot of beauty and art that arises from it,” she said.
“I think art really is a way to protest in itself, so we’re really excited to be able to collect these different art forms from different activists, including some of our own works, and just kind of seeing the beauty that comes out of activism.”
Writing Activism, which is being supported by the 2021 Wallace Family Internship, is accepting submissions until June 15. The goal is to have a finished manuscript and start the process of contacting publishers this summer.
The two women didn’t expect to get so involved with this issue when they first started school, but Kuzmyk said, “a lot of the time you don’t really get to pick the issues that affect you.”
“It’s such a broad issue and a lot of the time it gets swept under the rug, and there’s so much work that needs to be done,” she said.
“And if we can help in any way, if we can advance the voices of people who are already doing this very difficult work, then I’ll be very happy.”