Here's What You Missed from Tarana Burke's Campus Visit

In case you missed it, founder of the Me Too movement Tarana Burke spoke on campus on Saturday. It was inspirational, heartwarming, and powerful seeing this advocate for sexual violence survivors speak to the crowd about her experiences. Burke’s event taught the crowd a lot about the Me Too movement and it's future.

 

 

Burke started by recounting what brought her to start the Me Too movement. After decades of activism and starting an organization aimed at empowering young women, Burke noticed similar tales of sexual violence from many of the women she met. After one particular incident of a high school aged girl relaying a story of sexual violence to Burke, she realized how hard it was to talk about those incidents. She said that, upon reflection, she thought to herself how useful it would've been for that girl to hear the words "me too" as a way to express Burke's empathy. 

Burke told the crowd when she saw Alyssa Milano talking about Me Too on Twitter late last year, she was worried. “I’ve seen what happens when a black woman’s work gets too popular,” she said, and she feared being erased from the movement that she first started in 2006. But as Twitter, and especially young black women on Twitter, came together to give her credit, Burke decided she would embrace the publicity. 

 

 

That doesn’t mean Burke was after fame. She made sure to emphasize that she has no use for a celebrity status, and that the entire focus of this movement has always been the survivors. “This movement was never about taking out powerful men,” she said. “It was about a declaration.” Burke’s goals have always been to empower survivors of sexual violence through empathy and to encourage radical community healing. 

Contrary to what we may see on the media, Burke emphasized that Me Too is “not just for famous, white, cisgender women.” Burke encouraged the audience to center marginalized people in the movement because “they will be forgotten if you don’t.” This all goes back to inclusivity within the movement. “We have to lean into our collective power,” Burke said, “if we want to move the needle just a little bit.”

Burke told the crowd that Me Too is just a starting point for sexual violence awareness and reform. She hopes to “refocus the movement on what survivors need” as opposed to the sensationalism that has followed the media coverage of the movement.

The whole time I was in the crowd listening to Burke speak and seeing her accept the Women’s Initiative’s award for Excellence in Activism, I knew that this was monumental. Burke gave great insight into her vision for the Me Too movement, but she also made an effort to connect with each member of the audience. She stayed afterwards to hear more than a dozen guests thank her for her efforts, and she gave personal advice to those still healing from trauma. I’ve never seen such an emphasis on healing for survivors, and that’s what makes Me Too and Burke so extraordinary. 

 

All photos belong to the author.

Currently an undergraduate student at American University, Katie is studying Political Science with a minor in Communication Studies. When she has free time, she enjoys visiting art museums and going to concerts. 

Find her on Instagram here

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