I had the pleasure of officially meeting Melissa Carcamo on a sunny afternoon on the balcony of the ASLC building at Florida State University. Here, I was given a glimpse into what makes Melissa, Melissa, and by the end of our meeting, had a better understanding of the kind of work she is interested in. Melissa, a junior in Women’s Studies with a minor in Hispanic Marketing, is one of twelve undergraduate students honored this semester with the Humanitarian of the Year Award, a prestigious award that is meant to highlight the students’ dedication towards service and social change.
This, however, was not my first time seeing Melissa. In reality, she’d become a familiar face on campus long before I actually officially met her. Melissa currently serves as the vice-president to the Central American Student Association, and living up to her award title, she can often be found either hosting or attending events that center around social issues, while also discussing ways to resolve them. Events such as “Muy Macho” and “Indigenous America: The Beginning” are examples of such events where Melissa took part.
Yet her involvement goes far beyond that of campus. Melissa has spent summers abroad in India and Kenya, where she worked as a human trafficking awareness teacher and a sex-educator, working on a curriculum to end gender-based violence.
“The goal was for the curriculum to target the boys [to educate them on the effects of gender-based violence and hopefully help decrease it], and for the girls to get self-defense training,” said Melissa. She worked closely with locals to ensure that the program stayed in place even after her group departed. “Sustainability is a big thing for me, so I [thought] that it should be male teachers that the students can relate to, and look up to, and would listen to.”
Much of her focus now is centered around advocacy for women who have experienced sexual violence, and more specifically, sexual violence on campus. A big issue that Melissa has brought attention to is that under Title IX, sexual misconduct is handled in a manner that does not benefit the victim. Under Title IX, an institution is meant to protect the victim of sex discrimination and sexual misconduct; however, citing her own rape, Melissa has pointed out that it is she who is having her schedule uprooted and moved so that it does not coincide with her aggressor's. In addition, she has expressed frustration over the timeline of how things were handled.
“The first failure starts with Title IX in the sense that it takes so long to get a hearing date. My assault was September first, but my hearing wasn’t until April first. They’re so big on evidence and what you remember, but a lot of assault does not leave evidence. The evidence is the trauma.”
Hoping to create change in how sexual misconduct is handled, Melissa continues to be outspoken on social media and on campus. In doing so, she continues to inspire the people she touches with her story and relentless strive for change, in more ways than one.
All photos are courtesy of Melissa Carcamo.