Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA) at the University of Utah held a poetry reading last week to raise money to translate the Rape Recovery Center’s website into Spanish, opening up its services to more victims in need.
A large portion of the staff are bilingual, but with a website available in both English and Spanish, victims will have access to answers to questions they are afraid to ask or do not think of when meeting with support.
Every person who donated $5 as they walked into Mestizo Coffeehouse was allowed to choose one of the “Letters From a Stranger” from a box. The envelope was filled with information on the Rape Recovery Center and included a note card which contained an emotional note from someone the recipient had never met.
“It’s ‘Letters to a Stranger’ as like a way of living,” said Clara Somer, SASA president and a volunteer at the Rape Recovery Center. “So living your life kind of through expressing in ways that because you don’t know them, that doesn’t mean that you can’t share personal, and connective expressions with them.”
“Letters to a Stranger” was intended to be an outlet for people to allow themselves to acknowledge what it is they are feeling, see it on a page and move forward. On each seat sat a paper, instructing its occupant on how to write a letter to a stranger:
- “Recognize your humanness — accepting mistakes
- “Find what fulfills you — searching for ways to feel more satisfied with your life
- “Trust your intuition — Let emotions play a role in the decisions you make
- “Feeling is the whole of living — avoid neglecting your emotions
- “Radical acceptance of your feelings — emotions will not always make sense
- “Define your values to yourself and others — treat yourself well and ask that others do the same
- “Expand your world — Try something new, open your mind”
“Specifically in Utah, there’s a very toxic environment of not allowing yourself to feel or acknowledge things that are wrong, and that’s often why there’s like this cycle where survivors feel like they can’t come forward, or inside relationships they can’t even face or understand the fact that their relationship is toxic because no one is willing to talk about these things,” Somer said.
Poetry is one method of expressing challenging emotions like the ones surrounding sexual assault. The event in the intimate downtown coffee shop took a turn when none of the expected poets showed up — but that did not put an end to the night.
Opening the mic up, SASA passed around notecards and pens, encouraging everyone to write a letter to a stranger to “let themselves feel things.”
People slowly began to step forward. The group heard and shared a range of emotions, from lighthearted jokes about alligators to poetry surrounding rape. The people in the room bounced back and forth between tears and laughter.
The event came to an end after about an hour of audience members gathering courage to step up to the microphone and be vulnerable in a room of strangers. By being able to talk about experiences and feel emotions, Somer said people can set more concrete boundaries and put themselves and those around them on the road to a safer world.
“In a way, this is like a stepping stone to this greater society where we can finally oust assaults and perpetrators.”