Tarana Burke Speaks At Rutgers About Sexual Violence

By Giana Castelli

On February 12th, Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, visited Rutgers to speak about the roots of the international movement and raising awareness for sexual assault victims. The event took place in the College Avenue Gymnasium and had a turnout of over 750 students and faculty.

Burke, a longtime activist for social justice and spokesperson against sexual violence, started metoo.support, a website that provides resources for victims of sexual violence and abuse. A survivor of sexual assault herself, Burke has dedicated her career to amplify the voices of those who have been affected by sexual violence—everyone. She seeks to use the power of empathy to heal survivors.

Burke described herself as coming from a “mostly left-leaning, black nationalist” family who encouraged her to take pride in her identity as a black woman. Her activism began in 1989 with the Central Park Jogger Case, in which a female jogger was allegedly beaten and raped by five black youths.  Burke organized a group in defense of these men and against Donald Trump, who had taken out full page ads in New York newspapers condemning the men and calling for the return of the death penalty in New York. “I don’t know how to explain the feeling of empowerment I had...implementing this idea,” Burke remarked, noting that this was the beginning of a mission that she continues today.

She recalled the anxiety she felt in October when the #MeToo movement became trending on Twitter. “How will people know about me?” She remarked, commenting on how people often take the credit of black women. To this, she emphasized: “#MeToo was found by a black woman.”

In her speech, Burke addressed the misconceptions and criticisms around the movement, particularly the claim that the #MeToo movement has become a witch hunt that seeks to target men. “I’ve never had a person come up to me and say ‘I want to take down this person.’ They come to me and say ‘I need help. This is killing me.’” She stated that these misconceptions are crafted by the media and corporate America to silence women coming forward.

Preceding Burke’s lecture were performances from students related to sexual violence and its impact on their lives. As February is Black History Month, the performances centered around intersectionality and the effect of sexual violence on minority communities, such as slam poetry by Steven Ikegwu and a speech from Tamaj Nicholson, leader of Black Lives Matter Rutgers and the Black Student Union. Prior to the event, a trigger warning was issued to the audience about the content of the program, which included references to domestic and sexual violence.

The #MeToo social media campaign movement became popularized in October 2017 when famous celebrities such as Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan came forward with their stories of being sexually abused by producer Harvey Weinstein.