‘Our voices will shatter stigmas’

Through stories, art, performance, students hope to open up conversation


ZACH RUBIO | The Daily Evergreen

Senior crisis and risk communication major Emma Kurtenbach performs a song from the musical “Dear Evan Hansen.” Kurtenbach says she performed the song with the intention of telling survivors that they are not alone.

JESSICA ZHOU, Evergreen assistant news editor

A hand-lettered banner draped below a row of drawings and paintings read: “Sometimes we have to take things in our own hands. Sometimes that is ourselves.”

WSU students and community members submitted the gallery of artwork for “Project Fearless,” an event aimed at illuminating problems of sexual assault. The gallery included a suicide letter to ​the writer’s parents revealing that they had been raped, juxtaposed with a triumphant letter-to-past-self by the same writer, now 22-years-old.

A Pullman High School student submitted their diary, with a note stating that writing about their sexual assault experience after the fact helped with their process of recovery.

After viewing the gallery of work, eventgoers were ushered into the Jones Theatre in Daggy Hall, where the lights dimmed and they watched different spoken-word and musical performances.

Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, estimated the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. “Project Fearless,” through the combination of gallery and performance art, illustrated and illuminated a variety of those experiences students at WSU faced.

“We are here because sexual assault and violence remains pervasive in the United States,” said Kelsey Jones, one of the event organizers and a Student Media employee. “We are here, we are fearless and we are not going anywhere.”

One senior said she shared her story because she believed that for each person who shares their story, another is given their voice.

“It is the bumps that litter my skin the first time I let a boy touch me again,” she said during a spoken-word performance. “It is the moment I understand that my ‘no’ is the sound of a lit up vacancy sign.”

Another senior spoke of how attackers get to walk away, leaving the people they assaulted feeling blame, shame and rejection.

A graduate student shared her poem, written from her perspective as both a survivor of assault and a mother caring for her daughters.

There was also a performance about supporting a person who had gone through assault, though most other performances, spoken and sung, dealt with first-hand experiences.

At the end of the event, some cried. One attendee wished there were emotional support personnel on standby during the performances, many of which were detailed recollections of performers’ experiences.

The organizers said they hoped the several dozen people in attendance would consider taking tangible action by becoming involved with advocacy and support organizations on campus and in Pullman. They also hoped to broaden the conversation to assault faced by communities of color and the LGBTQ community, among others.

Jones planned the event with Alexandra Ranney as a part of ASWSU’s “It’s On Cougs” initiative to raise awareness of sexual assault on campus.

They pointed to Health & Wellness Services, Counseling and Psychological Services and Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse as confidential community resources for those seeking help.

Ranney said it was difficult at times to put the event together, as it was filled with intensely personal experiences.

“It shocks me on some days, when other people’s stories connect with mine,” she said. “It’s about taking back control from a night I didn’t have it.”

Jones recalled staying silent about her own sexual assault experience until Brock Turner trended in conversations nationwide for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. It was around that time she confided in a friend, finally breaking two years of silence. Like Ranney, Jones presented a personal spoken-word piece as well.

She was inspired by the mission of “Shades of Black,” an event designed to raise awareness of underrepresented identities, and approached Ranney about the idea at the beginning of the semester.

“Stories like theirs gave me the strength to come forward,” Jones said of the performers and artists. “Collectively, our voices will shatter stigmas.”

This article has been updated to remove misinformation about an experience detailed in one of the performances.