You descend into the Mug and see students gathered in silence, facing the stage. The only objects on the stage are two empty chairs. You quietly take a seat in the back row. Suddenly, a student stands up, walks onto the stage, and hesitantly takes a seat. They take a deep sigh and begin telling a uniquely personal story of an experience, attempting to lessen the burden of weight they still carry.
This is a Speakout sponsored by CARES, Vassar’s 24/7 anonymous peer-listening service that specializes in issues of personal violation. Speakouts provide the opportunity for students to share about experiences with issues such as sexual assault, relationships, abuse, racism, cissexism and depression, amid many, in a nonjudgmental environment. The goal of a Speakout is to allow students to reclaim the space of the Mug: a common site for overlooked personal violation that more often than not occurs without bystander intervention and is somewhat expected on larger Mug Nights.
A vital aspect of the event: what is said at a Speakout in the Mug stays at that Speakout in the Mug. With such sensitivity in the subject matter and with such courageousness in those speaking out, there are often long moments of silence. These silences can be just as powerful as the words iterated from those seated in isolation on the stage, and although they can be uncomfortable for those in attendance, they allow an essential component to the Speakouts: time for reflection. Following the monologues, CARES leads an “I Feel Strong” activity which encourages everyone in attendance to shout out particular moments of personal strength. This action is done to empower those in attendance and finish the experience with a feeling of solidarity amidst the toxic plurality that they will venture back to when they once again ascend the stairs of the Mug. Perhaps, though, these experiences have the power to turn victims into survivors, with a few supporters and a sense of community acquired along the way.
Speakouts are held about once every semester. They are opportunities to raise awareness and stand in solidarity with survivors. CARES can be reached by calling the Campus Response Center (845-437-5221) and asking for the CARES listener on call.