UCI Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) hosted the “We Step Into the Light” art exhibit, on Thursday, Feb. 23 in an effort to raise awareness toward sexual assault.
The event, held at the Center for Living Peace, aimed to provide a safe place for victims of sexual abuse to begin their healing process. Ever since the office received their event funds in November, the CARE office began contacting survivors of sexual assault through violence prevention Listservs as well as UCI art students. The survivors were paired with an art student, who committed their time to interview the survivor and create a unique art piece that was given to the victim as a gift.
“There are so many different avenues of healing for sexual assault,” said Carly Lanning, fourth year English and literary journalism major as well as a CARE intern and Right to Know peer educator. “We really wanted to highlight using art as a form of healing. In their assault, their perpetrator chose not to see them and chose not to be aware of the person that they were and so this event is really focusing on the beauty within each of these people.
“After being assaulted it’s such a dark time, and it really isolates that person from the person that they used to be and all these wonderful things about them. We wanted to bring into light what makes them unique, what makes them special, and what makes them beautiful.”
The Founder of the program, Dr. Desmonette Hazly, a rape survivor herself, spoke at the event about the origin of her project and what it meant to her. After her own experience, she recognized the healing ability of art for those who have suffered emotional and physical trauma. Dr. Hazly began We Step into the Light in 2009 and she expressed a hope that the event will soon become international.
“[She] talked a lot about how important this project was in helping a person go from just surviving in their day-to-day life and how that’s not enough, to thriving in it and moving past this identity of being a survivor.” Lanning said, referring to Hazly’s contribution. “It will always be a part of each person and each of their identities, but being able to live a healthy, wonderful, loved life was a big thing.”
Other speakers included the Director of CARE, Lanning, Mandy Mount, Ph.D., and Nghiem Le, who performed his spoken word poem, “Angel” before the crowd. The poem was addressed to his future daughter and spoke about his love and hopes for her.
“I don’t perform it very much because the poem is quite special to me,” said Le, a fourth-year, psychology and social behavior major.
“Everyone cried and I didn’t anticipate that at all,” Lanning said, “Everyone started getting teary eyed.”
Although all of the survivors were female, the event itself displayed a diversity of people and artworks. Cheyenne Nall performed a dance piece, “To Wake Up Every Day,” which was dedicated to her survivor, and three students prepared a video to honor another victim. Many of the family and friends of survivors came with them to the event, where they were able to meet with UCI students and staff.
“Everyone had a general appreciation and respect for one another,” Le remarked, “I could really tell that there was a lot of love and compassion in the room.”
During the exhibit, Lanning described how she addressed one of the survivors about the art piece made for her. It was a photo collage filled with various pictures of the survivor.
“Me and a couple other people were like, ‘You look absolutely gorgeous in all of these,’” Lanning said. “She said, ‘You know I haven’t been called beautiful probably in decades.’ I thought, ‘Wow. I’m really glad you’re here.’”
In her closing speech, Lanning addressed the importance of each survivor developing an identity outside of his or her traumatic experience.
She acknowledged that there are many different things that make up a person’s identity and that it is important to highlight everything that makes these survivors unique as people.
“It was really nice to see everyone. We got such positive feedback from everyone who participated. I hope it continues at UCI.”