Thriving, Not Just Surviving: “We Step Into the Light”

Tommy Pham | New University

Tommy Pham | New University

Rape. Sexual assault. Abusive relationships. Domestic violence. Stalking. For some of the men and women who look to the CARE (Campus Assault Resources and Education) office for support after events like these, they’re met with a safe haven that provides them with people to talk to, programs to help them heal and education that will help them advocate for other men and women who find themselves in the same situations.

Last Thursday night, the CARE office, in conjunction with ASUCI and the Center for Living Peace, hosted the third annual “We Step Into the Light” art exhibit at the Center for Living Peace.

Complete with a chalk wall where guests could scrawl their thoughts and reactions on, the pumpkin orange space served as a gallery to the numerous pieces of art that were created by students, faculty members and CARE affiliates who were partnered with thrivers who inspired the works that were on display that evening.

Notice that the word ‘survivor’ has not been used in this article? Instead of ‘survivor,’ the term ‘thriver’ is used to communicate that survivors of sexual violence are not just surviving, but living a fulfilling and thriving life. The term, coined by Dr. Desmonette Hazly, encourages others to not look at survivors of sexual assault as victims, but look at them for who they are.

“So often, victims go through this process of having someone else not see them for who they are. But in this process, the artist sees who they are,” Kevin Lam, a peer educator with CHAMPS, said.

Tommy Pham | New University

Tommy Pham | New University

Elizabeth Thai, the Special Projects Intern for the CARE office, detailed that Thursday’s “We Step Into the Light” exhibit was “developed to highlight exactly who these thrivers are and that they’re not just made up of this they had in their past but also their dreams, passions and beauty that encompasses who they are today.”

Thai and Lam partnered together to present the third installment of the “We Step Into the Light” project.

The project began in September and resulted in the finished products propped up on wooden easels and on display to visitors at the Center for Living Peace.  Aside from being treated to inspiring and thought-provoking works of art, there were also testimonials from thrivers, artists and even a performance of a spoken word piece last Thursday evening.

One thriver, Kristin Gundersen, took to the podium to tell attendees how her kidnapping and subsequent sexual assault led to a partnership between a freshman artist who helped her to realize that she was strong and that she “could not only survive, but she could thrive.”

Four hours went by before Kristin and her artist realized that they had been together, exchanging stories and experiences with one another even though this had been their first time meeting each other.

Another thriver, Yvonne Vo, recalled how difficult it was for her to communicate to her artist, Elizabeth Koppe, what she liked and what her interests were. In the end, Elizabeth and Yvonne co-created a piece that featured a bursting sunflower, grey stones and rippling, blue waves all on a framed glass panel.

For all of the thriver pieces that were on display during the intimate reception, the thrivers were all students at UC Irvine, reminding viewers of the reality of sexual assault and domestic violence on campus.

Tommy Pham | New University

Tommy Pham | New University

During Thursday’s empowering event, women, thrivers, artists, students, men, allies and members of the community were able to come together in support and awe of the art that was on display. The works of art were able to tell a story, to represent female and male thrivers, and capture exactly what makes them beautiful, strong and resilient against the experiences of their pasts.

By bringing these pieces out into the open and allowing thrivers and their artists to showcase their works of art, the “We Step Into the Light” project allowed visitors to view just a captured, singular image that encompassed the strength and resilience of thrivers and their stories.