To explore how writers and artists represent the trauma of sexual assault, Shannon Draucker, Ph.D. created the honors seminar “Narratives of Sexual Violence.” She wanted to offer her students impactful ways to examine the topic, and a final assignment called an “un-essay” grew into a campus event that resonated far beyond the class.

“Surviving Through Stories” was the first-ever campus-wide reading event about sexual violence, held in observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  The English Department, Title IX, the Women’s Center, Active Minds and the Office of Health Promotion all partnered to provide a space for survivors, allies, and community members to share original and published readings about trauma, healing, and survival.

The event was born out of work Josh Farrell ’22 did in the class last spring. He had seen on YouTube what he said was a “very powerful” poetry slam, and wanted to bring that format to the class for his assignment. Several students did readings, and the result was so impactful Title IX and Draucker decided to open it to the whole campus for spring 2023.

“The un-essay was the best final project I ever had at Siena,” said Farrell, who is currently serving with Teach for America. “It really made me think outside the box and gave me the platform to be very creative. It meant a lot to me to have this event offered for the whole campus, to examine a topic that impacts so many people but is often not talked about at length.” 

More than 60 community members attended the April 12 event, where 18 students, faculty and staff read their own or published works about the trauma of assault. There were ground rules: What’s said here stays here; what’s learned here leaves here. No photos, videos or recordings. The organizers wanted participants to speak freely and openly.

“It meant a lot to us that we had such an outpouring of support from the campus,” said Draucker, assistant professor of English. “Narratives are very important for healing, especially for such relatable topics as gender oppression, trauma and assault.”

The readings took the forms of poems, victim impact statements, parts of articles, or personal stories. Those gathered paused briefly after each reading to contemplate and digest what had just been shared. Counseling Center team members were on hand for those who needed added emotional support. 

Daniella Gerbasi ’25 and Amanda Kleva ’25 helped organize the reading, and plan to make this an annual event. 

“We wanted to create a space for students to speak out and have their voices heard,” said Gerbasi. “One of the best ways to communicate is through art; it’s a good way to process emotions and it fosters a sense of community when people share in this way.” 

Kleva explained that it is crucial for survivors of sexual violence to share their narratives.

“It’s very helpful in the healing process, and it speaks to the necessity of having safe and comfortable space on campus for people to connect.”

Danielle Joyce ’92, the College’s Title IX/EEO associate, who planned the event with Draucker and her students, said the event impacted readers and attendees in different ways for different reasons.

“I love that this event was led by students, for students,” she said. “Survivors of sexual violence found comfort and community, readers were able to offer healing, and everyone there was able to listen and form a community.”