Photo by Rachael Keisling // Staff Photographer
No matter your stance on the issue of campus assault, it’s hard to argue against the fact that most college organizations concerned with issues of abuse, specifically sexual abuse, are geared toward prevention and dealing with the aftermath. Targeted toward victims, these groups often do more to teach them how to ‘prevent’ assaults from happening rather than promote awareness in the hopes of engaging the other party involved.
This is just one hoped outcome of one of Middle Tennessee State University’s newest communities, The Lavinia Project, helmed by its socially-conscious leader, MTSU student Molly Blankenship, and the founder of Writers Corp, Dr. Matthew Brown of the English Department. With the idea that those affected by injustice are their own most effective advocates, this new community hopes, like Brown and Blankenship’s other enterprises, to create a forum for survivors to share their experiences through writing and other mediums, culminating in publications and public reading events with an overarching goal in mind: to raise awareness and effect social change.
After being involved in workshops in domestic violence centers and working with Reclaim Oursleves, Blankenship took the opportunity to fill the void that MTSU had, with no known writers community dedicated to issues of sexual assault, domestic violence or mental health issues.
“I thought that for me, at least in my own experience with the arts and what I see as a possible effect of this, is that you can start to personal and legitimize the experiences of people and deter future attacks that way,” said Blankenship of Lavinia’s format. “One thing that’s really inherent to people who have been affected by these issues is that the experience, either at home, school or work, can taint their entire lives.”
Having founded Writers Corp in 2009, Brown was interested in creating an organization that gave veterans and people associated with the military an outlet to let their own voices communicate the truth about their personal experiences. The central idea being that the people involved represent a particular demographic united by shared realities, observations and experiences, but certainly not limited by them, something he hopes Lavinia can achieve for survivors of abuse.
“I like to call these groups community literacy programs, since the benefit is not projected at the membership, in that it gives you a voice or therapy to write about what you experienced, but that it’s an avenue towards sharing something about a more visceral reality,” said Brown. “It’s more about the community at large then about the community of writers.”
Although the first two meetings of the semester happened to be a bit smaller in attendance, there are big plans for Lavinia Project in the years to come. Hoping to follow in Writers Corp’s footsteps, which began producing its own publication, DMZ, this fledgling group is not likely to have trouble finding it’s wings, with Brown confident in the amount of interest many have shown in the group.
“There’s been enough of a response that if people get involved and stay involved we should be able to start doing events this semester,” said Brown.
Ultimately groups like this don’t survive without supporters, and many people initially come to these kind of meetings because they want to show sensitivity and support the cause, with no real intention to contribute any work. But by hearing victim’s personal stories, Blankenship and Brown hope that a shift in perspective will give people a different reason to come out.
“They keep coming because it’s not about showing support,” said Brown. “Instead, there’s a profound value, not just in understanding the larger network of your community better, but by understanding the basic community, and that then you can exist in your own skin more deeply and more effectively. It’s part of the reason why we’re obsessed with artists as creatures.”
To learn more about The Lavinia Project you can visit their Facebook page, or attend one of their bi-weekly meetings in Peck Hall 314B. For more information regarding times and locations, contact Molly Blankenship.
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