My Experience as an Advocate

This is the second in a series of blog posts on the ways joining the organization has impacted individual members of the Pomona Advocates.  We are currently accepting applications, which can be found here, and hope sharing our personal experiences with the organization encourages people to apply!


posted by Niyati Shenoy, Advocate

TW: References to sexual assault

 

At the heart of the matter, I am a pretty clueless person. Before I came to Pomona, my activism (if you can call it that) around systems of violence and oppression usually involved putting myself in danger without even realizing I was doing so, often with bravado and scorn. I had very little of the vocabulary I have today, and even less understanding—back home in India, as with most places, gender and identity-based violence is never named for what it truly is. Last winter, when one of many, many horrifying sexual assault cases gained an international spotlight due to its extraordinary barbarity, I was one of many people who were shellshocked by realization. It was as if a giant bucket of water had been thrown in my face—I saw for the first time that powerful forces collude to keep us ignorant, indifferent, or fearful of upsetting social hierarchies that enable the routinization of violence against people of all genders. ‘Why should you be at the vanguard of social change?’ my mother demanded. ‘You’ll be targeted and raped, and no one will step up to support you. How is that helpful?’ 

A protest in December 2012 condemning the media's reaction to the rape of a 23-year-old on a moving bus in Delhi.

A protest in December 2012 condemning the media's reaction to the rape of a 23-year-old on a moving bus in Delhi.

But it is helpful—not just to others, but to me as well. Making a commitment to help end sexual violence meant learning to trust my own instincts, learning to recognize that these messages society sends us are toxic. Slowly but inevitably snowballing through our generation is the realization that activism about issues of sexual violence is not some kind of fringe concern—this stuff matters. Visibility matters. Openness matters. Dialogue matters. When I joined Advocates in my sophomore year the people around me were an incredible resource in helping me understand that sexual violence is connected with many of the other forms of injustice I’m passionate about combating. And that’s not a depressing concept at all to grasp—it shows us that the way forward is solidarity. Advocates deal with heavy and distressing issues. But we are the opposite of negativity. How could we not be, really?

The gardens and walkways of Pomona College are not like the streets of Bombay. And yet, there are many things about our campus that contribute to silencing victims of violence, most of all the fact that some of our stories and voices are forced to the periphery of college experience. I am still pretty clueless, but knowing there’s so much to be done helps me accept my mistakes and the gaps in my knowledge and just let myself be an Advocate. It’s more empowering than I can describe.