ANTIGONISH: Two recent StFX University graduates are creating an anthology of stories to celebrate the work of student activists, past and present, fighting sexual violence on Canadian university campuses.
As Addy Strickland and Emma Kuzmyk began to reminisce about meeting in their first year social justice colloquium, and in their continuous activism against sexual violence over the past four years; they wanted to highlight some of the activists they met and the important stories they heard.
“So we thought why not write a book about it,” Kuzmyk told The Reporter.
Strickland has been deeply involved in protesting sexual violence on the StFX campus for the past four years, and is one of the co-founders of the StFX Peer Support Program, a mental health and sexualized violence resource navigation and listening service run by students, for students.
While at StFX, Kuzmyk co-founded a sexualized violence awareness campaign, worked for the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre, assisted in the coordination and facilitation of Waves of Change training, co-developed and co-founded the StFX Peer Support Program with Strickland, and helped drive a cultural shift on campus.
The duo emphasized that their new Writing Activism project wouldn’t have been possible without the support of a Wallace Family Internship through StFX.
They said the more they thought about making their book a reality, the more they came to the realization they weren’t alone in the experiences they had or the battles they fought, so it quickly turned into an anthology.
“We are creating an anthology of student voices,” Strickland said. “Collecting stories from student activists on Canadian campuses who are doing the work to fight sexual violence.”
For this anthology, they’re looking for pieces that speak to what it means, and how it feels, to be a student activist fighting sexual violence on campus with a focus on the activism that comes from institutions failing to do their jobs.
Kuzmyk indicated that a common challenge in campus activism is that activists typically graduate after four or five years, and a lot of times the work that they’ve done isn’t remembered or easily accessible to new students coming in.
“So there’s always a kind of period where new student activists need to reinvent the wheel and don’t know the work that’s been done before them,” she said. “So we thought it would be really awesome to celebrate and preserve the work that has been done.”
Currently they are in the process of building their manuscript from scratch, which they said has been really fun so far. Once they have the manuscript together, their plan is to query publishers and hopefully produce a hardcopy of the book for sale.
“The goal of the book (is) to preserve the work that activists have done so that future activists may find knowledge and inspiration in their words but also in hopes that university administration may also use the book to step into the shoes of their students,” Kuzmyk said. “And realize all of the hard and important work that their students have been taking on and to see where they have to step up and do better.”
Something else the pair highlighted is the work student activists do isn’t often celebrated, and a lot of the time it’s kind of something that “goes on behind the curtain,” so they wanted to take the time to celebrate all the work that has been done.
“We’re definitely hoping it will garner a lot of inspiration and hope, (but) we’re not focusing on stories of sexualized violence or stories of trauma directly,” Kuzmyk said. “We’re really focused on the work that’s come out of that, it’s the activism we’re focusing on.”
The response to their project has been really great so far, as they’ve already received expressions of interest from people who attend universities across the country.
“Our submissions have only been open a week, so we don’t have too many yet, which isn’t surprising; writing stories takes time,” Strickland said. “We have been in contact with quite a few individuals and groups though who have expressed a lot of interest in writing their stories and submitting them to the anthology.”
Kuzmyk advised there is a really problematic statistic that demonstrates just how prevalent sexual violence is at Canadian universities; one in four women will be sexually assaulted while they’re in university.
“I have never met a woman who doesn’t know somebody or herself has been a victim or survivor of sexualized violence, so it’s definitely very prevalent,” she said. “It’s horrible but it’s been nice to see over the past four years just how many people care and want to do something about it.”
Writing Activism is accepting submissions until June 15. To make a submission or for more information you can visit the project’s Web site: https://www.writingactivism.com.