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Students share stories at Poetry as Empowerment

What started as a small, quiet gathering of students at the Mills Poetry as Empowerment event grew over the course of an hour of poetry readings and performances into a tight knit group, gathered in a semi-circle around performers, exchanging hugs and words of encouragement to friends and strangers alike for sharing their stories.

“It was powerful,” performer and senior music major Denise Dunne said. “I didn’t realize I would get that emotional.”

Poetry as Empowerment, a poetry reading and performance night on April 12, was just one of a series of events scheduled throughout April in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Dunn was the first person of the evening to take the stage,  guitar in hand to perform a song she wrote and composed called “Eve.” After Dunne, several other students came forward to share poems and dances that expressed their feelings and experiences surrounding violence and the body.

This poetry reading event has been a standard at Mills during the annual April Sexual Assault Awareness Month for several years now, under the name Take Back the Night. This year, however, due to legal issues with the copyrighted Take Back the Night Foundation, Mills organizers decided to rename it Poetry as Empowerment and build their own version of the event.

Brooke Parker, program assistant for the Department of Health and Wellness in the Division of Student Life, was instrumental in organizing this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming. Though legal troubles initially derailed the event, with the help of Associate Dean of Students Gabriella Tempestosa, she was able to get it on track in time for April.

“This is our main event [for Sexual Assault Awareness Month],” Parker said. “It’s a space for students to come and speak their truth.”

Events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month will continue throughout April and include a “Boundaries, Consent, and Safe Dating” workshop as well as a tabling event called Denim Day, organized in solidarity with people whose assaults have been delegitimized by the clothes they were wearing.

Parker also aims to use the month of April to raise awareness about resources and accommodations for survivors of sexual assault both on and off campus, and to reach out to survivors directly rather than leaving them with the responsibility to find help.

In order to increase the visibility and accessibility of campus resources, the event was also attended by several campus counselors, who made themselves available to provide information, resources and aid to those who might need it.

Also in attendance were advocates from Bay Area Women Against Rape, a social services organization specializing in outreach, crisis counseling and advocacy for victims of sexual assault, who have joined forces with the Division of Student Life to increase knowledge of their services to college students.

“We do need more visibility and we need to have these conversations,” Parker said.

Bay Area Women Against Rape’s hotline can be reached at (510) 845-7273. Contact for more information about campus resources regarding sexual assault.