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A note from WLRCs Director

So far, April has brought us the highs of fantastic college women’s basketball and a long-awaited solar eclipse! The lows they temporarily help us to set aside for a moment include the Vatican’s missive against gender affirmation surgeries and surrogacy, the ongoing violence against Palestinians and absence of ceasefire in Gaza, and the stress that accompanies the impending end of the semester.

A lot is packed into this month. Nationally, it is recognized as Arab American Heritage Month, Poetry Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Stress Awareness Month, and National Minority Health Month. At UIC, Asian Pacific Islander and Desi Awareness Month is also celebrated in April. This week also marks the end of Ramadan. We wish Eid Mubarak to all who are celebrating.

Awareness months are a mixed bag. On one hand, they can present an opportunity to offer educational programs that deeply engage, challenge, and energize the university community, pushing all of us to think in more complex ways about the diverse experiences and histories bound up in any one group or issue.

On the other hand, they can easily become a crutch, a mechanism for reproducing tired stereotypes about groups, and a convenient way to pigeonhole issues/communities that are ignored for the rest of the year. For example, it would be a monumental disservice to the university community if the only time of year that we talked about sexual assault in a serious way was during the month of April. And yet, that’s exactly what happens on many campuses.

The approach of UIC’s Centers for Cultural Understanding and Social Change to awareness months has typically been to offer even more of the innovative programs that we typically do, foregrounding new voices, visions, and practices at the intersections of identities, communities, and histories. The Arab American Cultural Center’s programming for the month is a lovely case in point; check out the listing!

At WLRC/CAN, we have been incredibly short-staffed this academic year. As such, we have not been able to offer the range of educational programs for SAAM that we typically do, nor plan special programming that addresses the issues of the day. Nonetheless, our year-round commitment to providing support and advocacy to survivors of sexual violence remains steadfast. If you are a survivor of gender-based violence, or know a student, staff, or faculty member who is a survivor, we want you and them to consider CAN as a resource. Check out our community partners’ programs and events as well.

This week, WLRC is collaborating on or participating in several programs:

April 11 and April 12 – Asian American and disability justice writer, scholar and activist Mimi Khuc’s public presentations at UIC hosted by WLRC, Disability Cultural Center and the Department of Disability and Human Development, in partnership with other campus units and community organizations.

April 12 – UIC’s Department of Sociology presents the “Public Sociology and Activist Scholarship” conference which features a panel on reproductive justice.

Of related interest:

April 17 – UIC’s Humanizing Critical Race Theory project (funded by Mellon Foundation) brings focus to minoritized women’s mental health in higher education.

April 18 – Dr. Sami Schalk’s visit to UIC to deliver the annual Grace Holt Lecture in the Department of Black Studies. Dr. Schalk’s specialty is race, gender, sexuality and Black disabilty politics (WLRC also brought her to UIC back in 2018!).

April 25 – Gender and Women’s Studies Program End of Year Celebration and CECSCO Awards (Honorees: Mary Scott-Boria, Diana Solís, and Ren Encinas)

A special note to students (and to the student whisperers!):

Last week, all students received an email from Chancellor Miranda asking the recipient to complete a climate survey about sexual misconduct. You might be wondering why you received this email and why you should bother to complete the survey. After all, you get a lot of surveys.

The survey is the outcome of activism by college students with the support of community organizations and advocacy groups in Illinois (Yaay for students!). They have been asking the state to do far more to understand the experiences of college students when it comes to gender-based violence, and to both put measures in place to prevent violence and to support those who face gender-based violence. The Illinois law Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act (110 ILCS 155) was amended in 2021 to include a requirement that all colleges and universities in the state of Illinois should implement a climate survey which would capture information about the prevalence of gender-based violence on each campus as well as the resources that exist to help students to address the problem. You can read about the taskforce that put the survey together here.

Each campus is supposed to put together a strategy for getting as many students as possible to complete the survey. Having Chancellor Miranda contact students is only one way, and that only works if you read your emails. As someone who served on the taskforce that created the survey, I know how important it is for the state to have as much accurate information as possible. But I also know why a student might think twice and decide not to do it. We get it—surveys can be triggering, don’t convince you that anyone really cares, and often don’t seem to lead to any changes.

Here’s another perspective: As director of UIC’s Campus Advocacy Network, I think the data from this survey can be very important to how our unit does our work in the future. It can tell us what we need to improve, what kinds of issues we need to be addressing, and where we need to focus our energies in helping to make this campus violence-free. But we can only know these things if students tell us. So, please complete the survey (it’s there in your inbox as well). It would also help if you tell all your friends to complete it. And there’s a raffle for $50 gift cards! Let me know what you think of the survey questions as well!

As we find ways to celebrate ourselves and our communities and to reflect on the conditions under which we labor (that includes writing those final papers!), may we also find moments of joy and rest in the midst of busyness, and take comfort in the fact that the semester is almost over!

Take care of yourselves and each other.

Natalie Bennett