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Thinking about violence and solidarity

Thanks to everyone who came to our Fall Open House! We look forward to seeing you again at our various events. If you weren’t able to attend, there are plenty more opportunities to see the new space and to engage with us.

Each year, WLRC observes Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the month of October. It is a time for education and deep reflection about the ways that domestic violence is deeply intertwined with other kinds of violence—gun violence, state violence, police violence, militarized violence, to name a few. It is also a time to deepen our resolve about preventing and ending violence in all its forms. For that to happen, we need to rethink the frameworks we have been given for understanding how violence affects the lives of people around us, including within our campus community.

It is not enough to say that domestic violence on campus violates university policy; we must also act as if it is not acceptable under any circumstances and be ready to affirm the survivors who dare to name what is happening to them. The majority of UIC students live off-campus and have relationships with people who also live off-campus. Our collective work to prevent domestic violence—whether by intimate partner or family member—must be informed by this fact. Our programs and actions that focus on prevention and healing must be open and responsive to students who commute to campus multiple times a week. Our conversations must extend to how we can help our students build protective practices and networks that help them to name, resist, and separate from the violence.

This is no small task, as many of our students are dealing with significant cultural and economic obstacles that limit how and whether they can respond. The students who seek out the confidential support of UIC’s Campus Advocacy Network often live with families and loved ones in relationships of interdependence, are often reticent to name what is happening to them as violence, hesitate to seek assistance, and don’t often know where to turn to get help. When our students disclose domestic violence to faculty members, advisors, and supervisors, they don’t need to be told that they are using the violence as an “excuse” to not do their academic work, or to stop “allowing” the violence to distract them from their coursework. Most of the faculty and staff respond with empathy, but enough still can’t grasp how much domestic violence pervades the lives of students. What our students need is to be believed, supported, and given the tools to succeed in their courses of study. Building a trauma-informed and survivor-centered campus depends on all of us—faculty, staff, and graduate/professional/undergraduate students—doing our part to create affirming work and study spaces that allow everyone to be their authentic selves.

So, what will it take for us as a campus community to recognize that our students have complex lives and that the things that we say about violence—in front of their faces or not—can either cause further harm or promote healing? Indeed, what would it mean for us to accept that our faculty and staff are surviving many difficult things every day, while still showing up for the people who depend on them for counsel, instruction, and support? What would it take for us as a community to feel bold enough to say out loud through our actions, policies, and community agreements that we care about survivors at UIC unequivocally and without regard to whether they experienced harm on or off campus? What would it take?

In the coming weeks, look out for opportunities for the campus to engage some of these questions:

  • October 6, 5:30pm: Campus Housing Town Hall on safety and security in the dorms in the JST Event Center, located at 718 W. Rochford St.
  • October 12, 12pm: Black Table Talk/Let’s Talk about Hangouts and Hookups will focus on domestic violence in the African American community.
  • Check our calendar for more information.

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For the past three weeks we have been watching from afar how state violence is being meted out against Iranian women and girls because they dare to resist oppressive structures that limit their bodily autonomy. The uprising in response to the police killing of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian Kurdish student, helps us to see how the hyperfocus on controlling women’s bodies gives permission for violence to be enacted in public as well as in private. For many women, state violence—by military, police, or law—is the public face of gender-based violence. The uprising might feel far away to some. But, this is also a moment to consider how we can make connections to local struggles for bodily autonomy—the gender justice and reproductive justice movements come to mind. We must ask how we can support and stand in solidarity with our UIC students who have personal and family ties to Iran, and who are part of the generation that is engaged in collective resistance. There is a lot at stake for them. I look forward to continued conversations.

teach-in about the Iranian uprising has been organized by several UIC faculty members for next Thursday, October 13, 2-3:15pm. The teach-in will be on Zoom and in person at the Institute for the Humanities.

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Anti-abortion activists showing up at UIC is not necessarily a new thing. They have been doing so this semester in small numbers, sufficient to create disquiet and discomfort among students who encounter them at the entrances to the campus on Harrison and Halsted. While this is a public university and they are allowed to take up space, we want students to know that those are not the only voices on abortion on campus. Since spring 2022, WLRC has been organizing events around the topic of abortion specifically, and reproductive justice more broadly. We have done so to educate the campus community, and to signal our commitment to wade into these complex topics with a focus on equity, justice, and compassion. Our students need to know that we see and hear them when they ask for more education and more visibility of messages that assert their right to bodily autonomy. We also want them to have the appropriate tools to respond to their friends, family, and community members who are not in support of such. We encourage students to connect with WLRC and with each other to start to think collectively about how to stand in solidarity with the reproductive justice movement at UIC, independently of those who oppose such.

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Mark the date! Now that we have settled into the new space in SSB (1200 W. Harrison, Suite 1700), we will resume Write @ WLRC on Friday, October 14, 10am – 2pm. The writing space—offered both virtually and in-person—was created for faculty, graduate students, and staff who need both community and accountability as they make progress on their projects. If this describes you, then we welcome you to Write @ WLRC!

Until then, take care of yourselves and each other,

Natalie Bennett