Students and Community Members Launch Semester-Long Series Exploring Sexual Violence

Students and Community Members Launch Semester-Long Series Exploring Sexual Violence

Students and Community Members Launch Semester-Long Series Exploring Sexual Violence

This spring, Barbara Cassidy, a faculty member in the Interdisciplinary Studies Program, and Bettina Muenster, director of the Office of Student Research and Creativity recruited passionate students to help plan the Sexual Justice Now! series, an initiative designed to explore sexual crimes and how to best address them. The semester-long series at John Jay addresses the issues of sexual harassment and sexual violence in a multidisciplinary manner at a time that some have described as a defining moment and tipping point in America. 

Watch the Sexual Justice Now! Title IX panel on John Jay’s Youtube

Paula-Camila Caceres, a sophomore double majoring in Law & Society and Spanish, is one of the students who helped plan the Sexual Justice Now! series. Caceres has long promoted gender equity as a Gender Justice Advocate at the Women’s Center, making her a natural fit for a panel discussion on Title IX, the federal policy that protects students from gender discrimination. Caceres, who Muenster refers to as an expert on Title IX, was the only student representative among a panel of accomplished professionals. “It was nerve-wracking at first, but I knew I was chosen to be there for a reason,” says Caceres. “As students, we can help figure out how to respond.”  

Paula-Camila Caceres
Paula-Camila Caceres

Caceres heard of Sexual Justice Now! from her peer Yuliya Brodska, a student intern in the President’s office who works closely with Muenster. Under the guidance of Muenster and Professor Barbara Cassidy, they helped organize the numerous events in the series. Cassidy, who teaches a course called “Seeing Rape,” in which students expose the realities of sexual violence by creating and performing dramatic plays, says that one of the goals of the series is to get people to think critically about how sexual violence is normalized in American culture.

“Obviously, we don’t accept rape or sexual harassment as a society, but there are other cultural nuances that need to be changed,” she says. “For example, we need to look at what we teach boys and girls in terms of acceptable behavior.”

The need to address sexual crimes and the cultural norms that promote them has always been urgent. But according to Muenster and Cassidy, the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have focused national attention on sexual justice in an unprecedented way. “There’s a shift in the culture that shows that sexual crimes won’t be tolerated,” Cassidy says. “It’s up to us to keep talking about those crimes and keep the conversations going.”

Muenster and Cassidy think that John Jay, given its mission of educating for justice, is the perfect place to host those important conversations. Events range from the academic to the artistic, from panel discussions with representatives from the Mayor’s Office and community organizations, to documentary screenings and an art exhibit in the Shiva Gallery. The series, which is open to the general public, will come to a close with student-produced plays from Professor Cassidy’s course “Seeing Rape.”

“There are different ways and lenses to look at this issue, and they’re reflected in the events in the series,” Muenster says. “But in the end, it’s all about equity and fairness.”

Caceres says that regardless of the approach taken to the topic, the effect of these events is empowering. “Shedding light on these issues can be positive and liberating,” she says. “That’s the impact we’re all trying to have.”