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‘High School Musical’ actress, youth advocate speaks about preventing sexual assault on campus

| Thursday, February 22, 2018

Actress, global youth advocate and Girl Up Champion Monique Coleman spoke Wednesday in the LaFortune Ballroom about standing up against sexual assault.

Best known for her role as Taylor McKessie in “High School Musical,” Coleman has used her platform to make a difference, working with Unicef, the U.S. Agency for International Development and Girl Up, a United Nations foundation that raises awareness and engages girls to empower each other and take a stand.

Discussing several issues involving sexual assault with the audience, Coleman repeatedly reminded them of their responsibility to create change and her belief in their ability to do it.

“There are so many issues plaguing our world, and you are capable of solving those issues,” Coleman said. “I know what’s possible when young people are awakened to their potential.”

Coleman presented “Distortion,” a film she starred in and co-produced, which explored the ways sexual assault can distort the perceptions individuals have of themselves. She acknowledged that media is very influential, although “not always in the right ways.” One student asked what future content-creators can do to take action against rape culture in media.

“Know that having integrity and standing for what you believe is a longer road, and it’s far more challenging,” Coleman said. “Speak your truth, always, and let your truth evolve. Figure out what your non-negotiables are, and what your bottom line is, and always measure things up against that.”

Several students asked questions addressing issues on Notre Dame’s campus specifically. One student expressed concerns with parietals making students hesitate leaving dangerous situations for fear of repercussions.

“You know what you want; what would make you feel safe; what would make you feel protected,” Coleman responded. “It isn’t my place to impose what I think should happen … but I will say it’s important for you to find your voices … it’s terrifying to talk about these things … but you have the right to feel safe and the right to be protected.”

Another student asked Coleman for suggestions on how to navigate addressing concerns with an administration that is conservative and male-dominant.

“We cannot expect that things don’t come at a price, or that things won’t be a struggle,” she said. “It isn’t simple, but you can’t look at the oppositions or the obstacles and not see them as part of the problem. They’re there so that we can see what’s wrong. None of this is easy. If it was easy, this wouldn’t be happening.”

From an audience that was almost entirely female, one male student voiced his disappointment in the number of men attending the lecture, prompting Coleman to encourage him to spread awareness about these issues among men.

“It’s important to add your voice and create what we want to see,” Coleman responded. “ … Instead of being disappointed, the next time you see something pop up, invite the guys, and-or go home and tell them.”

Junior George Timmins said he was grateful for the discussion and the audience’s response to it.

“I’m really happy people liked it. I’m happy that she called that [sexual assault] is an issue that affects everyone — all races, all genders,” he said. “This is not a female college problem; it’s an everyone problem.”

Senior Samantha Ricciuti said she believes discussions such as this one are vital.

“It’s important to be more open about these situations and call the perpetrators exactly what they are — sexual assaulters and rapists,” she said. “We can take the power back by speaking the truth.”

This power can only be attained if those on campus act on Coleman’s advice, sophomore Haley Mitchell said.

“You have to practice what you preach,” she said. “It’s important to get involved and participate in what we do have.”

Coleman said she has faith that people working together at Notre Dame can make a true difference at the University.

“I believe that you can be, not only heard, but that you can impact radical change on this campus,” Coleman said. “But you have to be brave enough to do it, and you can’t do it alone. Each of us has a purpose. Be active — an activist for the long haul.”

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About Molly Chen

Molly is a senior anthropology major from Davenport, IA.

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