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Founder of #MeToo Movement speaks at Notre Dame

| Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, spoke to the Notre Dame community Monday evening about her leadership in activism against sexual violence in society. The lecture kicked off “Sex and the Soul Week,” an event week that seeks to promote dialogue about sexuality and faith on campus.

The talk, moderated by Maria McKenna, professor of education and Africana Studies, was sponsored by Multicultural Student Programs and Services and cosponsored by the Gender Relations Center, Campus Ministry, the McDonald Center for Student Well-being and student government.

During the talk, Burke described her early work as a camp youth leader and its large impact on her decision to pursue activism against injustice in society.

“I started doing work around sexual violence almost by accident,” she said. “I was an organizer at a very young age. I started working when I was 14. Once I discovered what that was, and that I had the power to change things, I became very obsessed with [activism].”

Anne Elizabeth Barr | The Observer

A sexual assault survivor herself, Burke described her realization of the pervasiveness of sexual assault and violence — especially in communities of women of color — early on in her life.

“Nobody in my world talked about sexual violence although many of us were survivors. We would find out by happenstance,” she said. “We sort of lived with this reality. As I was dealing with my own healing, as a part of that journey, I was also dealing with young people, young black girls in particular, who were carrying the same burdens. I was just a couple of steps ahead of them in recognizing what it was.”

Burke founded the #MeToo movement in 2006 to create a community of women of color, particularly black women, who are survivors of sexual harassment and assault in need of a place for healing. This soon became a platform for activism against such a societal injustice.

“#MeToo came from my inability to say, ‘Me, too,’ to a young person in a time I think she really needed to hear it and struggling with, ‘Why can’t I say this?’, ‘Why can’t I share my own story?’ and also, ‘Why are there so many people with such stories?’” Burke said. “It was a marriage of my sense of looking for where injustice is and where we can do something different and also seeing this as a community problem that no one was addressing.”

It was not until October of 2017, however, that the #MeToo Movement took Twitter by storm after celebrity actresses came forward with sexual abuse accusations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Later that year, Burke was named one of the Silence Breakers on Time’s Person of the Year edition for her role as the founder of the movement.

Burke discussed her reactions to the movement’s viral attention and momentum, describing the importance of not letting its growth get in the way of its original purpose — creating systemic change and healing for sexual assault victims, particularly for women of color.

“It is not sustainable to build a movement over simply naming wrong-doers and not looking at the systems that they come out of and not looking at ways to dismantle those systems,” she said.

Burke is currently the senior director of Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity, “an intergenerational organization committed to the physical, psychological, social and economic development of girls and women,” according to the group’s site. Burke said she is working to direct the #MeToo movement back towards its roots of healing and activism.

“Part of my job now is to talk about the movement and the vision of #MeToo,” Burke said. “Our vision is to make sure that survivors of sexual violence are able to craft a healing journey, and it’s also to inspire leadership amongst survivors and activate survivors as advocates in this work to end sexual violence.”

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