Photo Credits: Photo by Joel Bissell
On a dark evening, in a secluded place, students gather around a small bonfire and tell stories – stories of violence and violation, stories of determination and resilience, stories of hope and survival.
It’s a called a name burning, and it’s an opportunity for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters to engage in a powerful and symbolic experience. They write the names of an attacker on a piece of paper and if they like, they can share their story with the rest of the group. The paper is then thrown into the fire – burning some of their pain and fueling their passion to thrive.
It is often achingly sad. What is said within that private circle is not meant to be shared with anyone else, but it certainly stays with each individual in a way that never leaves.
At One Student, we say that one sexual assault is too many. One student can make a difference.
As a passionate 20-year-old college student, the urge to make a difference is not a new one even if the opportunities to make a difference don’t always feel abundant.
Hence when a chance does present itself, you have to grab on.
The name burning is just one opportunity. It occurs during my university’s Take Back The Night week and is clearly one of the most powerful events of the week.
It is always planned a couple of days before the march occurs for various scheduling reasons, but I always appreciate the chance to take a breather between two so very powerful (and often, emotionally draining) events.
As a first-year student, simply the words “name burning” were strange and ambiguous, but my first one changed my life. Every year since then, I have seen how each name burning changes a little part of each new person and improves their perspective.
Most of us know how prevalent sexual assault is on college campuses, even if we may disagree on the reasons why or what is the best way to prevent it. However, we are not all given the opportunity to hear a survivor speak, to put a human face to the alarming statistics about sexual assault.
At a university name burning, newcomers are surrounded by men and women who go to school where they do, live exactly where they do, and maybe even attend the very same classes they do. It’s here, around a glowing wood-burning fire that deep, dark stories are told to men and women who have heard too many or perhaps never heard even one personal account.
This is a place where making a difference can begin (where it did for me). Often, making a difference is as simple as extending an arm to a stranger when they’ve exposed a very raw part of themselves, or even simply sitting quietly and listening. It can start with a promise to speak out for those who cannot find the words or the strength (just yet) to tell their story.
Maybe it begins with a promise to never forget survivors like these exist every day, side-by-side every other student on campus, each in their own stage back to empowerment.
This is simply my story. The spark that forced me to ask, “What can I do to help?” From the very bottom of my heart, I hope you’ve had moments like these too – the kind of moments that grip you, and point you in the right direction. I’d love it if you shared them with me, but regardless of what you do with these moments – do good!