#WeBelieveYou: Notes and Messages Left for Survivors

Colorful Post-it-Notes with powerful messages detailing experiences of sexual assault and words of encouragement filled the second floor windows of the Student Union Building for all to see.

At the #MeToo: Facing the Pain and Prevalence of Sexual Assault kick-off gathering on Thursday, Nov. 1, a small group of faculty members and students anonymously wrote important and personal experiences of sexual assault on Post-it-Notes. 

Dean of Students Robin Cohen-La Valle said that this was not an outing project, and people could write their experiences without naming others or writing their initials. People at the gathering added multiple notes in the three different panels on the window.

English professor Mary Holland spearheaded the idea and wanted to bring it to the college after she saw a presentation in Barcelona “where guests were invited to write their wishes on colorful pieces of paper, and then tied the paper to a long string.” She then had the idea of people sharing experiences of sexual assault so that others could read and witness it visually. She then brought the idea to Cohen-La Valle and Title IX Coordinator Emma Morcone at SUNY New Paltz.

“The purpose of this installation is to encourage people who’ve experienced sexual assault to talk to each other about it, and to make their experiences and pain public, so that we can begin to 

acknowledge the extent of the problem—and to help sufferers of sexual assault move past feelings of shame,” Holland said.  

Some of the students at the event were told about it in their classes. Some passerby students marked words on Post-it-Notes while taking in others’ experiences. 

“I finished reading a book in human services about sexual assault. [The book] ‘College Girl’ was powerful, but I had to find someone to read it with,” said third-year psychology major Jess Mazur. “[The event] is a form of feminism and empowerment.” 

In today’s political climate, it may be hard for victims to share their feelings and truths about sexual assault. Holland live-streamed the Kavanaugh hearings in some of her classes, and she said that she hopes if people feel oppressed, some people are there for support. The installation is a small step in the right direction.  

“You can reach out to almost anybody,” Holland said. “The worst thing is to hold it in to yourself and keep it inward so that it could hurt yourself.”

According to Psychology Today, “I believe you” is a powerful, validating, response. #Webelieveyou is a hashtag that supports victims and survivors. In Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, people took to Twitter and used similar hashtags in support of her words. 

At the public installation, the panel on the window for words of encouragement mentions the hashtag #Webelieveyou. Holland said that it is a more positive response to victims and for people to move past this culture. The community is welcome to use the hashtag on social media platforms to promote a “power for good,” according to Holland.

Holland said if students don’t feel comfortable writing their experience on a Post-it-Note but want to share, students can email her a few words and she will write it for them. Her email is hollandm@newpaltz.edu. 

The public installation will be up from Nov. 1-9. Holland said that she chose this week because people voting in the multipurpose room on election day could participate and see the visual messages.