By Shreya Vuttaluru
Activist and Me Too Movement Founder Tarana Burke discussed the evolution of the Me Too Movement, transformative justice and student activism in her recent lecture.
Around 170 attendees tuned in to watch an hour-long event hosted by Student Entertainment Events on February 22. SEE Lectures Director and junior Nabila Prasetiawan moderated the event, asking Burke a series of questions regarding her career as an activist.
Burke described herself as a lifelong social justice worker and attributed her interest in sexual violence prevention to being a survivor herself. She started the Me Too Movement in 2006 in Selma, Alabama, over a decade before the tag #MeToo took off on social media.
“I spent 15 years or so begging and pleading for people to listen to this topic… and overnight that flipped on its head,” Burke said.
While discussing how the movement gained visibility in mainstream media, Burke noted that her work was never about fame, but rather about making slow changes to the framing of the issue. She maintained that the framing of being labeled a “victim” versus a “survivor” was key to changing the narrative around sexual violence prevention.
Burke also answered questions about the sustainability of activism, advising that the best way to continue advocacy in the long-term is to be connected to local organizations.
“When you don’t see the hashtags anymore or you don’t see the news articles anymore you have to engage in what’s happening locally in your community,” Burke said.
Even when media outlets pay less attention, organizations like Black Lives Matter and the Me Too Movement are strategically and consistently working to advocate for their issues, Burke said. She stressed that the people, not the media, were essential in making social justice movements relevant.
“Movements are made of people—the people get to define what they are,” she said.
In response to a student question about prison abolition, Burke also discussed the concept of transformative justice. The Barnard Center for Research on Women describes transformative justice as the process of erasing harm caused by punitive societal systems like prisons.
Because Me Too is a movement built by sexual violence survivors who come from a variety of different political knowledge backgrounds, several survivors believe that justice is equivalent to their perpetrators being imprisoned. While the transformative justice movement is important, Burke explained that the conversation around the movement must include survivors.
Towards the end of the lecture, Burke emphasized the usefulness of an environment like a college campus, where students can foster the incubation of new ideas and initiate broader conversations, much like the one surrounding transformative justice.
“You can’t be a leader if you’re not learning,” Burke said.
On moderating the event, Prasetiawan said she hoped attendees were able to reflect and learn from Burke’s comments. Organizations like CARE to Stop Violence and the SGA Sexual Misconduct Prevention committee were also involved in creating the event.
In the future, Prasetiawan hopes SEE will continue to host events that spark a conversation about social issues.
“We can do the very touchy subjects and bring changemakers, but we can also do something fun like the Voice Actor series or like a Homecoming Comedy show,” she said. “And I think…you can’t have one without the other.”
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of SEE’s Facebook page.
Shreya Vuttaluru is a sophomore government politics and journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.