Heights Ateneo — The Official Literary and Artistic Publication and Organization of the Ateneo de Manila University
How Stories of Survivorship in Art and Literature Incite Protest
Kenzie Sy, Andrea Tibayan | Mar 30, 2021
Almost two years ago, hundreds of students and faculty members protested in front of the Horacio De La Costa hall as a way of denouncing sexual harassment at the Ateneo de Manila University. Carla* was among the people who marched and shouted in the Loyola Schools, despite her initial hesitations.
“[It was] amazing to see how many people showed up,” Carla recalls; emphasizing how cathartic it felt for her to march in the rally. For the first time, she felt recognized as she stood her ground with people who shared the same sentiments—in the very institution where she was violated.
Too often, survivors of sexual assault bear the brunt of hiding their pain and keeping their stories to themselves. This was no different for Carla who, for a long time, stayed silent as a survivor herself. However, the beginning of the rallies and her involvement with Time’s Up Ateneo (TUA) served as a stepping stone towards finding her voice.
The sexual harassment cases in the University in 2019 marked the beginning of Time’s Up Ateneo, an organization that advocates against sexual harassment and impunity within the campus. The organization quickly garnered support after hosting and participating in several webinars on gender-based violence. They were also chosen to participate in Project Urduja, which focuses on empowering Filipina leaders. TUA’s joint statement with the Sanggunian’s Commission on Anti-Sexual Misconduct and Violence also further incited conversations on sexual violence within the University years after the protests have transpired.
With this came TUA’s goal of placing survivors at the front lines of their advocacy. The organization began publishing survivor and ally-made art and literature online as a way to give light to these narratives. Featured on their website, Carla’s stories What the rally meant to me and On forgetting highlight her grievances towards the University and the impact of her experiences as a survivor.
Power of the pen
As a diary and blog writer, Carla turned to writing as a means to convey her story. In her piece, What the rally meant to me, she expresses both the immense pain and gratitude she felt when she took part in the rally. Carla mentions however that, as cathartic as the experience felt, it was just as numbing. “I didn’t want to be happy, I didn’t want to hope,” Carla writes. Bearing witness to a rotten system, Carla believes that not even a massive, unprecedented rally could change them.
Carla, after years of silence, found her voice through her pieces. Writing enabled Carla to release her anger and ill feelings that she has long kept. TUA became a space where she felt free to tell her story from her perspective—the viewpoint where it mattered most—without hesitation.
Reese Ungson, one of the organizers of TUA, believes that art and literature—like that of Carla’s pieces—are one of the many avenues to empower the voices of survivors. “One thing I learned from Time’s Up Ateneo is that there are many different paths to healing, and everyone is taking different steps and feeling different ways about expressing themselves,” Reese explains.
Reese found that art and literature were two of the ways they could achieve this, which then widened the organization’s reach beyond the university. “The whole point of TUA is to create a space, not just to engage ADMU, but to make a community where people can talk or express themselves. Even if you’re not a survivor, we envision a community where you can really speak your mind,” she said.
Reese also realized that there was a need to express their advocacy in different forms of art and literature considering that people may find it easier to articulate themselves this way. “Your art can mean so much to different people in many ways,” she said. For Carla, it was writing that helped her best express herself: “I feel confident about my writing in terms of [sharing my story]. For me, that the personal essay was something I was confident in,” she shared.
Since the protests, TUA has provided an avenue for discussing these issues within the Ateneo safely and anonymously. After What the rally meant to me was published, Carla found healing in sharing her story without having to identify herself, which helped her in significant ways in maintaining confidentiality and revealing her story without hesitation.
“At least some part of my story is out there. It was helpful for me, na alam nilang may issue na ganito,” she said.
Carla admits that she wrote her pieces as a homage to the survivors and the Time’s Up community. “Sana [the pieces I wrote] validate them, that what happened to them is true, what they feel is real, [that] their anger is justified, [that] their pain is important, [and that they] should not be ignored. It’s something I wish I would have felt earlier, [instead of] feeling all that pain and doubt,” she said. On forgetting and What the rally meant to me detail Carla’s journey as she watched the issues unfold on campus and how it continues to affect her as a survivor.
Following the goals of the organization, Time’s Up Ateneo endeavors to bring the voices of survivors to the frontlines and follow their lead. As Reese would even emphasize, “The spotlight is theirs.” TUA is simply putting the stories at the forefront as the whole movement is survivor-led. For Carla, writing her story and having it published was also a way for her to give thanks to the organization for providing a safe space to tell her story.
In developing an environment where stories can be shared with candor and conviction, and prompting others to join and fight for the advocacy, Time’s Up Ateneo gave Carla hope that this onset of telling their stories redirects the focus to the victims who were gravely affected by their experiences. Carla explained that in the past, people have tried to disclose their experiences, but they were brushed aside. “[Since the beginning of] the movement, we are hearing how they have tried to let their pain be known, [but] have not been heard…[The campaign] gave the mic back to us,” Carla expressed.
Since the approval of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy on August 29 last year, Carla hopes that the university goes beyond empty promises and honors the stories of survivors by holding perpetrators accountable. She did not want the real issues of sexual harassment on campus to be buried under new codes and blanket apologies alone. “You can’t just forget the past. People have already made mistakes, whether it’s the harasser or those who protected them, and they are not being held accountable,” Carla explained.
Carla also believes that Ateneo has a long way to go when it comes to addressing sexual harassment issues on campus. In her other piece titled On Forgetting, Carla articulates the fear of her voice being drowned out once again. She shared that the past sexual harassment cases of Ateneo have seemingly been glossed over, rather than being handled properly. Despite the new changes that the university administration promised to make, she still feels that her experiences are going to be forgotten as everyone moves on. “All I have are memories of my pain being belittled, of being ignored, [...] I feel that what happened to me is being erased,” she wrote.
Reese admits that Time’s Up Ateneo continues to be a work in progress, in spite of all it has carried out and achieved by far. She hopes that the advocacy continues to persist amid the many issues facing the campus. Ultimately, Reese envisions Time’s Up Ateneo to be a progressive community. “[We want to be a] community where it’s safe to be able to heal and to do collective activities where one can express themselves, not just as a survivor but as who they are. [We also hope] not just for institutional change, but cultural change,” she explained.
Art and literature—while having an instrumental role in protests and movements—are not the sole drivers of social change. Survivors’ stories lead the cause as TUA provides the space of art and literature to take the advocacy even further. For Reese, this was TUA’s goal. “It’s about their stories, who they are, what they felt, how they really feel without having to hold themselves back. If nakatulong ‘yung space, [...] win na ‘yan for Time’s Up,” she said.
Impunity and sexual harassment are issues that have long existed in the university over the years. The futile attempts at acknowledging these problems have necessitated movements like Time’s Up Ateneo. However, a more disturbing effect is the silenced voices of those who were most gravely victimized by these concerns. For Carla, writing for TUA was the medium that helped her process her experiences, thus creating a space of solidarity and action in a place where survivors are silenced.
More significantly, reading Carla’s stories provides a sense of comfort and visibility for many survivors—knowing that they are seen, their experiences are valid, and they deserve nothing less than justice and healing. In a time of upheaval where the voices of victims are undermined and ignored by the institutions that were meant to protect them, art and literature are there to empower them to fight back.
Time’s Up Ateneo website: timesupateneo.org
*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals in the feature.
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