Survivors speak out for Sexual Assault Awareness Month through poetry


graphic by Aja Carter

Dennis Etzel Jr., a lecturer in the English department, and Jericho Hocket, associate professor of psychology, started off sexual awareness month by hosting open mic poetry reading. The event honored survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and also provided support through the communities that advocated for the survivors.

On April 4, 2023, Dennis Etzel Jr., a lecturer in the English department, and Jericho Hocket, associate professor of psychology, hosted an open poetry reading in the Memorial Union underground to honor the survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Etzel stated that his determination to encourage survivors stems from personal reasons. He hoped that by planning a poetry reading with the subject of sexual assault and domestic violence he could make a place where survivors and allies could come together to share their stories and offer support to one another.

“I know many survivors. I have lived all my life being aware of my parents being the survivors. It’s a topic that is very important to me and I need to do my part in speaking out and I can use such powerful things like poetry reading to accomplish that,” Etzel said.

The meeting’s theme was the color ‘teal’ which represents sexual assault awareness month. The attendees were encouraged to participate in the poetry reading and express their own experiences with sexual assault through poetry or write a poem to honor their loved ones.

Dennis opened the event by discussing sexual assault and how survivors who speak out often face shame, silence and denial. He also spoke about how speaking about it can trigger certain memories and emotions in survivors.

“We find it a relief that we could publicly affirm and see each other in the news and social media as survivors. We are here to speak out against sexual assault through the form of poetry. A system of passion by connecting back to the city’s progressive and multi-cultural roots,” Etzel said.

Representatives from various organizations that work for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence spoke about the help and services they offer in between the poetry readings. These organizations empower and support survivors.

Emily Steimel-Handy, a representative from the Young Women’s Christian Association and the organization’s public education coordinator, was also invited to the meeting to discuss how the YWCA supports survivors of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and stalking.

Jackie Gonzalez, a sophomore in education, was one of the participants at the event who shared her story through poetry. Her poem titled “Shades of Blue” recounted her own experience of sexual assault and aimed to empower other survivors to share their own. Her poem served as a voice for self-expression and advocacy for sexual assault survivors.

“I have shared my story with plenty of people who couldn’t care less, and I just felt like maybe somebody was in the crowd that was going through something similar to me. They wouldn’t be able to resonate and get the help they needed,” said Gonzalez.

Molly Steffes-Herman, university counselor and campus advocate, also read a poem to her daughter about the sacrifices, fragility and strength that comes with motherhood. Her poem about mother shifted the focus from the women’s vulnerability as victims to the strength and resilience of all women, including those who have been survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

The open poetry reading organized by Etzel and Hocket was a significant and impactful event that served as the official start of sexual assault awareness month. The event gave survivors a platform to tell their stories, brought attention to the problem of sexual violence and demonstrated how we can all work together to make the world a safer through the power of poetry and community support.

Etzel and Hocket are also accepting submissions for an Ichabods Speak Out against Domestic Violence poetry book that can be sent to [email protected] by the end of April.

For advocacy and counseling services click here.


Edited by Simran Shrestha and Aja Carter