On Nov. 29, a panel discussion was held around the ongoing social media hashtag #MeToo. The discussion took place in the Bangor Room of the Memorial Union and included five panelists offering different perspectives, finishing with a question-and-answer session. The discussion was sponsored by the UMaine’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program (WGS) the Rising Tide Center, and the Feminist Collective.
Each of the five members of the panel shared their own experiences with the #MeToo movement, both in the work environment as well as personal environment. As well as discussing sexual assault and harassment, the speakers brought their own perspectives and views of the hashtag.
One of the members of the panel, Amy Blackstone, professor at UMaine’s Sociology department, spoke about her encounters and experiences with the #MeToo hashtag. She also stressed sexual harassment as a pressing and prevalent issue on college campuses throughout the country. Attorney Dan Monahan provided a legal perspective of the hashtag, speaking about helping the survivors of sexual violence and how it is done so in practice. Cara Courchesne, member of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, gave insight on the ongoing advocacy work as well as sharing her experience in dealing with harassment.
Two student panelists, Lori Loftin, and Olivia Pennington shared their views on the hashtag and the impacts of the social movement on campus. Loftin, co-director of the Women’s Resource Center spoke about the sexual assault and violence prevention policies that exist on campus. She shared that improvements need to be made to these policies and programs in order to make the campus a safer place.
Pennington discussed her class experiment which involved standing out on the mall with a group of students with red handprints painted on their bodies. This exhibit meant to demonstrate how prevalent and pressing sexual harassment and abuse is on campus and around the area.
“As a woman on a college campus, knowing that there are groups and programs out there to help women cope and deal with these kinds of problems is something really important. It makes me feel safer and more comfortable walking around on campus,” Morgan O’Donnell, a fourth-year student, said. “Hosting panel discussions and talks are a great way for the school to reach out to students and bring awareness of this issue to our campus.”
The hashtag #MeToo was created by Tarana Burke in 2006 as a way to bring women together and empower them through a hashtag that would connect women with others who have been sexually harassed or assaulted. The movement has since then grown and spread throughout multiple social media platforms and websites, creating a massive social media response that is ongoing. Women reveal their experiences and struggles with sexual harassment on these sites and include the hashtag as a way to bring the community together. Women are using #MeToo to share their stories of harassment, abuse and assault, or to just signify that it has happened to them to.
The #MeToo panel discussion was the third one in a series of “pop-up” discussions on campus. Other issues discussed in these panels include other social media trends, social issues and topics, as well as professional development. The WGS program also hosts a number of professional development activities with staff to help teachers navigate and talk about difficult topics in the classroom in order to create an inclusive learning environment.
“Our goal is to work toward creating an environment where people can peacefully disagree with each other, and learn about perspectives that might differ from their own,” Susan Gardner, director of the Rising Tide Center and WGS, said. “These discussions and events give students a chance to learn from each other and talk about controversial topics that they might not be very familiar with, and learn more about them from professionals and experts.”
If you would like to learn more about the Rising Tide Center and the WGS program here on campus, or give new ideas for future panel discussions, please visit umaine.edu/womensgenderandsexualitystudies.