Founder and creator of the MeToo Movement Tarana Burke spoke to the Lehigh and Bethlehem communities at the political science department’s 42nd annual Tresolini Lecture.
While introducing Burke on Sept. 20, Vera Fennell, associate professor of political science and chair of the Tresolini Committee, said Burke founded the MeToo Movement on the phrase “power through empathy.”
Burke said this phrase addresses her own survivorship by not only empathizing with other survivors, but finding other survivors.
Rita Jones, director of the Center for Gender Equity, said the movement showed the world there is “much bigger and broader” trauma and violence happening than those not directly affected by it want to imagine.
“It is easier for (non-survivors) to say that is an isolated issue and that it can’t be this larger systemic concern and MeToo denounced that claim,” Jones said.
She also said the movement is an important example of Black women leading change for the community, creating a more equitable space for everyone.
Burke said MeToo is structured as a survivor movement.
“It is about healing and action and real people and real lives who suffered from real trauma and deserve healing,” Burke said.
Instances of sexual violence do not just impact the individuals involved, Burke said, but have ripple effects on accountability both environmentally and societally.
She talked about the significance of MeToo being a movement organized on social media.
“The internet is one of the most unsafe places to exist, but for a brief moment in time people found each other on the internet and made a community,” Burke said.
To Jones, the movement’s role in social media is as a tool to fight repression.
“It’s important to consider the ways in which MeToo and the hashtag MeToo (acts) as a way for survivors to publicly tell their stories,” Jones said.
Violet Kertis, ‘22 ‘23G, is a graduate assistant in the Gender Violence Education and Support Office who attended the lecture. She said media has the ability to take something beautiful and twist it into something that’s not.
Kertis said there was a lot of criticism when the MeToo hashtag went viral. She also noticed a narrative on social media where male-presenting people were worried about getting fired and were making jokes about getting “me too-d,” which took away from the message of the movement.
“It was only ever about creating a space for survivors, and Tarana Burke really tried to emphasize that in the lecture,” Kertis said.
Burke said she used her conversation with Fennell to explain what college campuses can do in order to help survivors. She proposed implementing programs such as restorative justice procedures and talking more about results survivors want to see.
Burke said she has a particular affection for college campuses because they are the perfect places to incubate new ideas.
“What really stuck out to me was how someone who came to campus and had celebrity status was able to take this movement and reframe it for us as something really accessible that we have the power to recreate and do here at Lehigh,” Kertis said.
Kertis said there is energy to capitalize on with this lecture occurring as the Title IX investigation is still prevalent.
This year marks the five year anniversary of the MeToo hashtag. With this milestone coming up, Burke stressed the importance of intersectionality that exists within sexual violence issues.
“The way we talk about climate change and racial violence are the ways in which we should be talking about sexual violence,” Burke said. “You can’t talk about mass incarceration or police violence without talking about sexual violence.”