Interview: Kenyora Parham, Executive Director of End Rape on Campus

July 22, 2021

Interview

To honor Bebe Moore Campbell Minority Mental Health Month, Mooditude has partnered up with End Rape on Campus to spread awareness and highlight resources available to survivors of sexual assault. This culminates in a virtual fireside chat hosted by End Rape on Campus July 28th.


Kenyora Parham, the Executive Director of End Rape on Campus compassionately and bravely heads this organization so all survivors of sexual violence have a voice. Kenyora has taken the lead and been a vocal advocate to ensure that education legislation supports survivors from underrepresented communities. She testified during the Department of Education’s Title IX hearing in Washington D.C. and has been published in Ms. Magazine.

Mooditude: Kenyora, your expertise, and dedication to advocating for those whose voices are often overlooked are incredible. Why are you using your voice for this cause?


Kenyora: As a Black woman, an Afro-Latina, and a survivor, myself, I understand what it means to use your voice and not be heard. I’ve been in spaces that empower you in one way, but break you down in the most subtle of ways. I have been stereotyped and misunderstood because of the color of my skin and because I dare to be me, authentically. 


I’ve spent a lot of time in women-centered spaces, starting from being raised by strong women to participating in Girls, Inc. of Lynn, MA., to attending Simmons University, to joining Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. I’ve learned over the years how to use my power and reclamation of my sense of self to continue to be of service to women and girls, especially those at the intersections of their identities. 


Therefore, I want to continue to just that where I can create spaces, uplift faces, amplify voices of student survivors who have been historically excluded from the national discourse of campus sexual assault. Their experiences are important and deserve to be heard. Just like their cisgender, white counterparts, they deserve to gain an education that is free from sexual violence. 


Mooditude: Where are the gaps in support for survivors of sexual assault and violence on college campuses?


Kenyora: There is a myriad of gaps in support for survivors of sexual assault and violence on college campuses. This includes a lack of supportive measures such as academic, mental, physical health, and financial resources and accommodations. Research shows that sexual- and gender-minority and students from communities of color, and students with neurodiversity, are at greater risk for sexual assault than their cisgender, white, heterosexual, able-bodied, peers. 


The cultural barriers, coupled with the historical and present stereotypical ideologies and systems of oppression that have excluded students of historically marginalized communities have presented major challenges for these students to trust institutions that were designed to help them and gain access to academic, financial, and mental health services and resources. 


Mooditude: EROC works through the framework “Centering the Margins.” Can you explain to our readers what this is and how it informs EROC’s advocacy?


Kenyora: EROC’s Centering the Margins framework is essential to our mission and vision. It aims to fill the disparity of resources between different communities, while paying particular attention to amplifying and centering the needs of historically excluded students, at the intersections of their identities when addressing campus sexual assault. Through our CTM lens, everything that we do is aimed to provide support, education, prevention, and ending sexual violence against marginalized communities.


Mooditude: Through President Biden’s executive order, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is reviewing the Title IX regulations. EROC has been heavily involved in advocating to protect and support survivors of campus sexual violence. What are your top 3 priorities for legislation?


While we hope that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights under the current Biden Administration takes an active stance and creates an intersectional, survivor-centered Title IX regulation, we will continue to fight for students’ rights by advocating for, the following top three priorities:


  1. Adopt new language that expands upon the sexual harassment definition and that ensures that regardless of the level of severity of the harassment, students’ experiences are taken seriously and swift action is taken to address incidences.
  1. The requirement of all institutions of higher education to adopt a comprehensive, educational training program, designed to equip their communities on an ongoing basis about gender-based violence and harassment and their rights under school policy and relevant laws. 
  1. Expand upon access to and types of supportive measures and accommodations that are culturally competent, intersectional, and appropriately support student survivor’s continued access to education, including the enforcement of orders of protection, and the requirement of free access for mental health and disability services.

While these may be our top priority areas, these are non-exhaustive. There are many other priority areas that need to be swiftly and appropriately addressed to ensure that all students, regardless of and with respect to their identities, gain an access to an education that is violence-free.


Mooditude:  For those creating policies and programs around helping victims of sexual assault, what should they keep in mind so that they don’t re-traumatize the survivors they want to help?


Kenyora: When creating policies and programs around helping victims of sexual assault, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, said it best, “Those closest to the pain, should be closest to the power”. I firmly agree and believe that you have to have those who are disproportionately affected by sexual violence at the table to help shape and create programs and policies that truly are centered on their experiences. For example, you can’t create policies around a specific faith-based campus, without involving student survivors from that specific faith-based community. That’s how exclusionary policies and programs are created in the first place--because the people most affected weren’t involved. 


When we talk about the founding of this nation, which was built on the backs of Black and Brown bodies forced into slavery, we have to ask ourselves, why is it that it took until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for the prohibition of discrimination against people of color, people of different faiths, sex, gender identity, and sexual identity to finally be written into law and deemed unconstitutional? We didn’t have a seat at the table. We weren’t even considered, nor seen. We had to fight and die to get to where we are at presently and we still have a long way to go.  It’s the same with campus sexual assault. 


Title IX focuses on sex, and now gender identity, sexual orientation discrimination, not specifically about race, religion, color, or nationality. In order to get this right, we have to talk about ways that these laws must be intersectional and have all students who are sexually assaulted in mind. Sexual assault knows no bounds. It can happen to anyone. 


Mooditude: Experiencing sexual violence is very traumatic. As you are working with survivors, what are the types of mental health concerns that you see? 


Kenyora: Sexual violence is very traumatic and especially in the campus space, it continues to remain a public health crisis that widens and deepens the mental health disparities for student survivors. Upon the COVID-19 outbreak, as we know, schools had to close down suddenly and all health services that students had access to were stymied. Students had to move off-campus and either go back home, where some may have to go back to domestic violence, and/or find alternative shelter because they didn’t have a home to go back to.  Therefore, we saw an increase in isolation, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. 


For some students we’ve spoken with, most of them had therapists they can call on, whereas, some students didn’t even have access to a mental health professional due to financial constraints or lack of knowledge on how to find someone. With the shifting of in-person classrooms to full-time virtual learning, we have also seen mental health exhaustion increase, along with digital harassment and bullying. 


We expect more mental health issues to increase now that students are able to return back to campus and enter what we believe will become the “double red zone”, where what was once 50% of sexual assault incidents occurring between August to November, will now double.


Mooditude:  If someone close to you has experienced this trauma, what can you do to help them?


Kenyora: If someone close to you had experienced this trauma, the first thing you can do to help them is to be there and listen to them. Meet them where they are at and ask them what they wish to do. It is important for survivors who have experienced trauma to understand that they have the power to reclaim and control what the next step should be. If a survivor wishes to share their story publicly or anonymously, report their sexual assault to campus officials or local law enforcement, get a rape kit, or not tell anyone or report, it is up to them. 


Survivors’ experiences of sexual assaults are not monolithic, there are no one right pathways on which direction a survivor should take. Everyone is different and what they want to do and what they declare they need is up to them. Continue to offer support and encouragement.


Mooditude:  A survivor may want emotional and legal support after sexual assault or violence on campus. What resources does EROC have to support these survivors? 


Kenyora: At EROC, first, we acknowledge the experience and thank survivors for inviting us in by sharing their experience with us. Then, we ask them what they wish to do and how EROC can be of support. We always want them to be and feel in control of their needs. Most student survivors who come to us are looking for legal support, especially after having already reported their experience to the Title IX office, while looking to understand their rights under Title IX. 


We have made great strides in building connections with national legal firms like the National Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates, who we refer students to for they have legal experts and attorneys who can help these students understand their rights and provide them with any other alternative solutions they may seek. We are currently working on expanding on these resources and more!

Mooditude: EROC is hosting a fireside chat on July 28th, 2021 in honor of Bebe Moore Campbell Minority Mental Health Month. What should we look forward to and how can we tune in?


Kenyora: We are so excited for this very important conversation! Centering Our Mental Health: A Fireside Chat with Survivors at the Margins amplifies the voices of survivors, at the intersections of their identities, who are often left of the conversation and how their mental health journey began while discussing what it looks like and means to reduce the stigmas and stereotypes of mental health, especially in marginalized communities. Those who tune in will hear not only from survivors but also from mental health experts in various sectors of the movement. We are grateful to partners like Mooditude, who are helping us make this conversation possible!

Mooditude:  For allies that want to support EROC in its advocacy for survivors, how can they help?


Kenyora: For anyone who wishes to support EROC, first, we thank you for your generosity! Second, you can go to our website at endrapeoncampus.org/donate/ and choose what you wish to donate--your time, expertise, direct donation, or fundraising! Thank you for your support and for being with us on this journey.


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We’re grateful to have Kenyora share her expertise and shine a light on the work that still needs to be done to create safer, supportive campuses. Don’t miss the virtual conversation and sign up for Centering Our Mental Health: A Fireside Chat with Survivors at the Margins to hear survivors’ stories and learn about resources that you or a loved one may need. 


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