by Teagan Hughes
art by Eva Sturm-Gross
[originally published March 11, 2022]
Survivors Of Sexual Harm & Allies, or SOSHA, is currently holding a letter-writing campaign aimed at providing survivors an avenue by which to share their personal experiences in whichever way they choose. First conceptualized in February 2020, SOSHA is an independent organization run by Oberlin students that supports and advocates for survivors of sexual harm on Oberlin’s campus. The letter-writing campaign began accepting submissions on February 21st, and will run through March 19th. Those who submit a letter may choose whether they want their letter to be shared privately--that is, read only by the SOSHA board--or publicly, in weekly installations that will begin in April on SOSHA’s social media outlets. Once all letters submitted for publication are shared, the SOSHA board hopes to create an art installation involving the letters. Ella Newcomb, the SOSHA board member helming the campaign, says that “The goal with this program was to allow a space for students to share stories and know that someone is listening.”
Newcomb, who is a current third-year, serves as SOSHA’s Chair of Community Support. In running this campaign, Newcomb says that she aims to “provide anonymity where it’s desired, and to create visibility where it’s needed.” She emphasizes that although the campaign is called a “letter-writing” campaign, the materials submitted to the campaign need not be letters in the traditional sense. “While it’s called ‘letter-writing,’ your thing can take whatever form you want. I know for me as a survivor, when I write about my experience it can be very difficult, so I always choose to write through poetry…Some people wanna submit music, some people wanna submit a drawing--that is totally fine. I think it’s really important to remember that in telling your story, you should have agency not only over what is said, but how it is said.”
College third-year Emma Hart and Confidential Student Advocate Riley Hall began developing the idea for SOSHA in February 2020; SOSHA was officially founded seven months later, in September 2020. Newcomb says that SOSHA grew from the recognition of the College’s lack of community for survivors. “There wasn’t a communal space,” Newcomb says. “Survivors often sought support from the Counseling Center, or from Riley Hall, who is the Nord Center Confidential Advocate. There are support systems through Title IX and the SHARE office that work specifically one-on-one with survivors, and that is primarily pertaining to legal advice, as well as academic accommodations, residential accommodations, and those kinds of things. The support that was lacking was a space where survivors could feel not alone, feel believed, feel supported, and have a community that’s around that shared identity.” To that end, SOSHA hosts biweekly listening sessions, as well as various forums, workshops, and socials.
The organization is not affiliated with or sponsored by the college; it is entirely student-run. The lack of college affiliation presents occasional challenges for the organization, namely attaining funding and booking meeting space. Newcomb says that SOSHA does all of its own fundraising, “but typically, the kind of things that we offer survivors don’t cost us anything, just our time.” Though it is not college-affiliated itself, SOSHA collaborates with several college-affiliated organizations to share resources and practices, as well as plan events. According to Newcomb, SOSHA collaborates with the Oberlin Doula Collective and is developing a relationship with the Sexual Information Center, or the SIC. In addition, “our biggest collaborator right now is Barefoot Dialogue, through the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. They’ve been a really great resource,” says Newcomb, who also serves as a Barefoot Dialogue Facilitator. “They support us in allowing us to use their specific practices in listening sessions, and additionally are actually sponsoring Take Back the Night this semester, which is great.” Take Back the Night, SOSHA’s flagship annual event, will be held this year on April 22nd.
SOSHA’s current letter-writing campaign will culminate in a reception in Wilder Hall on March 19th, during which participants who have not yet submitted letters can write and submit. “My goal with having that space is having people that are trained in supporting people to be there,” Newcomb says. Riley Hall, Oberlin’s Confidential Student Advocate, will be present as a resource for attendees, as well as SOSHA board members.
Until then, participants may submit letters to the letter-writing campaign in one of four ways: dropping them in one of two mailboxes outside of the Confidential Advocate’s office in the basement of Peters Hall, emailing letterstoSOSHA@gmail.com, sending them via DM to SOSHA’s Instagram profile, @oberlin_sosha, or using a Google Form that can be found on the same profile.