students in lounge

Editor’s note:  Our colleagues at the Sexual Assault Resource Agency are among the most important of our partners in the Charlottesville community. Staff and students from the Women’s Center recently attended the annual award event at which SARA recognizes leaders in confronting sexual violence in our community. Lisa Speidel, Assistant Professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality at UVA and a SARA board member, delivered these remarks and was generous enough to allow us to share them with you here.

Given the trauma of this summer, especially July 8, August 11 and 12, we are a community in recovery, and in many ways, a community divided.

We have blamed one another for what has happened, what was allowed to happen. We have criticized. We have tried to make sense of something that does not make sense, which often happens as a trauma response.

To see you all here gathered as a community, supporting SARA, is beyond moving and I thank you all for being here. We are not all on the same page politically, we are not all on the same page about our beliefs, we do not all think alike, but yet we gather for a common cause, and this is powerful. Look around this room. Notice this!

I recently went to church with my dad, something my dad had been trying to get me to do for 30 years since I stopped going at the age of 17. I can’t say I will do it again (sorry, Dad!), but the minister said something that really stuck with me: WE NEED NOT THINK ALIKE, TO LOVE ALIKE.

This statement moved me to write a letter to Bronco Medenhall, the coach of the UVA football team, about how I have had 25 players in my gender studies classes over the last year. I wrote to say, “They have made me challenge my own biases, be a better person, a better teacher.” And I wrote to acknowledge that he contributed to this as a coach who promotes community, integrity and authenticity in his players.

We have very different jobs at the university. We make very different salaries. I know nothing about football. That should not stop me from thanking him, right???


How can we get to this point to create a community that no longer has sexual violence in it? I’ll share a quick story, that is related in my head.

I do not think anything like my police officer friend Brian O’Donnell, but we have found a common ground in teaching self-defense and have since cultivated quite a friendship over the past 18 years. We talk a couple times of week. He helps me teach my self-defense classes. We are working on a new self-defense project together. He calls me his one leftie friend, and all of our friends on both sides say, “Why are you friends with that person????”

This friendship was challenged with August 12, for two different reasons. On the one hand, I was convinced that he was going to die on August 12. Even though I was participating in the counter protests, and he was in a position of authority, I was worried most about him. He was in the middle of it because it was HIS JOB.

He called me the next morning and I broke down crying, probably for multiple reasons, but just so relieved he was alive.

The other reason our friendship was challenged, was that I was in the middle of all the criticisms of the police response on August 12. All of my activist friends were angry at the police, but Brian was telling me his perspective too about what the strategy was. I was stuck with trying to make sense of, how do I hold both truths?


Cville-ity. CIVILITY. This bumper sticker is on a telephone pole, right where Heather Heyer was killed. I was walking up 4th Street the other day, where flowers are still being placed for Heather, and was taken by this statement.

Cville-ity. CIVILITY. I don’t know who created this. I have not seen it anywhere else around town. But WOW. This, to me, sums it up for what needs to happen. How do we create opportunities to have the conversations about the realities of power, privilege and violence, to end the violence? How do we find the courage to have the conversations across the divide? And not get defensive? Really listen? With people that do not think like us?

And at SARA, this IS what is happening. They are a model of what we as a community could be doing! The SARA prevention program is creating opportunities to have conversations across the divide, to promote a community of civility, of respect, to enact cultural change, so that sexual violence can be eliminated. The advocacy and therapy team are helping folks heal. The SARA board is working their asses off to make sure that the funding is there to make this happen. This is an amazing organization of incredible people, who I am so proud to be a part of. And you all being here, and supporting this work, is so important. So THANK YOU.  

We have had the privilege of having Jesse Jackson speak twice in Charlottesville in the last couple of months, and he likes to do a call and response. In the spirit of Jesse Jackson, repeat after me:  WE NEED NOT…We need not… THINK ALIKE…Think Alike… TO LOVE ALIKE…To love alike.

Thank you.