Recently, hashtags such as #MeToo have sparked conversation and allowed sexual assault survivors to stand in solidarity with one another and share their experiences without shame. Last month, college students from schools in the Atlanta University Center (AUC)— which houses Spelman College, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, created the hashtag #WeKnowWhatYouDid to bring attention to rape in the AUC and call out those who got away assaulting other students.
The hashtag started after several students posted the names of alleged rapists across the three campuses in hopes of forcing AUC administrators to take action against the accused. Signs bearing the phrases, “No More Secrets,” “Morehouse Protects Rapists” and “Spelman Protects Rapists” were also posted, but were later removed by campus police. Rape and assault at AUC has been a problem going all the way back to the 1990s. This is why actress Gabrielle Union’s new book, We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True is such a critical read for college students like myself.
From her first film appearance in She’s all that, to starring in her own critically-acclaimed drama series, Being Mary Jane, there is not one thing Gabrielle Union attempts that she does not perfect. We’re Going to Need More Wine, is another example of her ability to do just that. The book, Union’s first, became a New York Time Bestseller within weeks of its release. In this thoughtful collection of essays, Union discusses her marriage to NBA player Dwayne Wade, being a working Black woman in Hollywood and the challenges she faces, as well as her struggles with fertility. In the midst of these compelling recollections, Union’s most personal revelation is about a violent sexual assault she suffered and survived at the age of 19 while in college and working part-time at a Payless Shoe Store. The assault occurred while Union was finishing a night shift and she was awarded a settlement as a result of a suit she filed against the store that did not offer protection to its employees.
In an interview with The Crossover, Union explained why it as so important for her to use her Hollywood platform to advocate for sexual assault survivors by reliving her experience: “If I have to suffer for a small amount of time so other people can feel a sense of community I will do that every time.” Union attributes her courage to the African American studies classes she’s taken at UCLA.
The publication of Union’s book is timely in a climate where women are speaking more forthrightly about sexual assault and harassment on campuses and in the workplace. Too often, survivors are silenced by those who wish to uphold rape culture; Union’s book causes us to remember the courage that it takes for survivors of sexual assault to share their stories. Can we educate men about consent and respecting women’s bodies so other young women like Union do not have to suffer the same on college campuses? Groups and initiatives such as Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (SAPA), Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention, and The Respect Program, both at Emory University are a start in offering survivors to seek the support they deserve.; reading books like Gabrielle Union’s with a candid description of how such a violation impacts one’s health, self-esteem, family and public life, is another.
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