by Lily Lyons
The zines made by Berklee’s Student Allies in Anti-Violence Education—abbreviated SAAVE— look cheerful and decidedly hipster at first glance. Hand drawn doodles and carefully inked headlines catch my eye as I thumb through the pages. Though the presentation is conversational, the content has a serious message. “Abuse can be more than physical” one page declares in bold letters. On another page, a series of bullet points about how to talk with a survivor of domestic violence surround a capitalized word: “LISTEN.”
Creating an encouraging, inclusive space at Berklee for having conversations about sexual and gender-based violence is SAAVE’s main mission. The roots of the organization go back to 2014, the same year that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights began investigating Berklee for an incident of sexual assault. With the support of the college administration and Reach Out—a donor-funded initiative for increasing student health—SAAVE went from hosting a few events to developing a thorough bystander intervention training program. Currently over 30 students are involved. Leah Driscoll, who staff advises SAAVE with Janicanne Shane, credits the program’s rapid rise with its deep relevancy to the Berklee community: “this is a conversation we need to be having as people and as professionals in music.”
SAAVE’s success and impact is also deeply connected to its commitment to considering the diverse experiences of students. Many media accounts portray campus sexual violence as predominantly happening to straight white women, a stereotype that marginalizes survivors who are male, LGBTQ, or people of color. SAAVE aims to counteract this stereotype in its trainings and outreach events. Leah feels that the varied racial, national, sexual, and gender identities represented in the Berklee community help students collectively develop empathy and deconstruct assumptions about relationships and sex.
Sparking thoughtful discussions about making Berklee into a safer, more inclusive place is a commitment that requires a lot of patience. One of the big misconceptions SAAVE hopes to eradicate is that reducing sexual violence requires directly stopping a crime scene. Because of this misconception, people become less likely to intervene in a situation that is or could become violent, a phenomenon known as the bystander effect.
“Intervention doesn’t always look like being a super hero,” Leah says.
Little actions—verbally distracting the perpetrator, calling 911, or simply challenging a friend who says something problematic in everyday conversation—can have a big effect. Much of SAAVE’s work focuses on changing the overall climate of the community by encouraging students to question toxic ideas and stereotypes. Speaking up can feel uncomfortable but silence also says something: namely that the harmful thing voiced is normal and okay.
SAAVE’s strongest impact has ultimately been on an individual level. When I ask student chairperson Madeline Miller about her personal experience with SAAVE, she writes to me that “there is so much fulfilling energy in being able to stand in a room with people committed to open and intentional dialogue.” She adds that “SAAVE has empowered me to share my voice and explore my narrative as a way to implement positive change.” Being a part of SAAVE has taught Berklee alum Jacy Anderson that social justice and musical expression are intimately connected:
“I believe that if we had more groups like SAAVE or the Glory Project on campus that focus on pushing students to a higher level of social understanding, the likelihood of Berklee making an impact on society would be much higher.”
He also points out that it’s critical to “empower students to discuss and confront the issues that pervade the modern day music industry like sexism, sexual assault, racism, and many more.” SAAVE’s commitment to having those difficult conversations while upholding intersectionality makes it a critical organization in the Berklee community.
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