For many individuals, the best way to express themselves is through art. Whether through painting, photography, writing or music, these tools can help to convey emotions in ways that strictly stating them would not.
At Ohio University, the #SpeakUp organization acknowledged this phenomenon and built its purpose around it. The organization is a network designed to unite survivors of abuse and trauma by providing a safe space to freely share experiences and promote gender equality and social justice.
#SpeakUp was organized a year ago, and this year, in January, February and March, the organization will hold a three-part workshop, entitled #HealingWords, that will utilize poetry as a form of relief through guided lessons. The theme of each workshop will serve as a progression toward empowerment, from recognizing what allows individuals to open up, to discover a path to personal happiness.
Habiba Abdelaal, a graduate assistant at the women’s center, is the vice president and treasurer for #SpeakUp. Abdelaal mentioned that the goal for the organization this semester is to transition its focus from opening up about personal stories to utilizing healing devices to combat those experiences.
“The past two semesters we’ve focused on telling the stories,” Abdelaal said. “This semester, we want to focus on dealing with those stories and the healing processes that accompany them. The main point is to combine art with storytelling and make it more expressive for people as well as easier for them.”
Claudia Cisneros, a third-year master’s student studying journalism, is the president of #SpeakUp. Cisneros expressed that she was inspired to form the organization after experiencing a significant trauma, which led her to want to assist others who had gone through similar pain.
“I had gone through a personal gender-based violence experience,” Cisneros said. “For me, trying to help others and build a community in a setting where we’re all here transitorily, was a way of coping as well as healing. The idea for #SpeakUp is to be a safe place where people with these commonalities can meet and feel that they’re not alone.”
This sense of belonging amid difficult experiences is frequently assisted by therapeutic activities, as Abdelaal noted how her fondness for art contributed to a sense of relief during her own struggles.
“For me personally, I have dealt with post-traumatic stress,” Abdelaal said. “Photography has helped me a lot in my healing process, so I feel like art is easier than speaking as it helps you to phrase your words in a picture, through rhyming or a drawing.”
Despite these many forms of art, Cisneros discovered that the source for such intimate conversation was frequently through poetry. Prior to creating the specified workshops, #SpeakUp held open-mic events at local bars and cafes, where Cisneros met Athens Poet Laureate Kari Gunter-Seymour, who is guiding the upcoming #HealingWords workshops. Gunter-Seymour iterated that poetry enables individuals to communicate complex feelings in an indirect manner.
“Poetry is a form of art and expression that allows us to use things like metaphor and rhythm,” Gunter-Seymour said. “It envelopes the writer to not give so much of themselves in plain language, but they can give themselves up in comparison, which allows them to get deeper on paper.”
While the vessel of writing is utilized as an outlet for expression, Gunter-Seymour assures that those who attend the workshops will be encouraged to disclose only what they choose, as the environment is made to be non-judgemental and supportive.
“People are invited to share as much or as little as they would like,” Gunter-Seymour said. “The event is open to people who aren’t even interested in writing, but simply want to be in the same room as other people who have experienced trauma.”
Gunter-Seymour conveyed that sharing experiences, whether traumatic or not, is an attempt to release the stress one might be feeling from them.
“We are inviting individuals to experience this art form, and that it might in some way help them unburden some of the tension and anxiety that they’ve been experiencing,” Gunter-Seymour said. “Sometimes getting it out of our head and getting it onto paper can be huge as far as healing and empowerment goes.”
While the aspect of trauma can be a harsh reality, Cisneros believes that the creation of similar events like #HealingWords for victims of trauma can contribute to a future of social justice.
“We can’t sugarcoat the reality of victimization, so let’s face it and fight it,” Cisneros said. “The success of these events means that we are serving an underserved group of people and we are there for them.”