GV holds event detailing history of racialized sexual violence


GVL / Micah Hill

Audrey Whitaker, Staff Reporter

It may be common knowledge that Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a segregated bus led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, but many people are not aware of her 12-year career as a civil rights activist prior to that incident.

Krystal Diel, Center for Women in gender equity Victim Advocate, and Candice Cadena, Living Center Director in the Office of Housing and Residence Life presented on the overlooked work of Parks and many other Black women on Tuesday, Feb. 11.

“A lot of people, for example, don’t know that Rosa Parks was a sexual assault investigator for the NAACP, and her work there actually helped lead to the civil rights movement, and also dramatically changed and shaped how we see victim advocacy today,” Diel said. 

Their presentation, “Racialized Sexual Violence: Black Women and the Start of the Civil Rights Movement,” focused on the impact Black women sharing stories of sexual violence and injustice had on the civil rights movement as a whole.  

“We’re talking about the intersection of sexual violence and the intersection of gender and race,” Diel said. “Sexual assault impacts people of all backgrounds, but there’s a lot of stories that have been erased from our narratives. With February being black history month, we really want to elevate the stories of black women specifically.”

Diel said that while all stories of sexual violence are valid and important, she wanted this presentation to focus on the stories of black women, which are underrepresented.

“You really want to take an intersectional lens to address sexual violence,” Diel said. “Anti-violence work has to also be anti-racist, or you’re going to miss the mark. We have to address both topics to have a real comprehensive approach.”

Cadena explained that intersectionality, the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups according to Merriam-Webster, not only impacted history, but impacts students at GVSU today.

“We don’t often think about the role intersectionality plays in the civil rights movement or a lot of other movements, I would say, and I don’t think people always recognize or realize how intersectionality impacts the students that go here,” Cadena said. “Maybe it’s not necessarily as violent as interracial rape. But race and gender or race and sexual orientation, for instance, that impacts how people experience this campus in this area of Michigan.”

Cadena said she hopes that those who attended the event left with a better understanding of the power the voices of black women and a sense of empowerment.

“I think overall, historically, there have been instances where black women really make a difference,” Cadena said. “I think it’s important that people recognize how that is what this country could be somewhat built on, the work of black women.”

Claire Ketzner, a Grand Valley student who attended the event, said that she learned a lot from the presentation and hopes to inform more people about what she learned.

“I am a pretty strong feminist, so I like to find sources like this to help like educate myself. I’m also biracial so I find this stuff like very personal and like to find the history,” Ketzner said. “I definitely want to enlighten a lot more people because I know, even myself, some things I didn’t know (before) from this presentation.”