Feminist author Roxane Gay and businesswoman Amanda Nguyen spoke about sexual assault at a Visions and Voices event titled “Survivors Rise: Roxane Gay and Amanda Nguyen in Conversation,” Wednesday night at Bovard Auditorium. Following the event, Gay tweeted that she felt unsafe on stage after multiple audience members disrupted the Q&A portion of the conversation with inflammatory comments.
Sponsored by the Asian Pacific American Student Services, the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs and the USC Speakers Committee, the event was presented as a part of the Provost’s series on the University’s “wicked problems” to address sexual assault in the current political climate. Tara McPherson, a professor at the School of Cinematic Arts, moderated the conversation.
Both rape survivors, Gay and Nguyen discussed their personal experiences with assault, as well as the conversation surrounding assault Nguyen is the founder and chief executive officer of Rise, a nonprofit focused on civil rights.
The conversation began with Nguyen detailing her experience with sexual assault. She said that in Massachusetts, where the incident occurred, she discovered her rape kit would be destroyed before the statute of limitations expired.
Nguyen said this experience pushed her to work with her nonprofit to create the Survivors’ Bill of Rights, which outlines the right to access information and resources after sexual assault encounters. The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights was signed into law during the Obama administration.
“I told myself, ‘Oh my gosh I have to make a choice, my justice or my career,’” Nguyen said. “That’s not a choice that anyone should ever have to make.”
During her introduction, Gay read an excerpt from her 2017 book “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body,” in which she connects the repercussions of her trauma with her disdain for physical exercise. At the event, she touched on her struggles with writing the memoir in the last few years.
“With ‘Hunger’, the thought of having these things out in the world terrified me,” Gay said. “People tend to weaponize it and use it against you.”
At the event, McPherson delved into her experience with the secrecy surrounding assault in the ‘80s, as well as the recent increase in having public, open discourse about sexual assault and rape, especially in light of the #MeToo movement.
“I think we have simply reached a critical mass of suffering,” Gay said. “Women and men suffering from sexual assault have new ways of talking about it.”
Gay and Nguyen noted that social media has served as a key aspect of the recent conversational nature of sexual assault. According to McPherson, victims can use social media to share their experiences among one another, forming connections that weren’t previously possible.
“These spaces have always existed, but with social media, these spaces have more breadth than ever before,” Gay said. “I think right now, what we’re seeing is, in terms of vulnerability, is that many of us who have these kind of stories recognize [social media’s] the only way to really be heard.”
Nguyen also spoke about the injustice she noticed in the democratic nature of the government.
“I think that there is massive gaslighting in this country that people don’t fully understand that they have the power to change the law,” Nguyen said. “This country, as a democracy, should be of the people, by the people, for the people.”
During the Q&A portion of the conversation, a member of RevCom, a revolutionary communist party, drew ties between Nguyen’s passage of the Survivors’ Bill of Rights and the alleged war crimes under the Obama administration. The question ended with the protester saying that putting a female in charge of the current government system would not change any current injustice.
“I also think we need to talk about the misogyny of your question,” Gay said. “I understand the critique, but 45 men led this country to where we are today … to suggest that there is a problem with having a woman as president when men have fucked it up…”
Shortly after the question, another audience member interrupted, saying he was skipped over, prompting shocked responses from the speakers. After the event ended, Gay tweeted, “I don’t like feeling unsafe on stage, but tonight that sure happened.”
“As a member of the audience, I also felt unsafe, so I can only imagine your experience,” Twitter user ‘LaurenLevy’ commented.
Despite the disruption, students said they enjoyed the conversation and the discussion it prompted.
“It was a good moment to just be surrounded by so many people that feel pretty much on the same page about what the guest speakers were talking about,” said Abeer Tijani, a sophomore majoring in global health and Spanish. “It made me hopeful for wanting to incite change and fix things, especially because I have a lot of friends who have gone through things similar to the #MeToo movement.”