New York Times bestselling author Roxane Gay publicly addressed Richmond's sexual assault problem at Wednesday night's first WILL* activism series event.

Gay, author of Bad Feminist: Essays and An Untamed State and an associate professor at Purdue University, read several essays to the packed Alice Haynes Room, ending with an essay she wrote the previous night about Richmond. Gay's presentation was the first event of the joint WILL* and Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies' speaker series.

The university's response to Cecilia Carreras' criticism of the administration in the Huffington Post Contributor Network was "embarrassing" and "dangerous," Gay said. The administration that is “more invested in the status quo” than in students who are not athletes makes an already challenging situation worse, she said.

However, athletes and fraternity members are not the only predators, Gay said. She faults American culture for raising young men and women who don’t understand consent. 

Gay discussed her experience of being gang raped as a twelve-year-old by boys she knew, and how she survived college without being assaulted, but now looks at her students and wonders if any of them are predators.

"We are, with our silence, issuing permission for sexual predators…on our college campuses," Gay said of university faculty and administration. She cited a survey from the Association of American Universities that found one in four undergraduate women experience sexual violence. 

In another essay, “The Illusion of Safety/The Safety of Illusion,” Gay discussed trigger warnings, a topic which has seen a surge in controversy after University of Chicago's president publicly denounced them in August.

Gay does not believe in trigger warnings because her experience as a twelve-year-old taught her to "stare down" her triggers, she said. There is “no way to step out of the line of fire” in the "real world," she said.

“Once you start, where do you stop?” Gay asked about issuing trigger warnings.

In the question and answer portion of the event, a student asked about reconciling a coordinate college system. Gay said the binary system is "two sides of the same thing," and the university should foster discussions about the values of the system while combining communities.

Gay was more "human" than Owen Parker, RC '20, had expected. Despite the heavy topics addressed, Gay managed to insert enough humor to make the audience frequently laugh.

Nadia Neman, WC '20, went to the event because she had read Gay's work for her introductory English class. She appreciated that Gay spoke about Richmond's sexual assault problem.

"I think it's very telling that people from outside of our community are speaking about it," Neman said.

Contact reporter Katherine Schulte at katherine.schulte@richmond.edu

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