Ben Lepper ‘25, Chief Sports Editor
Mike O’Brien ‘23, Editor-In-Chief
On April 24, Holy Cross’ Office of Title IX and Equal Opportunity welcomed Aly Raisman, team captain of the gold medal winning women’s gymnastic teams in 2012 and 2016, to campus in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In her illustrious career, she won six gold medals, good enough to hold the honor of being the third-most decorated American gymnast of all time.
Since her retirement from professional gymnastics in 2016, Raisman has been spending her time spreading awareness about mental health and sexual assault. She was one of the many gymnasts to come forward with allegations of sexual assault against former team trainer Larry Nassar, and has since been telling her story to empower others to speak up.
After an introduction by Dean of Students Michele Murray, Raisman took the Hogan ballroom stage alongside moderators Jillian Kelley, Assistant Director of Prevention and Education for Title IX, and Kit Hughes, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics.
One factor that Raisman repeatedly mentioned in her talk was that she was still struggling with everything that had happened in her past, even though she may have looked like she was fine. “Sometimes people forget that while it doesn’t look like it’s affecting me, it is,” she told the crowd of just over 500 students and faculty. “Everyone’s going through something. It’s something that still impacts me and something that I balance and navigate.”
This, alone, makes her coming to Holy Cross and her openness all the more commendable, but in her eyes, it’s something she has to do. “The only way to prevent abuse is through education. The more that we talk about it and the more normalized it is, the less likely abusers are able to hide in plain sight,” Raisman said.
Another topic Raisman had a poignant message on was the far-too-little discussed topic of sexual violence against men. “Society doesn’t allow men to be vulnerable and comfortable talking about their experiences,” she said. “We often stereotypically hear it happening to women, but abuse occurs a lot with men and boys, and it’s not just men who are abusers–it could be the most beautiful woman abusing people, too. It’s important to change that narrative and those stereotypes.”
Raisman also made sure to speak at length on victim-blaming, something she thoroughly condemned. Quite possibly the most memorable quotation from her talk was the following: “It doesn’t matter how much you’ve had to drink, what you’re wearing. I don’t care if you’re walking naked in a pitch black alleyway. Abuse is never your fault.”
She also made sure to emphasize that there should never be any rush when it comes to speaking up, and that sometimes, people never find the strength to talk. “It’s not for us to judge when someone says something, if at all.” But, this is what she is all about: encouraging everyone to find the strength to speak up so that more and more abusers can be held accountable for their actions.
When asked what kind of legacy she wanted to leave, Raisman’s answer was humble. She could have mentioned her six medals or her 2012 gold in floor, but instead, she opted for an answer almost completely void of gymnastics: “I hope I’m remembered for being real. I think that being vulnerable and real is a superpower. I think speaking up and talking is important, because there’s probably other people dealing with the same things that we are. I hope that I’m remembered for that, and also for making the sport of gymnastics safer.”
This quotation emphasizes the kind of person Aly Raisman is. She is one of the best performers of all time in her sport, and yet, she wants to be remembered for the person she was, rather than where she finished on the podium. Thanks to all of the hard work she has done lately to change the conversation about sexual abuse and mental health as well as her accomplishments, it’s safe to say that she will be remembered as one of the most important American sports figures of the 21st century.
Following the large presentation in the Ballroom, The Spire was invited to join a group of mostly RPE and SGA representatives to continue with answering questions and keeping the conversation moving forward.
When asked about who some of her inspirations were, rather than list other incredible gymnasts who are able to perform near superhuman feats of athleticism, Raisman instead opted to say “I look up to people who know themselves really well and know that they’re not perfect. They do things for themselves but are still passionate and empathetic.”
Finally, Raisman answered a question that The Spire posed, asking her what it meant to see so much activism and awareness on a college campus like Holy Cross where, unfortunately, sexual assault and violence is not uncommon. Responding, Raisman said “While we all have different reasons for it, I appreciate that you’re all here and all dedicated to supporting survivors and helping to prevent abuse. I think about a lot of people over the years, like an 80 year old woman in a grocery store who told me ‘My abuse happened 70 years ago and I didn’t tell anyone.’
I think about how that woman probably didn’t have people in her life to turn to like you guys do, so I think it’s really important and it’s not easy work. I know I may sound like a broken record, but I hope that you’re all prioritizing your own mental health and taking care of yourself. And I know that when you are an activist and trying to help other people, sometimes the best activists forget to take care of themselves, and how their feelings matter too. I think this idea that it’s a marathon and not a sprint is apt because we have to be patient; the issue is going to be fixed overnight, but just know that the work you’re doing really is helping.”
A huge thank you again to the Office of Title IX and Ms. Raisman herself for the chance to learn more about her story, and be sure to be on the lookout for ways in which you can advocate for survivors and sexual respect even as the month of April comes to a close.
Featured image courtesy of goodmorningamerica.com:
Aly Raisman speaking at 2018 Massachusetts Conference for Women
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