Feminist Conversations is a weekly column at Feminists For Choice, where we talk to feminist activists from across the interwebs to find out what feminism means to them. In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we’re spotlighting Elisha Adey today, the founder of a new website called SoulSpeakOut. Alisha explains that, “I graduated from The University of Massachusetts in 2010 with a degree in Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies and Sociology. My concentrations were violence against women & social work. I’m a certified rape-crisis counselor for the Everywoman’s Center at UMass. I worked for several years on their crisis hot-line as well as co-facilitating a support group and one-on-one counseling for survivors of sexual assault.”
1. What was your inspiration for starting SoulSpeakOut?
SoulSpeakOut was created to fight against the silence surrounding sexual abuse and violence in this society. The survivor’s submissions on SoulSpeakOut chip away at the stigma surrounding discussing sexual abuse, violence and harassment. My close friends and fellow activists, Maria and Stefana and I, wanted to create a community of support for survivors and provide an outlet for them to feel empowered and validated.
As an undergrad at UMass I trained to become a rape-crisis counselor and during those two years I saw exactly how detrimental silence and shame is to the healing process after an experience of sexual violence. With SoulSpeakOut we wanted to create a space where survivors felt empowered to share their story and be able to connect with a community of other survivors.
2. What are your goals for the website?
My number one hope is that SoulSpeakOut becomes a supportive community for the survivors who share their stories. The site is still new but we’ve already received a number of submissions from survivors all around the world. Right now, we want to continue to encourage survivors to submit their stories, poetry and artwork. Ultimately, we would like to strengthen the community and become a strong center of support for the survivors. I also hope that this site sparks conversations about sexual abuse and violence among survivors, their families, friends and partners in order to reduce the stigma.
3. What has the response been like to the site so far?
Several of the survivors who have posted their stories and poetry have written to tell us that they feel honored to have their voices heard and to be a part of the project. They’ve thanked us for providing an outlet for their grief and trauma and a safe place to share their stories.
For me, the most interesting responses to SoulSpeakOut come from strangers and friends after explaining the topic of the site. Oftentimes, the responses are positive, but they are almost always coupled with discomfort. Having a conversation about sexual violence is an uncomfortable thing for most people. In order for survivors to feel validated, these conversations must happen. This is a huge part of the reason why I think this site and others like it are so necessary.
4. When did you first call yourself a feminist?
I took a class at Smith College several years ago, Black Feminist Theories with Dr. Barnes, and on the first day Dr. Barnes said “I want you to take a piece of paper and write down if you are a feminist.” I hesitated, looked around at Stefana and Maria and then wrote “yes” in small letters in the corner of the page. She gathered them up and looked through them before reading the more interesting responses. She smiled at one and read “As long as I can define it myself.” That is when I first felt connected to the word feminism and when I stopped thinking of it as a dirty word. I thought, “Yes! Exactly. I am a feminist as long as I can define it for myself.”
5. What does feminism mean to you?
To me, feminism means curiosity, awareness and constant questioning, learning and digging at roots. It means speaking up against injustice. It means advocating for equal rights of all genders, sexualities, races, classes and abilities. Feminism means empowerment and a drive to act where action is needed.
6. When you’re not blogging, how do you like to unwind?
I spend most of my days writing, reading, learning, walking, stretching and connecting with my loved ones. And I absolutely love backpacking and exploring as much as possible. My ideal day would consist of either being surrounded by family and close friends, or traveling somewhere new with my partner.