Facing Sexual Violence

New project on campus sheds light on important social issue

Emma Deihle

A new project has emerged at Washington and Lee to help students “face” the reality of sexual violence on campus and on campuses across the country. The Facing Project is a national non-profit organization that helps students address specific issues within their communities and allows people to tell their stories.

The initiative is funded locally through the Bonner Scholars Program and is co-run by sophomore Noelle Rutland and senior Anna Kathryn Barnes. Rutland said she heard about the program at a Bonner conference, and she knew she wanted to bring it to W&L.         

“We just thought this would be such a great project for W&L for a couple reasons. One was that I think that there is a big separation between W&L, the community of Rockbridge and the other schools like VMI and SVU, so we get trapped in this W&L bubble and we don’t realize that there’s a whole community outside of us,” said Rutland.

“The reason that we chose sexual violence specifically is because we know that it’s a huge issue, especially at our school,” she added. “We felt like it was something that wasn’t being talked about as much as it could be.”

Rutland said that as a small school, almost every person knows someone who has been affected by the consequences of sexual violence and she wants to raise awareness about this.

Barnes was drawn to the project for the same reason, and was excited when she was nominated to become co-manager of the effort.

“(The Facing Project) is a project developed in the W&L spirit. It provides an opportunity for students and community members to step up and speak about a problematic issue on our campus and the Lexington community as a whole,” Barnes said. “It allows the community to speak for itself about sexual violence.”

The project is operated by four sections of volunteers: the storytellers, the writers, the editors and the social media/marketing team. Barnes said the crux of the project is the storytellers, who are individuals who have come forward to share their experiences with sexual violence. Storytellers will remain anonymous unless they elect to share their names. Each writer will partner with a storyteller to include his or her accounts in the Facing Project Book. The editors will finalize the book and help the social media/marketing team with production and spreading awareness.

Students are invited to submit artwork, photographs, poems or other creative works that directly relate to the issue as well.

Staff advisor the for the Facing Project Marisa Charley, Coordinator of Student Service Leadership and Research, said she wants students to feel empowered by others’ experiences and their anonymous sharing.

“I believe that we need to nurture any opportunity we have to leverage the voices of those who have been marginalized by their experiences,” Charley said. “I hope to see the project bring to light the human voices behind sexual violence in our community.”

Rutland, Barnes and Charley all have said student responses have been positive. Rutland said that the project has already drawn over 40 volunteers, but they are always looking for more contributors. Barnes said their first meeting last Sunday evening went well, but she is eager for more storytellers and volunteers.

“I want our community to think of sexual violence as a problem that we need to actively work on,” said Barnes. “If The Facing Project spreads awareness of the impact of sexual violence on students and improves the level of discourse about this issue, I will consider it a success.”


If you are interested in joining the Facing Sexual Violence Project, email Noelle Rutland at [email protected] or Anna Kathryn Barnes at [email protected].