Aly Raisman delivers Spring Lectureship talk

Elise Covert, Print Managing Co-Editor

Olympic gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman spoke in Sojka Pavilion on April 2 at 7 p.m. as part of the University’s Student Lectureship program in front of a crowd of 1,571. Lauren Mastoloni ’19, Co-Chair of the Student Lectureship Committee, introduced Raisman at the start of the event, while Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies Erica Delsandro moderated the evening’s talk. Speak UP, the on-campus peer education group on interpersonal violence and Bucknell Student Government held an open debriefing session after the talk.


Raisman is a two-time USA Gymnastics captain, competing with the “Fierce Five” at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and with the “Final Five” at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. With six Olympic medals, she is the second most decorated American gymnast of all time. In 2017, Raisman released her book entitled “Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything.” Moving forward, she is partnering with Lifetime Network to start a new show to help survivors share their stories and educate people by bringing in experts on sexual assault.


“As a committee, we felt it was very important to have a speaker like Aly Raisman come to speak,” Mastoloni said. “Unfortunately, her story is not something that is rare or unusual, and it is because of that people need to learn the implications and can be the person that makes a difference.”


In a candid conversation with Delsandro, Raisman spoke on a range of topics spanning from gymnastics to self-care to sexual assault activism. For the second half of the event, she answered questions that had been previously submitted by members of the audience.


Raisman explained how from the age of eight she knew competing at the Olympics was her goal. She described herself as a determined young girl who was “obsessed with gymnastics.” Raisman talked about the “incredible feeling” she experienced while walking out onto the floor at the Olympics in her American flag leotard to represent her country. But in contrast to the magnificence of that moment, she also mentioned the pressure that comes with competing on the world’s largest athletic stage with the eyes of millions watching.


“You think about how many young girls are trying for that spot … There’s so much pressure; in every workout, you’re just trying to push yourself,” Raisman said. “Nothing can really prepare you for when you’re at the Olympics.”


Delsandro’s questions gently led Raisman to the topic of sexual assault, since Raisman was placed in the spotlight in the past year after testifying against USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar in an abuse case.


Raisman uses her experience as a survivor of sexual assault as a motivation to serve as an advocate for other survivors. Her activism led her to work with Darkness to Light, a child abuse prevention organization that educates people on the signs of abuse.


“Really, a lot of people don’t understand how confusing it is when someone is hurting you or mistreating you,” Raisman said, adding that 90 percent of child abuse is inflicted by a trusted adult, as happened in her case. “If something doesn’t feel right, then it’s not right,” she went on to say.


While Raisman expressed her gratitude for having a platform for her advocacy, she also reiterated that each of us has a chance to make a difference when it comes to sexual assault, especially on our college campus. She hopes that the conversation started by the #MeToo movement will continue to encourage universities across the country to take a stronger stance against sexual assault on their campuses. The importance of consent was reflected strongly in her words, which raised a round of applause from the audience in Sojka: “Just because a girl is wearing a sexy outfit or is really drunk doesn’t mean she wants to have sex with you.”


“Don’t ever underestimate the power of being that one person who stands up between a person and their abuser. You could save their life,” Raisman said, describing people who do so as heroes. “You don’t have to be someone who’s well-known to make a difference.”


Mastoloni felt that this message was one of Raisman’s most powerful and thought that it resonated with many audience members. “After reflecting on the lecture with people that attended it, one topic that was very well received was the idea that just because a female is wearing a provocative outfit and is intoxicated does not mean that she wants to engage in sexual activities,” Mastoloni said. “I think that is a very powerful message that should be talked about at different colleges and the power of speaking up; if you see something, say something.”


Raisman acknowledged that not everyone has the experience to empathize with survivors, but that everyone should try to be compassionate and treat survivors’ sufferings as valid. She also made a point to note that her message not only applied to girls and women but also to boys and men.


“It’s super important for guys to realize that both the issues of sexual assault and self-love applies to us, too. Aly’s message was all about kindness. Last time I checked, kindness applies to everyone regardless of gender,” Speak UP peer Alex Akoundi ’21 said. “I really appreciated that she brought up that her message is for ‘boys and men,’ too. It seemed she was talking about humanity in general, which I think is needed in today’s world.”


The University’s Panhellenic community also embraced Raisman’s presence as a positive influence on campus. All first-year men and women who plan to go through fraternity or sorority recruitment in Fall 2019 were required to attend.


“Aly is a true inspiration; she encouraged the Panhellenic community to do our best to make this campus safe and watch out for everyone,” Panhellenic Council President Sydney Myers ’20 said.


The event drew members of the University community, as well as members of the local community. Connie Biddinger traveled from Danville, Pa. with her granddaughter, a 12-year-old budding gymnast, to see Raisman speak.


“My granddaughter looks up to [Raisman] a lot and I wanted her to hear the message that not everybody is there for your benefit. I wanted her to be able to understand that,” Biddinger said.


Self-care, hard work, and kindness were motifs threaded throughout Raisman’s talk. “You can’t help other people if you can’t take care of yourself,” she emphasized. She went on to remind her audience that “the way you treat other people says a lot about you.” Raisman expressed her hope that students in the audience would take that message to heart and apply it to their everyday college lives.


“I think having Aly Raisman come to Bucknell University was an incredible opportunity. Not only were we in the presence of an Olympic champion, but someone that has truly shaped the world we live in today and how it will grow in the future,” Director of Campus Activities and Student Media Brent Papson said. “She did a great job engaging and making the discussion applicable to the entire audience of men, women, and kids.”


“The feedback following the event has been so enthusiastic and positive and it truly feels that everyone left the lecture impacted and inspired,” Mastoloni said.

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