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Ready to raise an eyebrow? Last Lecture tackles how we talk about sexual violence

Sociology grad and postdoctoral scholar Kiara Mikita sheds light on a dark subject by inviting us to rethink what we know and say


Postdoctoral scholar Kiara Mikita will be discussing how we talk about sexual violence in her Last Lecture on Oct. 4.

By Gillian Edwards, University Relations
October 4, 2017

If a picture says a thousand words, an episode of any primetime crime drama must say millions. On programs like these, sexual violence is so commonplace it becomes unremarkable. For Kiara Mikita, who studied media and crime, these everyday depictions were telling and set in motion her research focus around the words we use when we talk about sexual assault.

Her doctoral research looked at the representation of sexual violence in entertainment media; that curiosity led her to try to understand how these media representations might affect the work of the practitioners who respond to sexual violence, those most at risk of perpetrating it and those at risk of having someone perpetrate it against them.

“I began by asking people to describe sexual assault, who does it, to whom, why, and in what circumstances. Their answers were so fascinating that my doctoral research ultimately focused just on these parts of our conversations,” says Mikita. “We often make sense of things like sexual violence in language, so it only makes sense to spend time looking at what we say about it.”

Mikita is a postdoctoral scholar in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, working on a funded Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) study with undergraduate students to look at learning in the context of sensitive subjects like sexual assault, and the role of community-building in the classroom. She is also kicking off the 2017 Last Lecture Series with her topic, Challenging Rules and Changing Words: Meaning What We Say About Sexual Violence.

“My talk will be about shedding light on the everyday — and often small — things that we can do to challenge what is sometimes referred to as ‘rape culture’,” she says. “We’ll engage with all kinds of media and ideas about sexual violence, and in so doing, build new knowledge about sexual violence and maybe even rethink some of what we believed before.”

Mikita is developing another SoTL project that will invite a range of practitioners who work in sexual violence, faculty with expertise in sexual violence, various campus representatives and multiple students to participate in a collaborative learning series intended to promote cross-disciplinary community-building and establish transdisciplinary research and education priorities.

“Raising awareness about sexual violence can work toward discouraging people from perpetrating it, by demonstrating a climate of intolerance for it. Awareness can increase bystander interventions and can diminish the silence and shame that often burden those whom others have victimized,” she says.

Leadership and Student Engagement hosts the Last Lecture, where faculty are invited to speak about any inspired topic or idea they wish. The series asks academics to consider what they would say to students if they only had one last lecture left in their careers.

“People have said to me that they never look at sexual violence and how we talk about it the same way again. If people leave this lecture with more awareness, or one further insight about sexual violence, I’ve done my job. If they leave with more, then I’ll be elated.”

The Last Lecture is on Oct. 4 at 5 p.m. in That Empty Space. This is an interactive session that will invite, but by no means compel, participation. All people interested in coming are encouraged to bring their Internet-ready devices (phones, laptops, and iPads) to participate electronically.