I understand you are considering inviting Katie Koestner to present to your students, and I thought I might share some information about why I find Katie’s work so compelling.

As you know, Katie’s presentation is about her personal experience with sexual assault. Her story is incredibly engaging, from the beginning where she lays the foundation of her early days at college and all the joy and anxiousness those brought, to the evolution of her relationship with the perpetrator (which of course, started out friendly, as he methodically worked to isolate her, as perpetrators often do). Her ability to represent what happened on the terrible night she was raped effectively, so that students can begin to process what happened and make sense of the many ways she both resisted and used her own resiliency to survive the experience, is unforgettable. Students who think critically can — and I would argue, do — consider the many ways that different decisions might have led to a different outcome. But the blame is never shifted onto Katie, only to the circumstances, the responses of others, and the perpetrator’s actions, in a very real and tangible way.

Katie thus not only shares her story but invites students in to thinking (and acting) about social change on campus. How do we change the conditions that made Katie’s rape possible?

How do we stand up as a community against violence, and how should any college respond to support survivors effectively? Ultimately, Katie’s talk leads students to consider what they, as individuals acting in their communities, can do to reduce the occurrence of sexual violence. Her story leads to a bigger picture of how we grease the wheels of social change.

I met Katie 17 years ago when she came to tell her story at the college I was working at then. I have stayed connected with her because I truly believe her approach to education works, both pedagogically and as a social change tool. I think it works especially well with bright, skeptical students who like to push at the boundaries of social issues.

Susan Marine, Ph.D.
Assistant Dean of Harvard College for Student Life

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