On Wednesday, October 24, students in Laurie Auditorium gathered to hear Natalie Ehmka speak about sexual assault awareness and empowerment against predators. What students actually received was a dramatic and painful delivery of a familiar message.
Before you jump down my throat and liken me to Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock, hear me out. The presentation began just fine. Who doesn’t love a good Acabella and Trinitones performance? It set a jovial mood and students clearly came to the presentation knowing full well what the topic was. A little bit of awkwardness comes with any discussion of rape or sexual violence.
No, what bothered me was the delivery of Ehmka’s presentation. It seemed too deliberate and the pacing too regular. The pauses appeared too staged and borderline melodramatic. I knew Ehmka wanted to tell her story in a way that resonated with students, but I felt as though I was listening to a monologue and not a personal account.
Let me also say this: I admire Natalie’s bravery and commitment against sexual violence. It is a worthy cause and we should all protect our friends against the people who do not have their best interests at heart. However, I think her tone and her pauses took away from her overall message. I could sense students in the auditorium seizing up with the same uncomfortable stillness I was feeling, wondering how long the account would continue.
Ehmka mentioned details of her rape, like her arm being pinned forcefully behind her back, and waking up with chipped fingernails, a dirtied skirt, and the shaming discovery that she was no longer wearing underwear. She did spare us from even more graphic details, for which I thank her.
Ehmka’s recollection of her rape, which occurred when she was a rising junior at ASU (Arizona State University), was undeniably sincere, yet it lasted the majority of her speech and left the audience in a state somewhere between uneasiness, anger, and eagerness for the next portion of the talk. Had she curtailed that section just slightly, I think the audience could have benefited more from her (minimal) discussion of empowerment and hope after victimization. There is only so long a person can hear about an event as tragic as rape before they begin to find something else to distract them.
My second criticism is for you my fellow peers. Ehmka’s speech last about an hour and was followed by a short five minute intermission. A panel of experts was the next portion of the evening.
Maybe it was the length of her speech or the late hour, but probably seventy-five percent of the audience left at that point. Maybe they were only coming for class credit and had taken all of the notes they wanted. Maybe a friend had dragged them along and they’d simply had enough. Who knows. What I do know is that the action sent a message to the speaker, the panel members, and the students who organized the event. Next time, invest in the lecture and stay until the end. Sure, maybe the event took on more than it could chew and should have been shorter, but in the future please try to stick it out.
Needless to say, Ehmka’s work as a motivational speaker should be applauded. Although her speech appeared melodramatic and rehearsed at times, no one can doubt that she is doing the country and the world a service by informing people about sexual assault and what they can do to prevent it. Her message needs to be repeated because rapes continue to happen. My critique is about her delivery and some of her content, not about her goal to achieve a world without sexual violence. That goal is something we should all work towards.
Carlos Anchonda is a junior news reporter for the Trinitonian.