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Jamie Newton challenges sexism through storytelling

Newton receives CU’s Presidential Diversity Award

Jamie Newton is a graduate student in the Women’s and Gender program.
Photo: Marianna Caicedo · The Sentry

The University of Colorado presents as many as four President’s Diversity Awards each year for the achievement of “developing a culturally and intellectually diverse university community reflective of inclusive excellence.” Recipients receive $2,000 and are picked from any of the University’s four campuses. The recipients for 2018-2019 include two faculty at the Colorado Springs campus, a group of students at the Anschutz campus, and Jamie Newton, a graduate student in the Women’s and Gender program at CU Denver.

Newton began “That’s What She Said,” a live storytelling project about gender, alongside Jacob McWilliams in 2017 after a “casual,” microaggressive conversation at a barbecue party. The story is all too familiar for some: A lively debate between Newton and a male friend broke out, ending with her opinion being repeated by another man. Suddenly, her argument was heard.

Microaggressive behavior is hardly a new phenomenon but is often overlooked. “We don’t talk about the nuance of sexism. When we do talk about it, we talk about utterly egregious behavior,” Newton said.

“That’s What She Said” invites anonymously written narratives of experiences based on gender from women and non-binary individuals, which are then read aloud by men. The entire process takes up to five months, from collecting and curating submissions to gathering speakers. Any story is accepted as long as gender is at its core.

“Of the submissions we’ve gotten, half, maybe more, are stories that deal with some kind of sexual assault,” Newton said. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, one in six women have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

But Newton also emphasizes the subtleties of sexism through “That’s What She Said.” “Can we look at this in a way that there aren’t just monstrous men and then good guys and you’re one or the other?” Newton asked when she started the project. That’s What She Said aims to eradicate binary definitions of sexism by also sharing stories outside of blatant, violent sexual assault.

In the past several years, the country has seen the rise of the #MeToo movement and the Women’s March, bringing conversations about sexual assault and sexism into the foreground. These difficult conversations continue onto campus, which offers extensive resources through the Phoenix Center and the Center for Identity and Inclusion.

Newton offers new insight into what institutions of higher education can do to foster these conversations. “I think one of the things that our campus can always do is really spend time hearing from students. I also think what would help, on a practical level, is more work donating money and resources to spaces where students get to just be and just get to have impromptu conversations,” Newton said. That’s What She Said is dedicated to this goal as well and hopes to donate future revenue from the project to students committed to social justice work.

That’s What She Said accepts submissions on a rolling basis, both on their website and via email. The next “That’s What She Said” event will be April 12 in the Tivoli Community Theater.

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