Acknowledging Reality

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Our Own Room: A Women’s Newsletter, 1981 [1]

The 1970s saw a plethora of second-wave publications established and distributed throughout Rochester. After witnessing the movement’s success, a small group of female rights advocates at the University of Rochester created their own publication titled Our Own Room. This was a clear-cut effort from the group to establish a safe space in which women could distribute information and voice their opinions about feminist issues at the University and the surrounding community. Volume II, issue I, written by student Laura Gasparrini in October 1981, does more than recount the events of a ‘Take Back the Night’ rally held in the heart of the city just a few weeks prior. This publication explicitly brings to light the issue of women’s safety at the University following the acknowledgement of instances of sexual assault against women on campus and throughout Rochester. More specifically, Gasparrini provides information regarding the University’s attempt to address these acts of sexual violence, recounts a student’s experience at the rally, includes a motivational poem and finally informs her peers of events and announcements surrounding the publication.

While the publication provides very little visual stimulation, it is a textbook example of a second-wave feminist’s attempt at bringing women’s issues to the forefront of the surrounding community’s political agenda. The front page clearly reflects this reality as Gasparrini states that women have begun “more strongly to question the adequacy of our personal safety” following the increased prevalence of sexual assaults. Moreover, she directly acknowledges The New Women’s Times, a prominent women’s publication in Rochester during the second wave. The blunt, sister-oriented nature of the publication indicates that during the women’s movement, female advocates had to be straightforward, but also team up with their comrades in the attempt to raise consciousness about women’s issues. The minimalist nature of the publication further speaks to the fact that many groups did not have the funding necessary to produce lavish pamphlets that attracted potential feminist recruits. Instead, female advocates such as Gasparrini relied on inspiring language that elicited strength, poems that called for her sisters to unite, and resources that allowed potential second-wavers to get involved in the movement themselves.

Not only does this object indicate that women’s safety was a central concern to female advocates during the time, but also suggests that efforts of consciousness-raising had been gaining traction throughout the University and the Rochester community. The University Safety Commission’s decision to “improve lighting” and “adopt a new policy for safety” was a direct response to the efforts of “members of the administration, faculty and student body” engaging in a Walk for Light. Additionally, the participation of Chris Bohner in the ‘Take Back the Night’ rally held by the Rochester Women Against Violence Against Women provided a clear example of a student engaging in consciousness-raising activities outside of the University itself, alongside 400 other proud Rochester women. Our Own Room is a beautiful example of second-wave feminists acknowledging the reality of sexual assault at the University and surrounding community. This exhibition follows the courageous narrative of female rights advocates, and the methods they used to combat the persistent nature of sexual assault in an effort to make women’s safety in Rochester the only reality.

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[1] Our Own Room: A Women’s Newsletter. Feminist Newsletters, 1981, HQ1101.06. Rare Books Special Collection Department, University of Rochester.

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