By Graciela Garcia
The jitters were hitting Springfield College junior Tyler Polansky as she prepared herself for a moment that would help change the lives of many. On April 9, 2019, Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on Higher Education held a hearing for the third time, regarding the two “Every Voice Coalition” bills about Sexual Misconduct and Disciplinary Procedures on college campuses. The bills include “H1208/S736: An Act requiring sexual misconduct climate surveys at institutions of higher education” and “H1209/S764: An Act relative to sexual violence on higher education campuses.” Since 2015, the Every Voice Coalition has brought members of the public to testify every single year, in order to try to get these bills passed and in place.
Polansky was one of those individuals this year, along with sophomore Shaun Simoneau. Both students have had strong and outspoken voices with regards to the topic of sexual assault, especially as it pertains to college campuses. Simoneau is transferring to UConn Storrs to study political science and then work towards a Master’s degree in public policy. He plans to pursue running for office in his own town Plainville, Conn., and ultimately as a State Representative. Polansky is the president of SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere) and is studying psychology, with future aspirations of having her own private practice focusing on trauma for sexual-assault survivors.
I felt the nervousness of Polansky as she drove the one hour and 45 minutes from Springfield College to The State House in Boston. She asked everyone in the car to read over what she wrote for her testimony that she’d only have three minutes to give. Each person testifying had three minutes to share their opinion on the bills, whether against, opposed, or offering some other outlook. Though, those testifying were mainly there to move the bills forward.
The air felt still as Polansky nervously rushed across the Boston Common to get to the State House in time. Running up and down the stairs, she finally found the courtroom packed from corner to corner. It was almost impossible to stand in the room without being an inch away from someone else. At first it was overwhelming. Until suddenly, it became comforting; people were there, whether they were testifying or not, because they wanted to be there for someone else, for themselves, for others, and to be a part of the change.
Kevin Gaiss, a junior communication/sports journalism (COSJ) major, entered the court hearing and took in everything from the room. After being there and hearing the testimonies of each woman and man who shared, Gaiss was deeply moved. “I was just like ‘this is real.’ These aren’t tweets, these aren’t Facebook rants, this isn’t just someone opening up about their story,” he said. “I am in the room watching people tell the people who make the rules what they want to see happen. This is history happening right in front of me.”
The energy in the room shifted as more and more people testified. Individuals were looking the legislators in the eyes and telling them that they needed them. It was heart wrenching, noble, and painful. Many of the people in the courtroom had been personally affected, and felt the heaviness that came with using their voices, to tell and recall some of the most unbearable moments in their lives, just to spark change.
Having to sit there and hear people share their stories, or at least recall their stories, for probably the 100th time, to someone who is supposed to help them and represent them — it was a bit overwhelming.
Angelica Core, also a junior COSJ major, who was a part of the Vagina Monologues this past year, felt frustrated, yet powerful. “I want to be a part of the change. Things take so long to change because of the lack of support… Going to that court hearing helped me walk out with a stronger voice,” said Core.
The testimonies ran longer as the clock began to hit 12 p.m. and that’s when Chairman Jeffrey N. Roy said, “We want to make sure we have time for everyone, testimonies will be reduced to two minutes.” Suddenly, I felt the panic from my right where Polansky sat. She held her written testimony in her hand and frantically began to quickly skim over it and cross things out. But before she knew it, she was up.
Springfield College students who also attended stood straight up as she approached the stand, ready to hear one of their peers finally share. Both her hands and voice were shaky. And yet, her voice was still as loud as ever. There were sounds of people leaving and entering the courtroom at one point, but virtually all eyes remained locked on Polansky. She spoke from the heart, from her pain, and from a deep place.
After she finished, the room erupted in applause. I stood there, applauding as well, feeling a sense of inspiration from Polansky. She was brave, and she made sure that every legislator in front of her listened.
Directly following, Simoneau shared his testimony as an ally, and showed his support for Polansky. Once he had spoken, the group of Springfield College students quickly hurried out of the courtroom — it was all smiles. Hugs were being given and we could not stop chatting. And in that moment, it felt right. I felt the genuine care, love, and compassion that we all held for this movement, for this change. We were watching history before our eyes and being able to see amazing people like Polansky and Simoneau help change it.
Prior to the testimony of Springfield College students at the Massachusetts State House on Tuesday, members of SAVE approached Springfield College, asking for the college to sign in support of the bills. The College elected not to sign, and the decision is explained by Title IX Coordinator, Mary Simeoli.
Photo courtesy Tyler Polansky