Last week the Gender Relations Center (GRC) hosted the annual “A Time to Heal” dinner to promote community healing, walking with those who have been affected by sexual violence. The dinner took place on Thursday, November 1, in the Notre Dame Stadium Press Box.

The name of the dinner – “A Time to Heal” – was inspired by the Scripture passage from Ecclesiastes that says, “There is an appointed time for everything…a time to be silent and a time to speak…and a time to heal.”

The dinner began with a welcome by Renee Roden, a member of the GRC’s FIREStarter initiative, and then a blessing of the meal by Augie Bossu, a member of the class of 2013. During his prayer Augie said that “we are a community affected by community,” pointing out the relevance of this dinner for all those in attendance, whether they were or were not personally affected by sexual violence.

The first speaker was Rachel Flaherty, a 2011 graduate of Saint Mary’s College who currently lives and works in Mishawaka. Rachel shared the story of her sexual assault and her path to recovery. She spoke of the ongoing process of recovery and how that process is never complete.

One of the main topics of her talk was the guilt that she felt and how she had to learn to recognize that the rape was not her fault. Rachel shared this quote by Jessica Valenti: “Women don’t get raped because they were drinking or took drugs. Women do not get raped because they weren’t careful enough. Women get raped because someone raped them.”   She acknowledged that this was something that she struggled to understand at the time of her assault, but has gradually come to accept.

Another aspect that Rachel focused on is the fact that no matter what the circumstances, no one deserves to be sexually assaulted. She recalled the time that she told her counselor that she knew the assault was her fault. Her counselor responded by telling her that even if she was passed out, naked, and lying in the street, nobody would have the right to touch her.

The next speaker was Mark McKenna, a professor in the Notre Dame Law School. McKenna wrote about his own experience with sexual abuse last fall in Slate, a daily online magazine. The first thing that McKenna acknowledged was the difficulty of talking about sexual violence at Notre Dame because of the stigma surrounding discussions of sex in general.

McKenna acknowledged the survivors of sexual assault in the room, and stated, “There is no shame in needing help, we all do.” He urged them to find people they trust so they can talk about their experience, because talking about sexual assault gives a person power over it.

He then sent out a reminder to those in the room who were not victims of sexual assault that they have also been affected by it in some way. One out of every five people has been sexually assaulted; everyone knows someone who has been sexually assaulted. He said the best way to be a safe place for these people is to become aware of the inappropriateness of certain jokes and to know where the resources on campus are. Most importantly, McKenna stressed the necessity of listening to others. Listening, McKenna said, is enough to save someone’s life.

In the center of the table, there were stones with different words on them such as “hope” or “strength” used as part of the healing ceremony.  These stones represent the endurance of those who have been through sexual assault.

All the participants at the dinner grasped the stones in their palms while they prayed together saying, “We ask You to bless these stones as reminders that even when we endure times of darkness, You remain constant in your Love for us.”
The Voices of Faith Gospel Choir then performed “Let it Rise” and “I Give Myself Away,” and the dinner closed in prayer.

“A Time to Heal Dinner” is just one of many events that occurred as part of Sexual Violence Awareness Week from October 29-November 2. Other events included a Mass of Healing, which gave students the opportunity to receive the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, and a T-Shirt and Teal Ribbon Day.

Erin Stoyell-Mulholland is a sophomore business major who lives in fear of her loft. When she is not sleeping on the couch, she can be found organizing dance parties throughout her dorm. Contact her at