In Iowa City on November 10, 2017, artists and writers presented their work at “Now that we’re loud,” an event designed to give back a voice to survivors of sexual assault. Organized by University of Iowa student Emmalyn Brown, “Now that we’re loud” took weeks of planning to become the success that it was. But to Brown, the event was a relatively small project, one of many she has planned and executed over the past few years. From writing a book to lobbying on the state and national level to passing an organ donation education bill, Brown has been incredibly busy since high school, but she still finds time to organize events such as “Now that we’re loud” to support victims of assault.
“Our main goal was just giving people a voice and an opportunity to say what they needed to say, and an opportunity to get their voices back,” Brown says. Not wanting to exclude the rest of the Iowa City community from those opportunities, the organizers were careful to ensure that everyone felt welcome submitting their art and attending the event. “We held the event off campus, downtown in Iowa City so that community members could contribute as well as campus members and students.”
Brown and her fellow organizers made sure that the event was a safe, comfortable space for victims, and they were careful to set it up so that people could leave the exhibition or readings and speak to advocates against sexual assault if they were feeling triggered. Submissions included poems and art pieces as well as requests to do performance art at the exhibition, but considering that performances might be triggering or uncomfortable for some people, the organizers rejected those submissions.
The event was heavily advertised, and more people than expected showed up; students, professors and community members alike came to support survivors or regain their own voices. “We had a lot of survivors there who thanked us for putting the event on, and a lot of people got emotional about their work,” Brown says. “I hope that after I graduate people will continue to put it on.”
Even after Brown’s graduation, her impact will always be present in the name of the event, “Now that we’re loud.” “I’m actually a survivor, and I began writing a poetry book about my experience my freshman and sophomore year at Iowa. I titled it “Now That I’m Loud” because through writing and advocacy work I found my voice again,” Brown says. “That was our inspiration for the event. Myself and a couple other survivors that I knew on campus — who are also volunteers for the local rape crisis center and who do a lot of the same art and writing that I do — all came together and decided we should let other community members have an opportunity to showcase their work as well.” She says that although the event sprang from a specific poem in her book, she and other organizers framed it so that everyone could contribute.
Since the event was so well received and had such a positive impact on the community, Brown hopes to put on more like it in the future. But besides her work with art shows like “Now that we’re loud,” Brown fills her time with countless other social justice projects. “I do a lot of work specifically on sexual assault and sexual violence. I do volunteer work in the community. Like I said, I wrote that book, and I try to do little projects, vigils, rallies, that kind of thing on campus,” she says. But her work has not been confined to fighting against sexual assault. “I also had a liver transplant when I was 9, so I do a lot of work on organ donation-related projects as well. When I was a high school student in Ohio, I helped pass a bill about organ donation education that just became law last year.”
Law has begun to play a big role in Brown’s life — and in her future. “I try to do a lot of legislative work, which is my primary interest — working on specifically Title 9 issues is my primary focus right now. I’ve lobbied on the state level and also on the national level a couple times.” After graduation, Brown plans to attend law school in preparation for working in the public service field, but she hasn’t always had that goal in mind. “I’ve been a writer since I was in 3rd grade, and that’s my primary focus academically. I’m an English major and I love writing, but I’ve kind of flipped focus since I’ve gone to Iowa, and I’ve focused on social justice and advocacy work. And I’ve fallen in love with that.”
This spring, Brown is taking her passion for advocacy to the national level: she will be interning in the Senate in Washington DC, and she is bringing her love of organizing social justice projects with her. “I am trying to put on a national march on Washington against rape culture, so that’s my project right now,” she says. To someone who has filled much of her time with projects both large and small for the past few years, a march on Washington is probably no inconceivable leap from a community art exhibition.
Brown’s influence on the whole country will continue to grow as she moves forward and seeks new opportunities, but she has already had an immense impact on her community. With her determination to hold frequent vigils and art shows and to create safe, supportive spaces for survivors of sexual assault, she has set an inspirational example that other students will doubtless follow after her graduation. By speaking out about her own experiences with sexual assault, she made the decision to not only try to regain her own voice, but to give as many people as possible the opportunity to speak up and become loud with her.