Lucia Lorenzi, a 4th year PhD candidate in English, is passionate about language. In her talk, she plans to offer both a personal and professional perspective on why it is so important for us to talk about language, words and stories when it comes to sexual violence. Recently, she sat down with the Terry Project’s Marion Benkaiouche and Melizza Resoso to discuss her upcoming TEDx Terry Talk, ”Using Your Words: How We Can Address Sexual Violence with Language Alone.”
Q. What year of your PhD are you in?
A. In my fourth year, almost my fifth year.
Q. What’s your undergrad education?
I did my undergrad in English and French literature and decided on a limb to apply to grad school and do my masters in English. I went to Simon Fraser University before and did my Masters degree there. I always thought I was good at communicating my ideas and then I realized that I could be so murky. But I also like the talkative nature – when you read a book or poem, there’s no better way to say it, it’s the perfect way of putting these words together. I always marvel at how people can craft things with words.
Q. What are your thoughts on the Take Back the night Facebook event comments?
A. Well, it’s interesting. I know that Take Back the Nights have been there since the 70s so I was excited because it felt very timely. What’s interesting is that the messages on Facebook are about language and which terms are being used, how complex they are, how people have different feelings about terminology, how it can include and exclude. It’s really interesting to see that everyone has pretty much agreed that rape is bad and that we want our campus safe. It’s frustrating that there’s somebody causing fear in the campus but it’s interesting for me to see that are so many debates about the language we need to talk about, before we’re able to talk about the issue of sexual violence, we need to have this meta-conversation about what are the words we can use to even have this conversation.
Q. Do you ever feel that meta-conversation is detracting from the issues at hand?
A. Yea, the conversations I see are. The nature is that they often intellectualize the issues and that the terminology they used isn’t what they are familiar with. I know often with myself I need to be mindful that not everybody has the same vocabulary about it and we have to strike a balance about what conversations we have to have and language is an important one. The thing is that our campus is made up from first year undergrads to graduate students so sometimes the level of conversation is different and some people have just more knowledge about it. I think for me that one of the most important things is to remember that not everybody has the same knowledge, and extend knowledge to people when they have the desire to learn about it.
Q. Some terms like the patriarchy, are over intellectualized. If people want to be educated but refuse to acknowledge some terms, how can we deal with it?
A. The way we talk about patriarchy is different; people come with their own understanding and experiences. Give examples like gender equality in the workplace and take a step away from the jargon argument. We need to take a step away from the jargon because that’s not the way we live in our everyday lives. I think accessibility in language ultimately comes down to that. We have to use language that is accessible to as many people as possible.
Q. So is this your thesis?
Sort of, it’s kind of interesting because my dissertation is actually about silence and how silence can be powerful and speak more in some ways. I think the reason I got interested in silence is because I find language so difficult. Words are so complex and over determined, everyone uses them differently. I wonder, what are the situations if we take all the language away or if the language becomes a little less noisy? What are things we sort to hear, what do we look into? What stories aren’t being told?
Q. Have you read this book called the Open Work by Umberto Eco? It builds off a communication theory, he talks about the openness of words. It’s interesting you bring up poetry because he says that to understand things, words have to be super redundant so that the message isn’t lost.
A. I think that especially now, in this digital age, everything is so noisy. There’s Twitter, Facebook, Youtube – there is a lot of noise – it’s great that there’s so many opportunities for people to tell their stories but my concern is that sometimes they become normalized. Especially in my field of sexual violence, everyone knows somebody…I do worry sometimes that the noise – people can’t filter and it’s important to not get overwhelmed by it. I understand that it’s difficult and maybe the digital world and technology have a lot to do with how overwhelming it is.
Q. Outside your academic life in English. Are you a writer yourself?
Yea, I think that I keep my creative writing life more secret but certainly in my blogging life, that’s how I write. It’s interesting to be a writer in a public sphere and to be commenting on public issues, and try to learn how to make my writing more accessible. I rarely use jargon in any of my blogs, I try to make it as accessible as possible and strip it away from all the academic stuff. Lately I’ve been getting into poetry and spoken word, trying to revive that creative side of myself.
Q. Is there anything else you want to talk about?
A. I’m very aware that my talk is a very sensitive topic but at the same time, this is what our campus is talking about. It’s definitely a topic I feel is very pertinent right now and that people are honing to get a better understanding and engage in dialogue. I’m really interested to hear what other people have to say, and what their experiences are with language and storytelling. I think this is the moment to have this conversation at our campus.
Q. Has your presentation changed since the news?
A. I definitely want to acknowledge it, acknowledge it in a way that empowers the community. As I’m refining it and talking about more practical strategies, and end on a note that will empower people and understand that part of the frustration like the rape chant and the incidents how we’re going to respond to it and think about it.
Check out Lucia’s blog: http://lucialorenzi.wordpress.com/
Be sure to check out Lucia’s talk at the TEDx Terry Talks on November 2 at the Life Sciences Center. For ticket information, please visit: http://www.terry.ubc.ca/tedxterrytalks/tedxterrytalks2013/