In a year of nationwide discussion of sexual assault on Utah’s university campuses, Jasmine Despain, a student at Utah State University, was named student advocate of the year by the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Despain’s activism started with poetry. Writing poetry was a form of therapy for Despain as a survivor of rape. While performing her poetry, she began to get attention — different organizations on campus wanted her to perform at their events, and eventually, lead them.
“Next thing I knew, it was like taking my bad experiences and taking it to be informative and have these conversations and start this dialog and make sure people know that they’re not alone,” Despain said. “And then I started with ‘I Am That Girl’ and we talked about sexual assault, and starting Students for Choice, and we talked about consent and just basic sexual education. You’d be surprised how many people came to this meeting that were in college who had never heard the word ‘consent.’ They didn’t know what that meant.”
Despain is the founding president of Students for Choice, as well as the president of “I Am That Girl,” a club founded around the idea of creating a safe space and empowering women to discuss issues like sex and shame, campus sexual assault and healthy relationships. Her organization of campus events, including Take Back The Night and a performance as part of the Vagina Monologues, have played a considerable role in building a community for survivors of sexual assault on her university’s campus.
When the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault named her their student advocate of the year, they recognized all of these contributions to her community, along with one more: her vulnerability.
“I think, yes, it’s been really hard to find my voice and stand up for this, but the way I’ve created this community of support has been so good. And it’s been so good because I like to inspire people by vulnerability. So, lead by vulnerability, and I think by me saying I went through this, it gives other people that power and strength to talk about their experience and get help.”
Despain will graduate this May, and plans to continue her activism in Salt Lake City after her graduation.