Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Kappa Gamma Chi students organize event to write letters to incarcerated survivors

Kappa Gamma Chi hosted an event with 30 other students to pen letters to incarcerated survivors of sexual assault. Thomas Bloxham / Beacon Correspondent

A group of students from the sorority Kappa Gamma Chi hosted an event to write letters of love and support to incarcerated sexual assault survivors Chrystul Kizer, Cyntoia Brown, and Alisha Walker on Feb. 14.

Kappa Gamma Chi members Peyton Hassler, Evelyn Hernandez, Madison Martino, Angela Rath, and Vasantha Sambamurti held the #FreeChrystul event in the Piano Row residence hall’s Beard Room from 7 to 8:30 p.m. About 30 students attended the event.

“This event is a campaign to provide the much-needed support these incarcerated survivors need in some small way, like a letter,” Sambamurti said in an interview. “We are writing letters to these three women just to say, ‘We see you, we love you, we support you.’”  

In June 2018, 18-year-old Kizer was charged with first-degree homicide, arson, and auto theft for the murder of a man in Kenosha, Wisconsin who was under investigation for sexual conduct with underage girls, according to Kenosha Police.

The event began with a presentation by Sambamurti and Martino that explained each of the three cases and what messages could be written on the letters. It also included a list of resources on other ways to help each survivor, such as links to demand clemency for Walker and to access both the Transform Harm resource page and guides on how to write letters for survivors.

Sambamurti and Martino also presented two similar cases to Kizer’s—Brown, a victim of sex trafficking who, at the age of 16, shot a 43-year-old man who bought her for sex; and Walker, who, when she was a 19-year-old sex worker, killed a man who she said attacked her.

Senior Abby McAuliffe said she saw the event on Facebook and thought it would be a good way to do something thoughtful for someone else, especially for vulnerable women who are incarcerated.

“I thought it was a good opportunity to remind myself that, even though I’m busy with homework, I could take some time to do something like this,” McAuliffe said in an interview. “Being in prison is an isolating thing for them, and we can forget about these people, so this is a good way to show that we remember them and are here for them.”

Each student wrote messages of love, encouragement, and understanding, along with birthday wishes for Walker, whose 25th birthday was on Feb. 11.

Junior Lily Scher said she heard about the event through her roommate Sarah McAllister, who is the president of Kappa Gamma Chi. She said the event provided ways to show love to these women on Valentine’s Day.

“People think that one voice doesn’t matter and that you can’t make a difference or do something to help, but I feel that they [Kizer, Brown, Walker] will appreciate these letters,” Scher said in an interview. “All of us coming together here to show them that they are thought of and that they matter is really important.”

Sambamurti said the idea for the event came when Martino and Sambamurti were brainstorming new events that could bring the Emerson community together and not just the Kappa Gamma Chi community.

The students proposed the idea at the same time Brown was granted clemency after serving 15 years in prison. Sambamurti said many other organizations—such as the Boston-based, non-profit organization Black and Pink that supports LGBTQ+ and HIV-positive prisoners—hold writing campaigns for individuals who are incarcerated.

“We thought, why don’t we do that if we have the ability and space to?” Sambamurti said.

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