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Gretchen Rohr Calls the Siena Community to Action: How We Can Embody Change

On Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019 at 6 p.m. in the SSU, the Sister Thea Bowman Center for Women, as well as the Center for Academic Community Engagement, welcomed their 2019 St. Clare Leadership Series speaker Gretchen Rohr to campus. “It is an amazing time for culture change. I have never in my life seen the energy that this generation has,” Rohr remarked.

Rohr teaches at the Georgetown University Law Center and has studied due process and non-adversarial judicial options, inclusive civic leadership development, and has looked into effective and restorative responses to community violence. She received her BA from Macalester College and a law degree from Oxford University where, as a Rhodes Scholar, she focused on international human rights, and a JD from Georgetown. Gretchen currently works with the justice team at the Open Society as a program officer. Before her time at the Open Society, Rohr served as a magistrate judge in the superior court of Washington, D.C., where she diverted those involved in drug-based offenses away from detention centers and into community-based treatment.

As Rohr addressed the issues regarding incarceration in America, she shed light on the fact that there are more cis-gender men of color, transgender individuals of color and queer individuals of color behind bars than their white counterparts. Rohr’s work primarily focuses on incarceration reform and legal advocacy for individuals of color.

In the spirit of celebrating female leaders, as the St. Clare Lecture Series intends to do, Gretchen Rohr highlighted the work of Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement. Rohr noted that Burke’s initial mission within this movement was to support young women of color involved in sexual and domestic violence. The #MeToo organization existed for 15 years helping victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in Chicago, before it gained significant attention.

“In America, 1 in 6 women have reported sexual assault. At the same time, we find that 1 in 10 women that are part of Central American migrant caravans have experienced sexual assault.” Rohr addressed these statistics to arrive at the point where she explains that so much time and money is dedicated to the protection of internal citizens from external forces that, as people, we become distracted from the internal threats and pain of those living in the United States. The perpetuation of illegitimate narratives that are written about foreign individuals has a strong impact, since people are accustomed to grabbing on to the first opinion or perspective that they are exposed to, instead of looking beyond the surface of the issue to discover the facts regarding the topic.

In her conclusion of the lecture, Gretchen Rohr challenged those in attendance to look for what resources the wrongdoer needs and how the community can be held accountable for the issue, rather than punishing them via incarceration. She brought up a quote written in an article by Twitter user @PrisonCulture who wrote, “No one enters violence for the first time by committing it.” As Rohr engaged with members of the Siena community during her visit to campus, she encouraged all that desire to help marginalized communities to lean into the suffering of others and show empathy to the emotional and physical harm they experience. This lecture pointed out that the systems built and designed to serve the American people may not always do so, and it is up to us to complete the jobs and address the injustices that the government fails to.

To summarize Rohr’s resounding message, it is in intersectionality among cultures, genders, races, religions, social classes, backgrounds and avenues of understanding that steps to joint liberation and social equity are made, and the future of America and the lives of millions of individuals become brighter.