“I didn’t always have an avenue to voice my opinions, but it became increasingly important for me to speak up and offer my opinions and ideas whenever I could,” says the women’s and gender studies major, who first became concerned about LGBTQ rights and comprehensive sex education as a high school student in Spartanburg, S.C. “My parents thought I was a little militant. They just thought I should be a little more careful. I was small, black, and the world wasn’t necessarily going to be on my side.”
During her four years at the College, however, Sanders found her voice – and the confidence and finesse to use it effectively. As a peer facilitator with the Honors College for three years and an honors ambassador her sophomore year, Sanders thrived in her leadership role, and – as an active member of the Safe Campus Outreach, Prevention, and Education (SCOPE) team – she started to see more and more problems surrounding consent education, anti-rape education and women’s rights in general.
“Between the victim blaming and shaming that goes on in rape culture, and then lack of education, I just got so frustrated. The language made me crazy,” says Sanders, who began speaking out in discussions with People Against Rape and other venues. “I started to realize the importance of becoming an advocate.”
“Bri has come into her own as an academic and an activist leader, and she connects her activism and her academic efforts beautifully,” says Alison Piepmeier, director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, who collaborated with Sanders on two research agendas last summer for Sanders’ Summer Undergraduate Research with Faculty (SURF) grant. “She’s done a great deal of research into intersectional identities and feminist efforts at social change, and the knowledge she’s discovered and developed has informed and shaped her activist work – and her activist work has informed and shaped her academic projects.”
Over the past year, Sanders has received some media attention for her activism, for rallying her fellow students and standing up for what she believes in.
“The College has helped me appreciate the impact that I can have and we all can have when we just let ourselves be heard. When we put our voices together, it can be powerful,” says Sanders, who plans to gain more experience in the nonprofit sector before getting her master’s degree and one day founding her own organization to continue fighting for more comprehensive sexual education in South Carolina schools. “It’s hard enough to teach students about sexual safety issues when they’re heterosexual – we don’t even do that well. But there are so many other issues that come up for the rest of us. I want to see our schools offer all our students the best practices to keep their bodies safe, across the board. For everybody.”
She realizes she has a lot of work to do – that the state and the nation have a long way to go – but she’s confident that she can make a change.
“You can’t let the size of the problem intimidate you. You just have to remember that the hurdles are more effective in your fight than in your fear,” says Sanders. “Sure, sometimes you feel like you’re throwing yourself to the lions. But I’m not afraid of lions.”
After all, they might be bigger, but she can always roar louder.