Ella Gorodetzky | WJW Intern
Georgia Michaels, 19, is a student at Drexel University. But growing up in Olney, she attended Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, Torah School of Greater Washington, Yeshiva of Greater Washington and Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. Her family belongs to Kemp Mill Synagogue in Silver Spring.
Michaels is passionate about raising awareness about sexual assault on college campuses. She helped organize the recent Real Talk at Drexel, to bring students together to learn about the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses and promote change.
Has your Jewish upbringing influenced your Jewish life in college?
Both my parents are ba’al teshuvah, meaning they became religious later in life. Having an Orthodox background created a sense of comfort and sentiment within Judaism for me. Whether I’m observant or not, my Jewish identity means a lot to me because of the way I grew up surrounded by Jews.
When I first got to college, I thought it would be easy to move away from that and I wasn’t too worried about being involved in the Jewish life on campus. I didn’t make it a priority. And then I started feeling very isolated. Even though I had lots of great friends that weren’t Jewish, I just started feeling like I was missing something in my life and it was really upsetting me.
Once I started going to Hillel and Chabad and becoming more involved in Jewish life on campus, it filled that void for me. It’s really made a big impact in my life, and I’ve met great friends through it. It’s been wonderful.
What is Real Talk? Why do you think the event is important?
The event is an open dialogue about sexual violence in Greek life. It’s working toward proactive measures instead of reactive, so we’re going to be changing the policies within the fraternities to make them safer for everybody. We’ve been meeting with every single chapter on campus to talk about how they run their sober systems at their parties, and we use the notes from those meetings.
For example, if there’s an issue, how do we fix it, and have different chapters communicate. It is also the kickoff event for a student organization that we’re creating on Drexel’s campus called SECRET (Sexual Exploration and Comfort and Restorative Educational Training). Everybody comes to college with different sexual education backgrounds, so putting everyone on the same page and providing everyone with that education is crucial, especially in college where people become or are coming in sexually active.
How did you decide to organize Real Talk?
I became friends with a lot of people in the local Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter, which is the Jewish fraternity on campus, and I started becoming invested in Greek life, even though I’m not in a sorority. There was a big commotion on our campus because there was an Instagram page that was calling out different fraternities for instances of sexual violence on campus. It did start the conversation of sexual violence in Greek life, which is a big issue.
That Instagram page then partnered with the women’s empowerment movement to host an event. At this event, they intended it to be survivors of sexual assault, but that’s not what happened, they got shut down. Immediately, my friend Mya Levin and I said, “This is ridiculous, that shouldn’t be what happened.” So we started planning our own event.
What advice would you give to college students wanting to make a change on their campus?
If you want to make a change on college campuses, or just in general, don’t give up. We’ve faced a lot of obstacles, but we just kept pushing until we finally got it. Just keep doing your best. If you’re passionate about making that change, you can make it happen. Find the resources to back it up, do your research and just don’t let the obstacles stand in your way.