Two-time Olympian athlete and advocate Aly Raisman came to the Heights for a question and answer session hosted by the Campus Activities Board (CAB) and the Undergraduate Government of Boston College on Tuesday evening.
During the hour long discussion, Raisman touched on her time as an elite athlete, the process of speaking up about her own experience of sexual assault, and her advocacy on behalf of other survivors.
Raisman was joined on stage by CAB President Hailey Corcoran, CSOM '19, and UGBC President Reed Piercey, MCAS '19. Corcoran and Piercey posed questions that had been submitted beforehand by BC students.
The pair began the night by reviewing the resources available for survivors of sexual assault at BC, including SANet hotline. Following their introduction, they invited Raisman to the stage to a rousing welcome from the packed Robsham audience.
Raisman, a native of Needham, Massachusetts, began by explaining her connections to Chestnut Hill: her grandmother and mother both attended BC, and her grandfather was a professor here. Though Raisman did not attend college herself, she graduated from Needham High School, located just a few miles away from the Heights.
One of the first topics Raisman covered was her decision to turn pro in 2011, forgoing the opportunity to attend the University of Florida. With her sights set on the London Olympics in 2012, the then-17-year-old was given the freedom to make the difficult decision on her own.
Although Raisman said she would have loved to compete and study in Florida, turning pro made the most sense at that point in her career. The risk ultimately paid off in a big way.
Raisman was part of the “Fierce Five” American gymnastics team at the 2012 games; she won three medals, including gold in the team and floor exercise events. She said that none of the success she had in the Olympics would have been possible without the support and close bond she had with her teammates.
Raisman competed in the Olympics again in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. Once again, she brought home three medals, becoming the second most decorated American gymnast, in terms of Olympic medals.
At age 24, Raisman has already accomplished a great deal. In her post-competitive career, she has taken on a new role as advocate, using her platform to support survivors of sexual abuse and to spread messages of positivity to her fans.
Raisman was one of hundreds of women who spoke out against Larry Nassar, a former team doctor for USA Gymnastics. Though he is now in prison, Nassar’s crimes went overlooked for many years, despite the first reports of his abuse emerging in the 1990s.
The strength demonstrated by Raisman and all the other victims garnered national attention, helping to hold those who allowed the abuse to happen accountable.
At Tuesday’s event, Raisman reiterated the need for a full and independent investigation into USA Gymnastics in order to identify all of the people who had a hand in covering up the abuse that went on for so many years. According to Raisman, many of these people still work within the organization.
Last week, Raisman traveled to California to support a bill that would give survivors of sexual assault an additional year to report the crimes.
Raisman stood alongside more than 600 women who have come forward to accuse former USC gynecologist George Tyndall of sexual assault. Despite the hundreds of reports of sexual assault, Tyndall is not yet in prison.
While in California, Raisman spoke about that her own experience, highlighting the brokenness of the system of reporting sexual abuse.
The audience showed their support for Raisman, breaking out into applause and cheers after many of her points. Most notably, applause followed Raisman's response to a question about the public reaction after she posed naked for ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue.
“Women don’t have to be modest to be respected,” she said, drawing resounding cheers from the audience.
Additionally, Raisman spoke about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and how broken systems can make it too difficult for survivors to speak up and for abusers to be held accountable. Specifically, she spoke about how society has protected abusers from facing consequences in the past because of traits such as their athletic ability.
“I don’t care how good of an athlete you are," said Raisman, insisting that this practice needs to change. "If you’re a bad person, you have zero value."
Although she is no longer training to compete internationally in gymnastics, Raisman’s schedule hasn’t gotten much less hectic since 2016. As a full-time activist, she travels the country advocating for victims of abuse, promoting education about preventing similar crimes and spreading messages of positivity.
Additionally, Raisman has partnered with Darkness to Light, a non-profit that provides education empowering adults to stop child sexual abuse.
“Every single person should be educated on how to prevent child abuse,” said Raisman.
When asked about what she is most proud of in her already prolific career full of Olympic medals and accomplishments as an activist, Raisman paused to think about her answer.
“Trying to be the best version of myself,” she answered.
Raisman made self-care an important theme of the discussion by talking about the various ways she has dealt with the challenges in her life, including therapy, meditation, and most recently, picking up a new
For the final question of the night, Piercey asked Raisman what is next for her.
“Right now, what’s next is actually ‘Go Bruins!’ because they’re playing tonight,” the Bruins hockey fan jokingly responded.
On a more serious note, Raisman said that she is looking forward to taking time to slow down and relax with her family this summer.
Although Raisman plans to spend time recharging with family this summer, she is determined to continue advocating for the things she believes in and spreading the messages that mean the most to her.
When asked for any advice she may have for a young person who thinks an adult may be violating their trust, Raisman said that the best thing to do is trust in yourself.
“Trust your gut. You know your truth, and nobody else does," said Raisman.