Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman talks self-advocacy at Tulane

Sam Spirt, Contributing Reporter

On Wednesday, Oct. 13, Tulane University Campus Programming held its first in-person event in over a year — a moderated Q&A with Olympic gymnast and mental health activist Aly Raisman. Meredith Smith, Tulane’s former assistant provost for Title IX and Clery Compliance, moderated the event.

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Aly Raisman spoke to the Tulane community about ideals such as self-advocacy. (Cydney Brown)

The large crowd seated in McAlister Auditorium awaited the entrance of the six-time Olympic medalist, as Smith described Raisman. As both an advocate for social justice and an Olympic gymnastics fan, Smith was eager to dive into conversation with the Olympian herself.

Before Raisman could even answer the first question, she took a moment to kindly ask if the bright stage lights could be turned down, as she is prone to migraines. This small ask provided a segue into sharing her strong belief in the importance of honesty and self-advocacy, which was the overarching theme of her talk. 

As the conversation continued, Smith asked questions about where Raisman finds the strength to overcome her trauma and how she uses her platform to speak on the issue of abuse. Raisman did not hesitate to acknowledge all of the struggle and hard work she has been through.

“It’s exhausting to fight for something that seems so obvious,” Raisman said. 

The 27-year-old took several opportunities to turn away from the conversation and speak directly to the audience of Tulanians. She offered insight into how to persevere through personal struggles and how to support friends through their own. She emphasized the value of a strong support system, encouraging audience members to find a friend in the crowd because you never know who might be struggling. 

Smith then took the time to relate these topics back to Tulane’s campus, sharing that in 2017, 41% of women and 18% of men experienced abuse during their time at Tulane. She asked Raisman, a survivor herself, about the best way to provide support for a victim. Raisman explained that it is important to just listen and understand that you do not need to have all the right answers. A response as simple as, “I’m here for you, let me know what I can do,” often goes a long way.

To end the evening on a lighter note, Smith took a moment to let out her inner gymnastics fan and asked Raisman to select her six-person “dream team” of Olympic gymnasts. Raisman immediately responded, “Can I pick myself?”, wrapping up the conversation with the same emphasis on confidence and self-advocacy it started with.