Tessa Hill is no stranger to sexism and harassment. Growing up in Ontario, Canada, she had heard stories from her friends about catcalling and slut shaming in the hallways at school and on social media. Tessa had learned early on about “rape culture,” especially on college campuses, where sexual assault is rarely punished and where survivors of all genders are often disregarded or even seen as at fault. So, when Tessa and classmate Lia Valent were asked to choose a social justice topic for an eighth grade school project in 2014, naturally they chose to tackle rape culture. Their project, Allegedly, went viral online and Tessa quickly became a strong voice in the sex education fight, also championing the “We Give Consent” Change.org petition which gathered tens of thousands of signatures. We are so excited to hear her speak at She Talks 2019!
What’s a lesson you’ve learned on your journey that you’d want others to share with others?
A seemingly easy lesson that I’ve learned on my journey is that you have to set boundaries for yourself and recognize your own capacity. It sounds obvious but I’ve found that it’s often so much harder to practice than to say. My experiences with activism, namely with my friend Lia and our campaign We Give Consent, begun in a small but extremely public way, so I became overwhelmed very quickly and I didn’t know how to set aside space to renew. After burning out really quickly, I learned that working without boundaries wasn’t sustainable. I’m, of course, still learning what self-care looks like in action, but so far I’ve learned to understand my well-being as inseparable from my work. As my activism continues I work to make sure I am supporting and being supported by the communities I’m working with. Collective care is vital!
What are your words to live by?
Don’t apologize for being, for taking space, for asking for things. Be unapologetic about where you are, even if it’s not where you would like to be. But, on the other hand, sometimes you need to know when to step back, shut up, and help to uplift other voices.
What does the world need more of? Less of?
We need more art!!! The world needs to value art (both its appreciation and creation) and its power to change people! We are so polarized politically and socially right now and there isn’t enough emphasis on the potential of artistic spaces to connect us through common humanity. The world needs less hate and greed— it’s so cheesy but unfortunately true.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A piece of accidental advice I received was from something my mother used to tell me when I was in elementary school. When I first started to walk home by myself she called me and told me to “walk with purpose”. It stuck out in my mind because it’s such a complicated but important thing. It has a double meaning: on one hand, it was about my safety as a young woman in the world and this reminder to be aware of how I existed in that space; on the other hand, it has come back to me often as a call to approach things with intention. To me, it’s kind of about leading life actively and with purpose and how, sometimes, that’s the most resilient and powerful thing you can do. I’m not sure if my mother ever meant it in that way, but that’s how I’ve remembered it.
Who is someone you would say has had a significant impact on you? Why?
All the incredible women in my life have had a huge impact on how I view the world, social justice, and my own identity. I think, most of all, my mother has shaped me into this passionate person. She has showed me how to be both unapologetic and deeply empathetic in the way I approach life. I am so inspired by the way she leads with humor, creativity, and strength. Her wisdom and endless support has encouraged me to continuously challenge myself and hold the systems around me to account.