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Stephanie Tanny, Denver native, to speak about sexual violence and race at D.C. conference

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Stephanie Tanny met Bill Clinton at the Campus Progress National Conference two years ago. She shook his hand, but when it came to taking a picture with the former president, she was "too star-struck" to ask, she says.

Tanny will be back at the conference today. This time, however, she'll be speaking.

The Denver native won one of three spots to speak at the conference that will attract approximately 1,000 people to Washington, DC, today. The prize to the CampusProgress.com/Colorlines.com Keynote Contest included a free trip to DC as well as the speaking slot; to win, contestants submitted YouTube videos of themselves talking about racial and social justice, and then the public voted. Out of the top five vote-getters, Campus Progress and Colorlines.com staff chose three winners.

In her video, Tanny describes being sexually assaulted by three men while at Colorado State University. After the 2009 assault, the university had her go through mediation meetings. This meant that Tanny and the perpetrators were put into a room to "talk it out," as she describes it. She went through three meetings in one day, one after the other. "There were already power dynamics going on," she remembers. "It was the worst day of my life."

Despite making a public video about her assault, Tanny still gets nervous whenever she talks about it. Some of her friends didn't even know what had happened until they saw the video. "It was probably a bit of a shock," she says.

Tanny's speech will cover much the same ground as the YouTube video. Using her personal story -- which she says she found to be the most effective way to reach people on the often-touchy subject -- she'll also discuss how race and gender impact sexual violence. It has been seen "as a white woman's issue," she says in her video, then points out that that's simply not the case. Tanny is Asian-American. Nor does she see this as just a woman's issue. Most perpetrators are men. To her, that means men need more education.

At CSU, Tanny created a task force that looked into how the administration was handling sexual assault during the 2009-'10 school year. A 75-page report that was presented to campus officials resulted; CSU administrators said they didn't have the funds to initiate the programs suggested in the report. So Tanny got a $4 per student fee passed by the student senate to support things like peer educators (including male ones) for prevention and support services for survivors.

Tanny graduated in 2010 with a double major in ethnic studies and sociology. She has worked in Washington, DC, as a fellow at the Women's Campaign Forum, Center for Progressive Leadership, and for California Congresswoman Judy Chu. She's currently living in Denver, and hoping to stay in the state.

"I have some political aspirations and I absolutely love Colorado," she says. A very politic statement, indeed.

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