Founder of 'Me Too' movement to speak at Penn State Behrend

A portrait of social activist Tarana Burke

Social activist Tarana Burke coined the phrase "Me Too" while working with victims of sexual abuse. Time magazine named her a 2017 Person of the Year.

Credit: Provided

ERIE, Pa. — Two words echoed in Tarana Burke’s head when a girl she was counseling confided that she had been a victim of sexual abuse: “Me too.”

Burke wanted the girl to feel heard, and to know she was not alone. She herself had been raped and sexually assaulted — as a child, and again as a teen.

Burke made “Me Too” a common response at Just Be Inc., the Philadelphia-based nonprofit she founded in 2006. The organization focuses on the health, well-being and wholeness of young women of color.

“On one side, it’s a bold, declarative statement that, ‘I’m not ashamed,’ and, ‘I’m not alone,’” she told CNN. “On the other side, it’s a statement from survivor to survivor that says, ‘I see you. I hear you. I understand you, and I’m here for you.’”

Burke will discuss the “Me Too” movement and society’s shifting response to sexual violence and workplace harassment when Penn State Behrend’s 2018-19 Speaker Series concludes on April 17. Her talk will begin at 7:30 p.m. in McGarvey Commons, in the college’s Reed Union Building. The program, which is free and open to the public, also is part of Penn State Behrend’s annual Gender Conference.

For more than a decade, Burke used “Me Too” when counseling victims. She was drawn into a far larger conversation – and onto the cover of Time magazine, where she was a 2017 Person of the Year — when the actress Alyssa Milano, reacting to allegations of sexual harassment and assault by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, used the phrase on Twitter. Within 24 hours, the hashtag was shared more than 12 million times.

“This is bigger than a moment,” Burke said in a 2018 TED Talk. “We are in a movement. This accumulation of feelings that so many of us are feeling together across the globe is collective trauma.”

Burke’s appearance at Penn State Behrend is part of the college’s yearlong Speaker Series, which is designed to provoke thought and stimulate conversation about the most compelling issues and events in our society. Other speakers in this year’s series included the actor David Harbor, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, former presidential candidate Howard Dean, political analyst Elise Jordan and technologist Linda Bernardi.

“Our Speaker Series provides opportunities for those in our campus community, particularly our students, as well as members of the general public to hear firsthand from individuals who are shaping our culture,” Penn State Behrend Chancellor Ralph Ford said. “Each of our speakers is uniquely positioned to spark a larger, ongoing conversation about the political, business and societal issues we face today.”

The Speaker Series at Penn State Behrend is made possible by the college’s Student Activity Fee, the Division of Student Affairs and the Harriet Behrend Ninow Memorial Lecture Series Fund. For more information, visit