Healing the World Around Him

The Spectrum

He lies on his stomach listening to the buzzing sound of the needle as it pierces his right calf. After 45 minutes, the masterpiece is complete. Demire Coffin-Williams was inked with a Tibetan prayer for the healing of the entire world - plants and animals included.

Through his job at Sub-Board, I Inc. (SBI), Coffin-Williams, a senior psychology major, has various opportunities to heal the community around him. He is an education supervisor, and he acts as a sexual health counselor and a peer educator. He hosts workshops at different high schools around Buffalo - as well as UB - about the importance of equality, positive sexuality, STIs, and harm reduction. He wants to ensure that his peers are safe, and they know their worth and rights as human beings.

"I chose to get [the tattoo] because it actually means a lot to me," Coffin-Williams said. "I am really passionate about helping people heal. I don't want to be a medical doctor, but I do have ambitions to be a therapist and help people heal mentally after any trauma or even before any trauma."

He remembers learning about slavery at a young age and being agitated by the unfairness of it. As he got older, he started learning about gender inequality, and he felt his agitation grow with the idea that the unfairness is still present in society. He thought of his mom and sister and feared that some day they would be treated unfairly because they are black women.

He remembers thinking that someday, someone had to do something for the equality of everyone.

"Stuff happens every day," Coffin-Williams said. "Sometimes you don't get jobs, sometimes people are nasty to you on the line at the supermarket, sometimes people don't stop to let you cross the street when you're walking in the rain. That might not even have anything to do with ethnicity, gender, or sex on a surface level. But on a deeper level, I think that those things kind of guide how everyone acts toward other individuals."

Coffin-Williams has felt like a victim of the injustice acts of others.

In high school he was a regular blood donor. He and his friends would give blood to get out of class. They got to sit and eat free Oreos, according to Coffin-Williams.

One day, though, he was denied the opportunity because of his sexuality.

The Red Cross always asks the same questions before taking blood from donors. One of these questions is only directed toward men: "Have you ever slept with another man?"

"The last time I gave blood the answer was no," Coffin-Williams said. "[When I was denied] the answer was yes. That automatically made me ineligible to give blood. So I asked why and they said it was dealing with HIV. Even though they test all of the blood, and there hasn't been a single case of HIV-infected blood given to someone who needed a transplant in a really long time, the answer is still 'no you cannot give blood in the U.S. if you're a homosexual man.'"

Initially, he was dejected and offended. Now he just thinks: "Whatever, I don't give a f***. Don't take my blood. You don't have to poke me with a needle. I don't have to sit there and waste my time. I can get Oreos and juice boxes somewhere else."

Coffin-Williams is passionate about making this world equal and happy, according to his co-worker Nicole Bochman, a junior psychology and global gender studies major, he does just that.

"I was never really involved on campus, but since I've met Demire I feel like I've been doing so much and really making a difference," Bochman said. "If you want to make a good impact on the campus community, then you ask Demire what he's doing and you follow it."

Through his workshops he spreads the messages that he is most passionate about. These workshops include topics ranging from eroticizing safe sex, giving regular facts about STIs, providing women with pregnancy tests, and counseling those who are victims of sexual assault.

These workshops allow him to do exactly what the tattoo on his calf represents: heal the world.

In addition to fighting for equality, he is passionate about reducing instances of rape. His favorite workshop is called Wasted Sex and is about hooking up while drunk. In this workshop Coffin-Williams discusses exactly what consent is, since people often forget that not saying 'no' doesn't mean yes.

"There's this notion in our society that we should take all of these precautions to not get taken advantage of or not be raped or assaulted," Coffin-Williams said. "We teach people from a young age to watch what you wear, watch where you go, watch who you go out with, and watch what you drink. [Society] never teaches people that it's a bad idea to take advantage of someone, and that it's a pretty bad idea to rape someone. I think that's a big staple in our rape culture, because we do have a rape culture, and everyone's a part of it."

Along with 10 other people, he directed a play in the SU Theatre called "A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer," by Eve Ensler. The play is a collection of sexual assault stories. Coffin-Williams' monologue was titled "A Perfect Marriage" and was about a couple in which one partner was bullied into cutting, whipping, spitting on, and cursing out his partner during sex.

The take home message, according to Coffin-Williams, is that assault and abuse can happen anywhere, even in relationships that seem to have been strong for years.

Bochman was one of the 10 that worked on the play. Not only does Coffin-Williams inspire students that utilize his services, but he also inspires his co-workers.

"It was my first time ever doing anything theater-wise," Bochman said. "It was good to work with a group of people that was compassionate about something that's a huge deal that nobody ever really wants to talk about. The subject matter doesn't interest that many people. It was moving to even be a part of it and make a difference. I always want to get involved in whatever Demire gets involved in."

After some workshops, students approach Coffin-Williams and disclose that they have been sexually assaulted. People are not afraid to approach Coffin-Williams because of his welcoming and open personality.

Bochman said that the first time she and Coffin-Williams met at work, they talked for hours about personal things that she doesn't even talk to her closest friends about. She believes that he truly cares about others, and he stands up for his beliefs.

The immediate step to take if anyone ever says that they've been assaulted is to believe them. Guys think that girls go around screaming "rape" all the time just to get back at them, but that doesn't happen, Coffin-Williams said.

The second step is to re-empower them.

"Sexual assault is about controlling someone else and violating someone else and in order to do that, you have to take power away from them," Coffin-Williams said. "So to re-empower them you immediately let them know that they made a good choice to come and talk to someone."

Sometimes the SBI office will take students that have been sexually assaulted to the hospital, in case they need prophylactics to prevent the spreading of an STI or if they need Plan B, if the assault was recent and vaginal. Other times they give the victims support and counseling.

One in every four women and one in every six men will experience an attempt or completed forced sexual encounter, according to Roger William's University statistical data. That means more than one billion people on the planet will experience a completed or attempted sexual assault.

"Sexual assault and violence is a tragedy that leaves nothing but destruction and heartbreak in its wake, so it's important to have every person who is capable working to not perpetuate the rape culture and to work in trying to aid the healing," Coffin-Williams said.

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