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Dora is an award-winning activist, whose efforts focus on healing and empowerment in response to experiences of systemic oppression, as well as the intersections of the factors that allow systemic oppression to perpetuate. Dora’s activism has specifically focused on the disempowerment that comes from personal and collective experiences of violence that are often labelled as “private”, including domestic and sexual violence, but her scope also extends to include more public experiences of violence and disempowerment, such as sexual harassment, human trafficking, poverty and homelessness, that work to methodically dismantle individual agency and limit self-determination. Dora’s work confronts the dangerous dismissal of sexual and domestic violence as “private” experiences that should be kept private, arguing that the commonality of such violence exposes a system which allows that violence to continue at epidemic proportions, and therefore establishes that its prevalence requires a coordinated public, social and political response, just as racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, heterosexism, xenophobia, classism, religious, political or cultural prejudice require. When so many people globally experience such forms of oppression and persecution, the commonality of such experiences can no longer be labelled or dismissed as simply “private” experiences. The commonality of these experiences itself points to the systemic social and political factors that work to maintain these forms of oppression and disempowerment among so many people.

It is the intersection of these factors that Dora’s work as an activist confronts, especially in regard to the systemic oppression of women and girls through domestic and sexual violence, sexual harassment and human slavery. How does violence against women in their homes, communities, schools and workplaces dismantle their individual power and self-expression? How does a culture of violence oppress half of the world’s population and restrict them from living more fully, and more freely? How do we create systemic change that confronts the conjoined factors that maintain the violence and its insidious reach? How do we empower women and girls – and all survivors – in the aftermath of such experiences to heal and reclaim their lives, and how do we create or improve the systems that will support them as they do?


  1. The practical and performative application of theory in the active pursuit and development of civic engagement, public dialogue, public advocacy, grassroots activism and political and social activism. How does theory of activism inform actual ongoing activism efforts? How do we put theory into effective action to create sustained change? How do the efforts at activism then further inform the development of theory, so that practical application and the development of theory serve to inform one another in an ongoing loop?
  2. The intersections between the Arts and Activism, with the Arts being used as mediums for social and political activism, public dialogue and advocacy and the empowerment of those using it as a creative and/or transformative platform. The powerful and fluid intersection of the Arts and Activism is the dynamic combination of the immediacy of creative expression through the Arts to move us emotionally meeting with the strategic development and implementation of activism programming designed to create community engagement, empowerment and systemic change, on both the social and political levels. How can the Arts be used to further the agendas and strategies of Activism, in all of their respective forms?  Dora’s work as an activist has been rooted in the use of the Arts as a means of social and political change for decades, with her incorporation of original poetry, performance, theatre, visual arts and music to address the prevalence and impact of domestic and sexual violence, sexual harassment and human trafficking, to create means of healing, empowerment, community and hope among survivors, and to improve the systems designed to prevent, manage and address such violence and its impact.
  3. The intersections of the personal voice and the public realm, where the personal voice is used to share private experience in the public realm as a means of activism and an agent of systemic change. The individual impacts the collective in a loop, with the individual personal experience viewed as an element of the larger social/political infrastructure that informs the public engagement in creating systemic change that then impacts the individual experience. For example, how does the personal voice of survivors used in the public realm to identify these experiences of violence and their prevalence among so many people further the public dialogue about this violence and its intersections, as well as the public response to it that simultaneously supports personal healing and public social and political change? How does the personal experience shared in the public arena identify the factors that perpetuate the violence, and also deepen the public conversation and efforts to prevent and respond to such violence, and support the empowerment that is required in its aftermath?

Dora’s activism extends across all of her efforts, including her history of academic teaching, professional speaking, poetry and performance.  For 30 years, Dora has used her own personal experience and professional commitments as example of the ways in which theory informs practice, and how the private voice in the public realm informs systemic change that then improves the personal experience. In her professional career as both an award-winning poet and activist, and during her academic career as professional speaker and faculty member at Penn State teaching activism and social justice, Dora clarifies the interplay between her various roles:

For example, my individual experience with domestic violence shared in the public realm highlighted the commonality of that violence, while also emphasizing the point that so many people experiencing that violence reveals the necessity of a coordinated, public social and political response to address the factors that allow such violence to continue and to be experienced by so many people. My personal experience shared publicly has led to direct, identifiable personal and systemic change. People are directly impacted by hearing me speak, and my speaking confronts the systems that perpetuate the violence, while also giving more people permission to speak out against those systems (while modeling for them how to do that without shame). My experience shared always points to the commonality of similar experience among many other people across all social strata, thereby highlighting the need for the systems to change, and informing that change itself, so that other people’s personal experience might also improve as a result. The private experience, when shared, is always social, is always political, and always has the power to impact not only the people who hear that story but the systems that might be improved as a result, thereby improving the experiences within the collective, as well.”

Dora’s first visit in 3 years to the Inspiration Mural near Penn State where her image replaced that of Jerry Sandusky’s after his June 22, 2012 conviction on 45 counts of child sexual abuse in honor of her activism on behalf of survivors of sexual and domestic violence. This was the first time Dora saw the hand prints around her image of survivors who had come to the mural to tell their stories since June of 2012. There are no words for that moment, seeing the strength of all of those men and women who chose to be counted among the survivors of sexual abuse and violence.
October 31 2015 at the Inspiration Mural, State College, PA
Photo Credit to Dawn McKee


“I argue that the sharing of our private experiences as active civic engagement is not only a right but a responsibility in the ongoing development of the social and political infrastructure of our communities and country as a whole, as the United States Bill of Rights outlines. Look at the ME, TOO movement, which began with women sharing only those words:  “ME, TOO.” Within 72 hours, the movement went global with more women joining the confrontation of the systemic factors that kept them silent and of men like Harvey Weinstein who maintained positions of protected power, up until that watershed moment that revealed them, their abuse of power, and their violence, sometimes that had gone on for decades. Within a year, 240 men in positions of profound power, who had used threats and violence to silence those women, were fired, dethroned, charged with felonies, and culturally ousted. The power of ONE VOICE sharing personal experience in the public realm or on a public platform can start a revolution. We see examples of this progression at every turn now:  ME, TOO, Time’s Up, Police Brutality, Black Lives Matter, the removal and desecration of statues symbolizing historic trauma in public places, the Arab Spring, Human Trafficking, the AIDS pandemic, on and on and on.

People are in need of protection from systemic oppression but the systems can’t protect them so a bystander in the street films an incidence of questionable or blatant brutality by a member of law enforcement, and that video goes viral, creating ongoing, nationwide protests, as the filming of George Floyd’s death/murder beneath the knee of Police Officer Derek Chauvin created, spurring ongoing demands for the address of previously unchecked police brutality. People are in need of food, but the systems can’t catch them, so we develop community-run food pantries to catch them. People are in need of housing in the face of homelessness, but the systems can’t save their homes, so community members come together to catch the members most vulnerable to homelessness, either by helping them save their homes or by supporting community-based homeless shelters that will catch them when the systems don’t.

The personal voice in the public realm IS political. And, it is profoundly powerful.”   –  Dora McQuaid


To view the full listing of AWARDS AND HONORS that Dora has received as an Activist,
please see AWARDS AND HONORS Page.

Highlights include:

  • Dora’s image replaces that of Jerry Sandusky in the Inspirations Mural at Penn StateState College, PA, 2012Dora’s dedication to addressing the issues of sexual and domestic violence through poetry, performance and activism was honored in 2012 by her image being painted into the place previously occupied by the image of former Penn State football coach and convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky in the Inspirations Mural by artist Michael Pilato of the Public Art Academy in State College, PA, where Penn State is located. Extensively covered by international print, television, radio and Internet media sources.
  • Remarkable Women of Taos, New Mexico, 2012
    Chosen by community members as one of the women highlighted during the 2012 yearlong celebration of women whose lives and creative spirits have influenced the Northern New Mexico community.
  • Vagina Warrior Award, 2005
    Honored by the cast of the 2005 Penn State Production of Eve Ensler’s award-winning play, The Vagina Monologues, for international activism to end violence against women and girls.
  • Penn State Roots Of Leadership Honoree, 2004
  • Fifth Annual Pennsylvania Governor’s Pathfinder Award, Survivor/Activist, 2003
    Governor Ed Rendell and The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency stated:  “Ms. McQuaid was awarded for her outstanding and visible contribution to and impact upon the victim services movement in Pennsylvania through her work on behalf of victims of domestic and sexual violence.”
  •  Citation of Congratulations, The Pennsylvania Senate and Senator Jake Corman, 2003 


To view speeches and performances of Dora’s that combine Activism with Poetry, Performance and professional Speaking, please see the PERFORMANCES Page.


  • Keynote Speaker, Domestic Violence Leaves An Empty Place At The Table, in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Centre County, PA Courthouse (2018). Live television broadcast statewide. Cosponsored by the Centre County District Attorney’s Office and Centre Safe.
  • Featured Speaker, Survive and Thrive: Six Stories of Triumph over Violence, in association with Youth Heartline, in honor of April as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, National Child Abuse Prevention Month and National Crime Victims’ Rights Awareness Week, Taos, NM (2018).
  • Keynote Speaker, Personal and Community Responses to Sexual and Domestic Violence, with Michael Pilato, creator of Inspirations Mural, in front of Dora’s image where it replaced that of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky in the Inspirations Mural, State College, PA (2015). Sponsored by the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, the Children’s Advocacy Center, Michael Pilato, Hotel State College, Student Book Store and Peaceful Hearts Foundation.
  • Featured Speaker, Domestic Violence And Empowerment: Be The Change Our World Needs addressing student activism and empowerment, Penn State University, University Park Campus, PA (2015). Sponsored by the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, Penn State University’s Office of Student Conduct, Residence Life and the University Park Undergraduate Association.
  • Featured Speaker, The Intersections of Art and Activism, Southern Methodist University 2014 Colloquium Series, Taos, NM (2014).
  • Opening Keynote Speaker and Panelist for the National Seminar on Sexual Torts offered by the Defense Research Institute (DRI) : The Voice of the Defense Bar, San Diego, CA (2013).
  • Featured Poets/2011 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Annual Conference, Washington, D.C.  AWP Panel Reading: If I Can’t Dance, You Can Keep Your Revolutionwith poet/activists Roger Bonair-Agard, Sean Thomas Doughtery, Silvana Straw and Crystal Williams. The 2011 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Annual Conference, Washington, D.C.
  • Presenter, The 90th Annual National Communication Association Conference, Chicago, IL (2004).
    • Reconciliation and Restoration as Rhetorical Action for Social Justice.
    • Prison Communication List Service Group Pre-Conference Program.
  • Featured Speaker, The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Investigative Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in The Judicial System, Public Hearings, State College, PA (2001). By invitation of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee, Dora presented public testimony pertaining to racial, gender, class, victim and firearm bias in judicial management of domestic violence court proceedings in Centre County, PA, as Director of The Women of Courage of Centre County, resulting in changes in judge management of Protection From Abuse (PFA) court proceedings.
  • Featured Speaker, Pennsylvania State Maximum Security Correctional Institution for Women at Muncy, (2001). Addressed general prison population with combined speech and original poetry performance about healing from experiences of domestic and sexual violence. Following the speech/performance, met with the inmates in the House of Hope program, designed to address the needs of those inmates identified as having the most severe histories of violence and abuse.
  • Featured Speaker, The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence 25th Anniversary Commemorative Luncheon, Harrisburg, PA (2001). Speech and performance of Around This Table, the poem Dora was commissioned to write to honor the 25th Anniversary of the Coalition.


To view the ACADEMIC COURSEWORK that Dora developed as faculty at Penn State exploring the intersections of theory and practical application of activism and advocacy, the Arts and Activism and the Personal Voice in the Public Realm as an agent of change, please see the WORKSHOPS Page  and the EVENTS TIMELINE.

And to view or print DORA’S CURRICULUM VITAE HIGHLIGHTS, please click HERE.

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