U. community raises voice against violence
On the 22nd anniversary of the massacre of 14 young women at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, about 60 people screamed in unison last night against gender violence.
The Students Challenging Reality and Educating Against Myths (SCREAM) program organized the event, which took place in front of Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus and included a reading of a poem by Abena Busia, chair of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.
Megan Blazak, president of the Women’s Center Coalition, said the day had a particular significance other than its commemoration of the Montreal massacre.
It falls between the “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women” on Nov. 25 and “Human Rights Day,” which is observed on Dec. 10, she said.
“We are really interested in establishing more safe spaces,” Blazak said. “It’s kind of an awareness initiative but with this idea that in the future, this will lead to more conversation.”
The University provides resources for dealing with violence, but she said most students are unaware of this. They might not encounter these resources until something happens to them or to an acquaintance.
“A lot of the issues we are talking about — street harassment, sexual harassment, date rape — aren’t things that are commonly spoken about,” Blazak said. “We are trying to facilitate a more public discussion about violence … because a lot of it is silence, and that’s why we are screaming.”
She said she hoped students’ screams, as well as the discussions following them, would open this wider discussion on issues that are sometimes overlooked by most.
“Let’s light a candle, let’s light another candle,” read Busia, commemorating the students’ deaths.
She said they were murdered simply because they were female engineering students and someone saw that as a problem.
Busia gave a bleak outlook of the future and said people are becoming either increasingly intolerant or afraid of any kind of difference.
“There was a time when certain kinds of language, certain kinds of actions would have caused deep widespread social offense. Things don’t seem to be offensive anymore,” she said.
But Busia said the University provides institutions and services that have helped create safe spaces.
“Nothing is perfect, but I think Rutgers has gone a long way in trying to set up spaces of safety and trying to set up institutional offices,” she said. “[Not] every university … has an officer responsible for diverse community affairs.”
Busia said the challenge is empowering people to take advantage of these institutions.
“In terms of institutional responses, Rutgers does try and does better than a number of other places,” she said.
Radhika Balakrishnan, executive director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, said the question of security has changed in the campaign to stop violence against women.
“Starting last year, we are looking at the relationship between militarism and violence against women,” said Balakrishnan, a professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies. “One of the parts of the campaign this year is what security means to them.”
She said the campaign would look at government budgets and how money is allocated.
Vera Hinsey, an organizer of the event, said SCREAM aims to help students network and create change at the University.
“If you meet someone at the event who is interested in something you are interested [in], hopefully you’d try to do something in the future,” said Hinsey, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.
Following the minute-long, 60-person scream, Blazak invited everyone to the discussion portion at the Red Lion Café on the College Avenue campus.
Students sat in four groups labeled as different discussions — street harassment, sexual assault, people of color and gender identity and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
According to their interests, they shared in each group how they viewed violence and how it affected different people in various ways.
“I was interested in seeing the different perspectives that you all have on relations of people of color,” said Eva Grote, speaking in the 15-person “people of color” group.
Grote, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she was interested in hearing other students’ views on domestic sexual violence and the different perceptions they have of it.
“Sometimes you just need to scream,” she said of the event itself.