Rutgers holds candlelight vigil for survivors of domestic violence
On the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 10, the College Avenue campus was illuminated in purple. Purple luminaria bags lined the sidewalks and a congregation of about 30 students gathered on the steps of Brower Commons for an annual candlelight vigil for survivors of dating and domestic violence.
The Rutgers Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) started the vigil in 2013. It is one of several events part of VPVA’s week-long "Turn the Campus Purple" campaign in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Attendees carried purple votive candles and many sported the “I Support. I Prevent. I Speak” t-shirts distributed by the Student Affairs End Sexual Violence campaign. Two crisis advocates from VPVA were also present.
Two undergraduate students, Lily Decky, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and Imani Ali, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, worked together to moderate the event. They began by sharing information about VPVA, emphasizing that they are a confidential resource offering 24-hour crisis intervention and support.
“In New Jersey in 2014, one act of domestic violence occurred every 8 minutes and 47 seconds,” Ali said to the audience.
She shared that nearly one in three adult women experience at least one physical assault by a partner during adulthood.
Ali also shared a spoken word poem about her own experiences, along with Steven Ikegwu, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. Ikegwu is also a member of SCREAM Theatre, the peer education improvisational theater group associated with VPVA.
Following those performances, the audience was given the opportunity to share stories, poems and songs about their experiences, whether as a survivor or a bystander.
The night closed with a moment of silence for those who had experienced or knew someone who experienced domestic or dating violence.
The two interns who were instrumental in planning this vigil were Will Pauwels, a graduate student in the School of Education and Maria Diwane, a graduate student in the School of Social Work.
“Organizers made an effort this year to make the vigil more interactive by trying to engage people,” Pauwels said.
He explained that the two spoken word performances were a new element this year, as were the candle bags along College Avenue.
“It shows the survivor experience in a more creative way — you can feel the emotions when they speak," Pauwels said, addressing the spoken word performances.
He said this was the first year VPVA included the candle bags in the vigil. With a closer look, one could read words of support, statistics and decorations penned onto the paper bags.
Starting last week, Pauwels said students had the opportunity to write on the bags. There were about 250 lining the better part of College Avenue on Tuesday night.
“This (candlelight vigil) is less on the prevention side and more on the awareness and survivor support side, where people can come out,” said Loren Linscott, the director for VPVA.
Events such as this one, along with the "Chalk the Block" event, which happened yesterday on Livingston campus, is a way to build self-confidence and courage for people who are struggling, he said.
“It’s a gathering where students can come out and hear people’s stories and show support,” Linscott said.
Pauwels echoed this sentiment on Tuesday evening, adding that for students who may not feel comfortable standing in the crowd, the bags bearing words written by students present the opportunity for onlookers to passively participate in the vigil.
To combat the issue of dating and domestic violence, Pauwels also emphasized the need for people to believe survivors, engage in active bystander intervention and realize that anyone can be affected by dating and domestic violence.
“It’s not just a women’s issue, it’s an issue that spans across every community," he said. "As a survivor myself, and having many people close to me who have experienced interpersonal violence, I am determined and motivated to not only act as a support to survivors, but as an advocate in which my goals are to bring people from all different communities and backgrounds into this revolution."
Facilitating active bystander intervention and educating students on how to help survivors is a key goal of this week’s “Turn the Campus Purple” campaign. According to statistics shared by Decky and Ali during the vigil, 58 percent of college students said they do not know how to help someone who is a victim of dating abuse.
In addition to today’s “It’s on Us Rally,” the final event of the week-long campaign will take place on Friday afternoon.
Students are invited to stop by the VPVA office on 3 Bartlett St. near the College Avenue Student Center between noon and 1:30 p.m. for the opportunity to plant a flower bulb in the survivor’s garden, said Laura Luciano, assistant director for VPVA. All are welcome and light refreshments will be served.
“I want to show the greater community that this is a place where people can feel comfortable coming forward,” Linscott said.