Several hundred people waved signs, chanted and marched in a loop around the center of campus on Friday to protest the existence of rape culture on college campuses.
Rachel Stewart, University of Connecticut alumna and co-founder of Revolution Against Rape (RAR), shared anecdotes in her keynote speech of how friends used to warn one another not to wear skirts to parties because guys would see it as an invitation to stick their hands places they weren’t wanted. Although this was years ago, and the situation is improving, the continued existence of rape culture inspires the annual march.
RAR, an organization dedicated to fighting sexual assault, organizes the march every year. Formerly known as the “Slut Walk,” the march at UConn stems from an international movement inspired when a Toronto police officer said “women should avoid dressing like sluts” to avoid being raped. Although the larger organization is based around reclaiming the word “slut,” this year RAR decided to drop the term.
“Our issue with ‘Slut Walk’ was that the term wasn’t something people wanted to identify with,” RAR Vice President Morgan Reiss said.
Despite changing the name, victim blaming was still responsible for the event’s inspiration.
“We need to stop focusing on women as the issue, when really, it’s the man’s issue,” Natalie Roach, RAR member and first semester environmental science major, said, referring to the most common sexual assault in which a male assaults a female.
However, the events of the march expanded to combatted the issue of rape in different ways.
Survivors, friends and allies, men and women alike, participated, turning heads of pedestrians and passengers in cars driving past, chanting “Two, four, six, eight, no more violence, no more hate,” “whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, and no means no,” and “shatter the silence, stop the violence.” The visibility and volume of marching raises awareness and demonstrates support.
“This is our opportunity to come together as a campus and show we don’t support gender-based violence,” RAR President Erica Petropoulos said.
However, the personal stories shared afterwards were similarly powerful in providing a safe space for survivors.
Some student speakers shared stories of recent abuses, others were from long ago. Some students asked for advice, others offered advice. They shared the obstacles they couldn’t get over and the obstacles they have gotten over.
“Everybody wants survivors to be strong and brave and beautiful, and sometimes we are,” Stewart said. “But we don’t have to be.”
However, despite the horrors of experiences shared and the severity of rape as an issue, overall the tone of the event was hopeful. A number of resources were identified by Alison Occhialini, a crisis counselor from the Sexual Assault Crisis Center of Eastern Connecticut. The continued existence of the march and RAR itself, which is always working to increase outreach, also exemplifies this.
State Representative Greg Haddad and Senator Mae Flexer were both present at the event as well, both of whom worked to pass sexual-assault-related legislation such as an affirmative consent act in Connecticut.
“I think it’s important when you’re a state representative just to listen,” Haddad said. Listening to speakers at the March lets the congressman and woman know what issues they should bring to Congress.
Incoming students of UConn are exposed to the issues of sexual assault early on, during orientation and later in first year seminar classes. While these are informative, students believe education and activism can’t end there.
“It’s our job as students to perpetuate a safe zone,” Saungah Ko, first semester mechanical engineering major, said.
Ultimately, rape is still a problem, as seen in the number of students who had stories to share after the march. However, legislation, increased awareness and improved resources are all working to combat rape and rape culture.
“Things are changing,” Stewart said. “I truly believe that things are getting better.”
Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.