Monday, March 18, 2019

Community gathers to show support for sexual assault victims

ISABEL BOUNDY ’17

STAFF WRITER

This past Thursday, April 17 members of the Trinity community came together and braved 45-degree weather to take part in Trinity’s 13th annual “Take Back the Night” event.  Huddled together on the Cave patio, shivering in the cold wind, students, faculty, and staff alike rallied together to support survivors, end rape, and acknowledge that “It Happens Here (at Trinity).”  There has been a sharp increase in reports of sexual assault on Trinity’s campus and there have been 22 reports this school year alone. “Take Back the Night” was an effort by students to help bring an end this violence on campus.

As Emcee Oludare Bernard explained early in the evening, Take Back the Night is “an international event uniting communities to end sexual violence against people of all genders, ages, and backgrounds.”  Striving for optimum clarity, Bernard went over basic facts in his introduction, defining sexual assault as “any intentional sexual touching without effective consent.”  He explained, “you need to ask questions every step of the way and get an enthusiastic ‘yes’ in response. If you don’t, stop!”  Bernard explained that one in four college women will be the victim of sexual assault during her four years at school, and 85 percent of these women will never tell anyone. In one of the most moving moments of the night, Bernard asked members of the audience to raise their hands if they knew or were related to a survivor of sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking.  More than half of the audience raised a hand. 

Take Back the Night was spearheaded by WGRAC, SECS, the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) and other Trinity teams, clubs, and organizations. One of the major goals of Trinity’s Take Back the Night is to educate students about sexual assault.  Following Bernard’s introduction, Laura Lockwood, WGRAC Director and Coordinator of SART, and fellow SART member and Title IX Coordinator, Dean Spurlock-Evans, took to the stage.  Lockwood explained SART’s goal of providing “support, assistance, explanation of reporting options, medical help, counseling, and referrals” to victims and survivors of sexual assault, rape, partner violence, and stalking.  Lockwood explained that when reporting sexual assault, students have five options: (1.) disclose anonymously online, (2.) talk to the chaplains, counseling center, or rape/domestic violence hotlines in complete confidence, (3.) ask the college to investigate, (4.) ask the police to investigate, (5.) talk to a SART member for help and support. 

The members of SART and Dean Spurlock-Evans were followed by Associate Head Football Coach, Lew Acquarulo, who spoke of his experiences as a fraternity brother and member of the football team at Union College in upstate New York.  Coach Acquarulo remembers raging fraternity parties that ended in brothers leading intoxicated women into the basement to have sex with them—or rather, rape them.  He didn’t fully realize the horror of what was going on until after he graduated. Coach Acquarulo then spoke directly to the men in the audience saying, “I know you feel like the accused.”  He continued to reiterate, “most rapists are men, but most men are not rapists.” Coach Acquarulo encouraged students to be active bystanders, saying that if we encourage the men on campus to look out for each other in making sure that they don’t harm anyone or do anything they’ll regret, we will likely see more men in attendance at events like Take Back the Night. 

Coach Acquarlulo was followed by Peter Ganem ’15 who read the anonymous testimony of a former Trinity student and survivor of sexual assault.  The student wrote of fantastic mentors at Trinity who helped her stay strong after her attack.  The student went on to complete her senior neuroscience thesis on physical changes in the brain following sexual assault. The study found that survivors of sexual assault experience increased PTSD, attention deficit, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.  The student explained that these psychological and physiological effects of rape and sexual assault make it incredibly difficult for many survivors to continue with school. She wrote, “A woman should not have to give up her dreams of an education because of a senseless act of violence.” 

After his reading, Ganem spoke of Trinity’s new Male Ambassador Program, which will be working closely with WGRAC and SART to educate Trinity men about sexual assault, and encourage them to be active bystanders. 

Ganem exited the stage as the audience gave a warm welcome to the first musical performers of the night.  The Trinity Gospel Choir took the stage to sing a beautiful song, which they dedicated to any and all survivors of sexual assault.

Following the Gospel choir, Victoria and Roe from New Beginnings performed readings from “Phenomenal Women,” by Maya Angelo and an additional poem dedicated to survivors of sexual assault, stalking, and domestic violence. 

The crowd favorite of the night was undoubtedly the Shondaa Steppers who gave an energetic performance, starting with a single stepper, who was later joined by the group in unison, which later transitioned into a round form.  The enthusiastic crowd clapped and cheered on their friends.

The Shondaa steppers were followed by a far more somber moment from Mercy Ward ’15 who read an anonymous testimony from a student who was drugged and raped repeatedly during her time at Trinity.  “This happened to me on my own campus by a fellow student,” the student wrote.  The student spoke of her attempts to deny and repress the memory of her attack for over two years as she was haunted by nightmares and her grades dropped.  She said, “It was consuming my life, and I felt like I was slipping away.”  Despite the horror of what happened to her on campus, the student wrote of the wonderfully supportive community she found during her time at Trinity.  She said, with help from the Trinity community, “I came to think of myself not as a victim, but as a survivor.”

Next, co-coordinator of SECS, Mia Schulman ’14, took to the stage and spoke of rape culture on both Trinity’s campus and beyond.  Schulman said rape culture was evidenced through rape jokes, slut shaming, and even Robin Thicke’s chart topper “Blurred Lines”.  Schulman claimed that rape culture is perpetuated largely through ignorance and lack of education and she said, “most people, even rapists, don’t know what rape is”. This is a sad fact that Schulman hopes to change through education and by combating rape culture. 

Following Schulman’s speech, Bernard took to the stage to discuss three ways to be an active bystander.  Bernard encouraged students to (1.) directly address the situation, (2.) distract the potential attacker or potential victim, or (3.) delegate another individual to help intervene. “We can all do our part.  We can all do something.  This is how we change the rape culture at Trinity,” Bernard concluded. 

Undoubtedly the most heart wrenching moment of the night was when Nicole Lukac ’15 spoke of her experience as a First Year student when she was sexual assaulted after the infamous Tropical party. Lukac conveyed her experiences with self-harm, PTSD, and panic attacks following the assault.  She said walking into Mather became virtually impossible for her as the fear of seeing her attacker dominated her life. With help from friends and support from the counseling center, Lukac reported the assault to the school and was slowly became able to come to terms with her fears. Regardless of the outcome of the hearing, she was able to confront her attacker face-to-face and made her realize for the first time that she is a survivor and someone who has demonstrated incredible strength and courage in the face of unimaginable hardship. Lukac left the stage to a standing ovation and resounding applause from a teary-eyed audience.

Lukac’s testimony was followed by Miles Bristow ’14 who delivered a beautiful poem about rape culture and survivors of sexual assault at Trinity and in the larger community. 

Events on the Cave patio concluded with the Elemental Movement dance group, which performed to resounding applause and cheers from the audience.  “Elemental Movement was so much fun to watch and they were a great addition to the program,” said Ryan Miller ’17.  “It was really nice to see so many campus groups supporting the event.”

Following Elemental Movement and a beautiful poem from Jocelyn Redding ’16, participants in Take Back the Night began a somber march to Northam Arch, where Mercy Ward ’15, Mia Schulman ‘14, Nicole Lukac ’14, Ana Medina ’16 and others lit a candle in honor of survivors. Soon after, members of Trinity’s female a cappella groups, the Quirks and the Trinitones, closed out the night with a beautiful and inspiring rendition of Sara Barielles’s “Brave.” The night concluded with the message that by speaking up and respecting survivors, we can change the slogan “It happens here” to “It used to happen here.”

 

don’t know what rape is”. This is a sad fact that Schulman hopes to change through education and by combating rape culture. 

Following Schulman’s speech, Bernard took to the stage to discuss three ways to be an active bystander.  Bernard encouraged students to (1.) directly address the situation, (2.) distract the potential attacker or potential victim, or (3.) delegate another individual to help intervene. “We can all do our part.  We can all do something.  This is how we change the rape culture at Trinity,” Bernard concluded. 

Undoubtedly the most heart wrenching moment of the night was when Nicole Lukac ’15 spoke of her experience as a First Year student when she was sexual assaulted after the infamous Tropical party. Lukac conveyed her experiences with self-harm, PTSD, and panic attacks following the assault.  She said walking into Mather became virtually impossible for her as the fear of seeing her attacker dominated her life. With help from friends and support from the counseling center, Lukac reported the assault to the school and was slowly became able to come to terms with her fears. Regardless of the outcome of the hearing, she was able to confront her attacker face-to-face and made her realize for the first time that she is a survivor and someone who has demonstrated incredible strength and courage in the face of unimaginable hardship. Lukac left the stage to a standing ovation and resounding applause from a teary-eyed audience.

Lukac’s testimony was followed by Miles Bristow ’14 who delivered a beautiful poem about rape culture and survivors of sexual assault at Trinity and in the larger community. 

Events on the Cave patio concluded with the Elemental Movement dance group, which performed to resounding applause and cheers from the audience.  “Elemental Movement was so much fun to watch and they were a great addition to the program,” said Ryan Miller ’17.  “It was really nice to see so many campus groups supporting the event.”

Following Elemental Movement and a beautiful poem from Jocelyn Redding ’16, participants in Take Back the Night began a somber march to Northam Arch, where Mercy Ward ’15, Mia Schulman ‘14, Nicole Lukac ’14, Ana Medina ’16 and others lit a candle in honor of survivors. Soon after, members of Trinity’s female a cappella groups, the Quirks and the Trinitones, closed out the night with a beautiful and inspiring rendition of Sara Barielles’s “Brave.” The night concluded with the message that by speaking up and respecting survivors, we can change the slogan “It happens here” to “It used to happen here.”

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