SU Rising event held to discuss sexual violence against women

The SU Rising: Stop Violence Against Women event was held on Valentine's Day to bring attention to the issue of sexual violence against women across the globe.

An eight-member panel sat at Hendrick’s Chapel to break the silence on sexual violence against women.

The panel included Paul Ang, Himika Bhattacharya, Janet Epstein, Tula Goenka, Laura Hollohan, Lynn S. Levey, Rock Olanoff and Jennifer Shaw. The subject under discussion was grave, contentious and hurtful. Yet if there was one thing that emerged from the SU Rising panel discussion on violence against women, it was hope and an ardent desire for change.

Photo: Eesha Patkar
A student lights a candle for victims of sexual violence at the Hendricks Chapel steps.

An idea that was furthered by Rick Olanoff,  a social justice activist, who raised the familiar cry of ‘Yes we can!’ when he invited both men and women to challenge the sexism that divides us as humans.  “I hope for a loving, comprehensive and genuine masculinity,” he said.

The need to change the language and the discourse of sexual violence, starting from the simple measure of referring to those who have been subjected to it as survivors and not victims, was paramount in the discussions.

“We need to treat this crime as seriously as we would other crimes,” spoke Jennifer Shaw, a legal writing professor.  The cause is our own belief systems, she stressed, and not anger or drugs or alcohol.

Although India has been in the spotlight for the gang rape of a 23-year-old woman, Himika Bhattacharya, an assistant professor in women and gender studies, cited an example from India where men wore skirts and held a symbolic ‘Don’t skirt the issue’ walk to change perception of what is categorized as male and female. “A reshaping of consciousness needs to happen,” she said adding that sexual violence is not just endemic to Asia but very much a part of American society.

The one tangible action that organizer Tula Goenka requested of the audience at Hendrick’s Chapel was to use the SU Rising program guide and write down the one thing that they would do to stop violence. She also strongly urged the attendees to email the U.S. Congressman Eric Cantor on the address provided on the guide to build momentum to re-enact the violence against women act that expired in December 2012.

The day’s proceedings then closed with a performance of a section from the Vagina Monologues and the popular Jai Ho song from Slumdog Millionaire where the audience and panel danced in the chapel.

The mood of the celebration was contained when a troupe of female dancers from SU Zinda performed on a famous Bollywood track with tiny lanterns in their hands followed by a recital of  “Man Prayer,” by A Men’s Issue.

The performance set the tone for the vigil at the end of event where everyone in attendance lit a candle at the footsteps of the chapel and observed silence to commemorate the survivors of sexual violence.

The Grammy-winning Shenandoah sisters performed some of their soulful melodies as an ode to the women who have “sung for us, clothed us, prayed for us. All women gone and present.”

Joanne Shenandoah said she thought the most special and beautiful aspect of the event was the fusion of the male and female energies on the stage. “It’s not just about us women but also about educating our sons and with dance we caress the mother earth and thank her for giving us life,” she said.

Myuran Rathnaseelan, a senior at SU and a member of the South Asian Student Association, also felt that “dance and music are forms of art that can bring people together and meditate on complex issues.” Rathnaseelan said he vows to keep the movement alive by being an activist on social media and speaking of the issue.

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