The Girl Code Movement create a safe space for performers to express feelings at open mic night

Anti-sexual assault organization, The Girl Code Movement, hosted Create the Space, an open mic night where student performers shared their thoughts about social issues.

 The Girl Code Movement held their first open mic night called Create the Space on Thursday. In partnership with Syracuse University’s Intergroup Dialogue Program, the free event gave student singers, musicians, poets and performers an open platform to express and discuss social issues on the SU campus, particularly relating to race, gender and sexual assault.

Photo: Lianna Hursh
Public relations senior Claire Jones gazes at a performer's artwork while he shares his original poetry with the audience at Create the Space on Thursday.

The event's attendees encompassed the depth of all human emotion. What started as a cheerful celebration quickly transformed into an emotional healing space. People laughed, performers sang, audience members smiled and victims cried. All were safe to speak their minds.

Caroline Heres, co-founder of The Girl Code Movement, said the goal of the event was to address social issues in a less conventional way. She thought people should have the opportunity to express themselves and share their stories the way they know best, without feeling pressured into having a conversation.

“The biggest goal for me was to create an environment where people were not afraid, and to make sure everyone knows they can do something,” Heres said.

As a senior women's and gender studies major, Heres said she is extremely grateful for the support The Girl Code Movement has received from SU and its students. She had no idea what the group would become when it started in fall 2014.

“It’s weird seeing people who I don’t know perform or come to the events,” Heres said. “Because it’s not like they’re there because we’re friends, it’s because people genuinely want to talk about this stuff.”

Kimberly Brown, broadcast and digital journalism freshman, said she got involved with The Girl Code Movement after seeing the organization’s table at a student fair, and since has attended weekly meetings to discuss sexual assault on campus. She said it was the group’s founders—Caroline Heres, Jackie Reilly and Julie Gelb— who inspired her to help educate other students about the issue.

“The stories that the founders have are really inspiriting,” Brown said. “When you read them on The Girl Code website, they make you want to get involved with the cause.”

Brown said she feels more people need to get involved on campus for the university to see a positive change. She thinks that talking about the issue is only the start of the movement, and that our society needs to redefine masculinity for sexual assaults to stop occurring. And while sexual assault has become a more prevalent topic of conversation, there is still evidence of rape culture on college campuses.

“It’s not like you’re not going to see someone walking down the sidewalk on a Friday night with a girl that’s clearly out of it,” Brown explained. “But I do think people are understanding more that just because she didn’t say, ‘no,’ that doesn’t mean she said, ‘yes.’”

Arts and sciences sophomore Lyla Rose is a member of Verbal Blend, a spoken-word poetry program that meets weekly on campus. Rose, who shared her poetry with the group at Create The Space, said she is lucky enough to have never experienced sexual assault, but does have friends who feel stuck in abusive relationships. She said getting out of an unhealthy relationship could be a vicious cycle.

Rose said the real problem arises when victims lose their support systems.

“Friends get tired of hearing about relationship problems, so they push that person away,” Rose said. “The relationship then continues because they don’t have the strength to break up with them.”

Rose explained how she wrote her poem specifically for the event to show victims they are not alone.

“My whole poem was supposed to be like, ‘I’m here. I’m not going to look away or walk away if you tell me that these things happened to you,” Rose said. “I’m going to be there for you, no matter what.”

Rose stressed the importance of offering support to victims of sexual assault, whether the abuse is blatant or subtle. Heres said the community needs to take the next step in creating change. She doesn't believe that talking about sexual assault is enough, and wants the educational needs to become activism.

“It can be the little things,” Heres said. “When someone makes a rape joke, interrupt. Or when your friend comes to you to talk about it, do it in the right way.”

She said there is plenty of room to build on the conversation and make a noticeable change for the future. She said she believes rape culture is still engrained in our society, and that it’s not just in sororities and fraternities.

“It’s everywhere,” Heres said.

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