CWO takes back the night

By Gretchen Andersen

Last night’s tornado watch didn’t halt Pitt students from marching through the streets with… Last night’s tornado watch didn’t halt Pitt students from marching through the streets with posters saying “My Body Isn’t Yours,” “These Hands Don’t Hurt,” and “Rape is not a Pitt Tradition.”

More than 45 people braved the rainy weather to attend Campus Women’s Organization’s “Take Back the Night” event, which began at 7 p.m. on the William Pitt Union lawn and ended with a series of workshops about sexual assault and its consequences.

The marchers first gathered under the Union porch where organizers handed out plastic whistles, glowsticks, posters and facepaint to support the cause. Members from various student organizations including Black Action Society, Rainbow Alliance and Amnesty International attended the event.

Keely McCaskie, community outreach chair for CWO, spoke through a microphone explaining the importance of Take Back the Night.

“Why are we raising our voices tonight?” McCaskie asked the crowd. “Maybe it’s because of the fear of walking alone, maybe it’s that our sister says she got hit by her boyfriend, maybe it’s because society tells us it’s our fault. Why are we here? Because tonight we will not be afraid!”

The crowd rallied around McCaskie and CWO president Robin Lane. The group repeated chants like “Real Men Don’t Rape,” “Hey mister, keep your hands off my sister,” “Wherever we go, however we dress, no means no and yes means yes,” and “Panthers Unite, Take Back the Night.”

Carrying umbrellas and posters, the group embarked on the 15-minute march through the William Pitt Union, Schenley Quad, Towers lobby, Towers patio and Fifth Avenue and stopped back in front of the Union. The march was originally set to travel through South Oakland, but organizers shortened the march because of inclimate weather.

During the march, many bystanders stopped in their tracks to watch the procession, and some residents from Towers and Holland cheered them on.

Tosin Ogunkoya and Chi-Chi Nwatu, both juniors at Pitt, watched from inside the Union.

“It shows empowerment to females; they are saying something and they mean it,” Nwatu said.

Ogunkoya agreed.

“They have a very important message to share, especially in a college environment,” Ogunkoya said.

Michael Brady, a junior, watched the march as it passed through the Forbes side of Towers patio.

“Honestly, I was a little caught off guard,” Brady said. “It’s interesting and good that they are doing this; it catches people when they don’t expect it, a good wake-up call for the student body.”

After the march, the group moved to the sixth floor of the William Pitt Union for pizza and workshops discussing the stigma of domestic violence and sexual abuse, as well as the equal presence of abuse in the LGBT community.

Other advocacy groups, including Pittsburgh Action Against Rape and Crisis Center North attended Take Back The Night. Both supplied contacts and information for people looking for guidance when dealing with domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Laura Summers, education and training specialist for Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, walked in the march and talked to attendees during the workshops and discussions.

“In their freshman year between orientation and Thanksgiving, women are most likely to experience some sort of sexual violence,” Summers said. “We help with prevention through different programs.”

Adam Dobson, community outreach coordinator for Rainbow Alliance, presented a workshop focusing on LGBT sexual violence and abuse.

“We don’t think of men abusing men,” Dobson said, “only men abusing women, but it is a real problem in the LGBT community.”

Lane and McCaskie presented the second workshop, stressing that any form of domestic violence and sexual abuse is not the victim’s fault.

Following the workshop, CWO members asked the audience to call local Rep. Michael Doyle, Sen. Arlen Specter and Sen. Robert Casey to push for the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act.

They also called on audience members to push their government to ratify the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, an international bill that provides abuse protection rights for women. Within two minutes, at least 13 people were on their cell phones, leaving messages for the elected officials.

Take Back the Night concluded with a final cheer, in which the audience joined in unison chanting, “We have the power, we have the right, the streets are ours, take back the night.”

Lane said she was extremely happy about the turnout.

“Last year we had about 15 people, this year we had many more: different organizations, people who were not undergraduates and men in the audience,” she said.