Students unite against sexual violence during ‘Pittsburgh Universities Believe Survivors March’


Romita Das | Senior Staff Photographer

Students and community members gathered for the Pittsburgh Universities Believe Survivors March through campus on Sunday.

By Adrienne Cahillane, Staff Writer

About 150 students from Pittsburgh universities wore matching teal tees and carried signs with phrases like “believe survivors” on Sunday to raise awareness for sexual violence and support survivors.

Students from Pitt, Carlow, Carnegie Mellon, Chatham and Duquesne started the “Pittsburgh Universities Believe Survivors March” at Carlow around 11:45 a.m. before walking down Fifth Avenue and finishing at the Posvar Patio. At Posvar, students shared their personal experiences with sexual violence. Attendees also demanded that universities improve Title IX procedures.

Sexual assault awareness groups at Pitt and Carlow, including Pitt’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month Taskforce, hosted the march. It’s one event Pitt is holding for Sexual Assault Awareness month. 

Alexa Pierce is a trained peer educator with Sexual Assault Facilitation and Education at Pitt, which was involved with planning the event. Pierce said the purpose of the march was to uplift survivors of sexual and domestic violence and connect students to survivor resources.

“The main point of this march is to put emphasis on all of the universities in Pittsburgh that have issues with sexual violence,” Pierce, a junior political science and law, criminal justice and society double major, said. “And to give survivors a space where they can talk about their feelings. It is survivor focused across every campus and connects survivors to different resources.” 

Carrie Benson, the senior manager for prevention and education at Pitt’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said this event is the second annual “Pittsburgh Universities Believe Survivors March.” Benson said she continues to be “excited” to see students support each other. 

“Last year went really well,” Benson said. “I left the march feeling hopeful, but also sad because you’re listening to the students you care deeply about talk about their experiences with sexual violence, but there is also hope because so many of these students gave a part of their weekend to come raise awareness for something.” 

According to Benson, while Carlow University originally came up with the idea, other universities have joined the movement. This is the first year Chatham and Duquesne participated in the march.

“Campus sexual violence affects a lot of people,” Benson said. “It is a large issue and anything that we can do to raise awareness, to get more people involved and paying attention is a good thing and it’s important to recognize that this is not a Pitt-specific issue.”

Pierce said there are many benefits from universities coming together, including a greater access to resources within the city.

“Collaboration is definitely important because there are a lot of different resources at other universities that other ones might not have,” Pierce said. “Through my involvement with the march, I learned that Carlow has a program that’s similar to SAFE. In the future we want to meet with them to learn from each other to make our prevention-focused approach better.” 

Talia Plesckovich, a junior biology major at Carlow University who is a member of Project SAFE at Carlow, said she marched on Sunday to advocate for campus safety. 

“I don’t think anyone should be scared to walk at night,” Plesckovich said. “No one should be scared on their own campus. This needs to be a place where we all feel safe and we feel comforted. And we have to start making movements for that because no one is listening.”

At Posvar, organizers hosted a “Survivor Speak Out” — a safe space for individuals to share their personal stories about sexual and domestic violence. Pittsburgh Action Against Rape also provided counseling resources.  

Alyssa Dausch, a first-year elementary education major at Pitt, spoke at the Survivor Speak Out and enjoyed spreading awareness while walking down Fifth Avenue. 

“I really just like making noise and getting the word out,” Dausch said. “I really liked that we walked along Fifth because I think that got us a lot of exposure. So trying to show our signs, making everyone in their cars hear our chants and getting the word out.”

While sometimes stories are difficult to hear, Pierce said advocating for survivors is a “rewarding” experience. 

“It’s a heavy day, with many stories being shared, but it’s necessary to improve the response to sexual violence,” Pierce said.“Meeting other people as passionate as you are, whether or not they are survivors themselves, is a really great feeling to see that you are making a change on campus.”