CWO marches to take back the night


Campus Women's Organization hosted the annual Take Back the Night march around Oakland to demonstrate against sexual assault. Wenhao Wu | Staff Photographer

By Annemarie Carr / Staff Writer

With raised fists, marching feet and rhyming chants, students stopped traffic and caught the attention of camera phones in a demonstration seeking to fight back against sexual violence.

“Whatever you wear, wherever you go, yes means yes and no means no,” students chanted down Bigelow Boulevard in between the William Pitt Union and the Cathedral of Learning. 

On Tuesday, Oct. 27, about 150 students, faculty, staff and community members met in the William Pitt Union Ballroom at 7 p.m. to march through South Oakland and “take back the night” from sexual violence.

Campus Women’s Organization hosted the event as part of a national movement that originally started in the ’70s with a series of marches protesting pornography and remembering victims of sexual violence, according to the organization’s website. 

Take Back the Night now occurs annually at colleges and universities all over the country from Los Angeles to Philadelphia.

Suzy Hinkle, a senior chemical engineer and CWO president, said CWO hosts the event to break the “culture of silence” surrounding sexual violence at Pitt.

According to the 2015 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct released earlier this year, 21 percent of the female and 6.2 percent of male undergraduate students surveyed at Pitt experienced non-consensual penetration or sexual touching during college.

Roughly 20 percent of undergraduate transgender men, transgender women, genderqueer, gender nonconforming, questioning and not listed students who were surveyed were also victims.

“Just one [victim] is too many,” Hinkle said.

Katie Pope, Pitt’s Title IX coordinator, spoke at the event and said the statistics are scary and terrifying, but Take Back the Night is “a huge step forward” in the fight to eliminate sexual violence from college campuses.

Pope offered her office as a resource to students as well as off-campus resources, such as the Pittsburgh Action Against Rape office.

CWO board members led chants and the crowd through South Oakland, turning onto Forbes Avenue, South Bouquet Street, Bates Street, Atwood Street and finally onto Fifth Avenue back to the William Pitt Union.

“What do we want? Safe streets. When do we want them? Now.”

About 15 student organizations marched at the event, including the Resident Student Association, South Asian Student Alliance, Black Action Society and Rainbow Alliance.

Abby Meinen, CWO community outreach chair and a junior English writing major, spoke at the event, emphasizing how the fear of sexual violence affects women’s lives, impacting everything from their clothing choices to their sexual identity. She reminded students of the recent death of Kiesha Jenkins, a transgender woman, in north Philadelphia on Oct. 6, 2015, due to sexual violence.

“We live in a world where one in every five women in college experience sexual violence.”  Meinen said.  “We live in a world where over 22 trans women were murdered this year.” 

About half of the student marchers returned to the WPU ballroom for bystander intervention training provided by Eleanora Kaloyeropoulou and James Kirwan, two student representatives from Let’s RAVE, a peer education program provided by Pitt’s Office of Sexual Assault Services. 

Students participated in an open discussion where they learned how to combat the bystander effect and talked through several scenarios involving sexual violence.

Kaloyeropoulou and Kirwan encouraged students to pay attention to their environment and decide when action is needed and how to intervene.  Suggested strategies for intervention included using “I” statements — such as “I feel X when you do Y” — using a silent stare and employing humor and distractions when appropriate.

These student leaders sparked excitement and energy from the crowd, getting them ready to march. Students picked up signs to march with that said “No more silence, no more violence,” “Not just a women’s issue” and “Let’s make women’s history.”

For Claire Matway, the march was a way to commemorate victims in the past and prevent future assaults.

“I march because a lot of people I love are survivors of sexual violence and I want to support them and make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else,” said Matway, a senior urban studies major.

With the numbers to support the likelihood of future attacks, Meinen marches in fear of becoming a statistic.

“We march because we know each time we step out the door we are entering fear,” Meinen said. “Fear is in the air.”

Even in an atmosphere of fear, Meinen stressed the importance of courage in fighting back against sexual violence.

“We stand together, we say enough is enough,” Meinen said. “We will not take this anymore.”

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