Ricky Ochilo, staff writer
Warren Wilson College held is annual march of solidarity in support of women who have been victims of both physical and emotional abuse on April 19. The march is part of the Take Back The Night Campaign which aims to raise awareness about different forms of abuse and sexual assault.
Kelly Kelbel, Director of Resistance Intervention Safety and Empowerment (RISE) helped coordinate the event with other students and members of the RISE crew. Other offices that assisted in putting together the march were First Year Programs, headed by Natalie Nimmer and Multicultural Affairs under Rodney Lytle.
The RISE project at the College was set up to empower women and men of sexual abuse and assault in an effort to speak out against the horrors and reclaim a sense of dignity for victims of abuse. Since the formation of the RISE project, programs like the Clothesline Project, which displays and highlights the emotions, conditions and consequences of abuse on T-shirts, have provided a means for abused female and male students to educate the wider community about the grief and grim realities of sexual assault. Similarly, Take Back The Night supports victims of sexual assault to redeem their nobility and self-respect.
“The purpose of Take Back The Night is to provide a space to break the silence of violence,” Kelbel said. She added that it is hoped that the event brings people together who have “experienced, witnessed or resisted” violence in an effort to share ideas to make the community a safer place for everyone.
According to Kelbel, there are incidents of assault that have taken place on campus. She mentioned that the RISE office had provided services to seventy one students who have reported cases of abuse and assault this year. For example, about 18 students have informally reported cases of sexual misconduct on campus, three cases have formally been reported on sexual misconduct, ten cases have been reported in relation to violence on campus and four reports on stalking.
Take Back The Night is part of a national movement across America that fosters dialogue and raises question about victimization and oppression of women and men in society. However, majority of statistics on sexual assault point toward women. According to national estimates on sexual abuse, one in six American women have or will be victims of tried or completed rape in their lifetime. As for men, the statistics report that the rate is one in eight.
The march at the College began in the Ballfields with a gathering of students. Junior Erin Murphy and Senior Chris Miller opened the program with a moment of silence for victims who had experienced violence. After the gathering at the Ballfields, participants marched through ANTC and Sutton Residence Halls shouting “Warren Wilson College unite, take back the night!”
Kelbel said that following the march through the residence halls, participants were engaged in a performance talk that highlighted ways in which people can get out of uncomfortable or forceful situations during parties. She added that Juniors Kopano Mmalane, Carlos Lara and Kevin Bordenave showed students ways in which they could counter uncomfortable dance situations or help rescue their friends if they sense discomfort or felt their friends were being overwhelmed at parties.
Following the dance demonstration, people marched to Sage circle where there was a huge poster with an illustration of a closed mouth. On the poster there was a question that asked what perpetuates violence? Kelbel felt that this process helped people identify ways in which they could become part of the process to correct the wrongs about violence and abuse.
“People wrote things like blaming victims, not getting involved, classicism and racisim,” Kelbel said. She emphasized that these were all forms of abuse and oppression and failing to recognize and engage in solving the vices serves to intensify the apathy and continued silence. After participants had written down various ways in which violence is intensified, the poster was torn to symbolize reclaiming a stand to speak out against the silence of oppression.
Likewise, students and other members of the community matched to the pavilion where a local poet, Coert Ambrosino recited and acted out poems that addressed different forms of violence and called on peoplto speak out and put an end to violence. Kelbel mentioned that towards the end of the event a former student of Warren Wilson, Arhm Choi spoke about ways in which she had seen Wilson change. Choi urged students to become more involved in movements to end violence and to acknowledge that they have the power to correct the ills in their community. Later on, there was a period of time where people were asked to reflect or recount experiences in their lives or in the lives of friends and loved ones who had been abused.
For Kelbel, this moment is especially important since it allows members of the community to understand the consequences of abuse and psychological or social effects that result. However, she maintained that the march does not solely focus on the sad stories and anguish that result from abuse.
“There are moments of laughter and joy that give hope and possibility,” Kelbel said.
She added that the program is also geared towards providing a range of ways in which all people can be involved in the march, from discussions, to dance, marches, poetry, personal reflections and experiences.
Kelbel stressed that she would like the community to understand that the event is for everyone and participation is encouraged. She and other organizers of the march hope that the program brings to the community’s attention the degrading effects of sexual violence and abuse, in addition to paving way to build respectful relationships and a working community that values decency, dignity and respect for other community members.