Nearly 150 men and women huddled together in the chilly darkness Thursday night to listen to the stories of survivors. One by one, student speakers approached the microphone to share personal experiences about rape or assault at the annual “Take Back the Night” rally and march sponsored by Womyn’s Issues Now.
Each of the half-dozen strikingly similar testimonials of emotional terror and painful recovery ended with a message of hope.
“I’m always impressed with how many people have the courage to get up and talk in front of total strangers,” WIN member Mary Jo Laffler said.
The open microphone portion of the rally on the Marvin Center’s H Street Terrace was the emotional conclusion to a program intended to protest violence against women.
Members of WIN, an organization founded 15 years ago at GW, sponsored the rally, march and vigil, and led the program that included speeches and poetry readings. Several members also performed songs about violence against women.
Bonnie Morris, GW women’s studies professor and WIN faculty adviser, encouraged the crowd to embrace activism against companies whose advertisements demean women.
“You all have tremendous power as consumers,” she said. “You live in the most political city in the country. Each one of you can become an intelligent activist.”
Morris also spoke about the ridicule her women’s studies students – especially the males in her class – receive from peers and adults.
“How brave you are to undertake the study of gender in society and translate what you learn into personal action,” she said to the crowd.
Morris said students come to her every semester to confide that they were the victims of violence.
She said the establishment of a women’s center would provide women with additional outlets for support. A recently formed student group still is searching for a location on campus to open a women’s resource center.
WIN members read the audience a list of specific areas that need improvement at GW. Requests ranged from the establishment of the women’s center to the installation of emergency phones in all campus bathrooms. Other concerns were the creation of a women’s studies major, better lighting on the Quad and more women’s issues programming.
A performance by the all-women a cappella group the Pitches ended the program. About an hour and a half after the program, which began at 7 p.m., nearly 75 women took to the street, marching and shouting chants of protest.
“It’s one night where we know we can feel safe walking alone as women on campus and speaking out against violence,” said WIN member Melissa Hermann.
As a supplement to the all-women’s march, WIN organized a men’s vigil to discuss men’s role in the prevention of violence against women. Although no disruptions occurred this year, members of WIN recalled how the annual march has become confrontational in the past.
“There’s usually some yelling when we walk down fraternity row,” Laffler said.
The march halted for a moment of silence at the Academic Center, where group members said a woman was raped in a sound-proof music room seven years ago. Emergency telephones have since been installed in those rooms as a result of WIN’s lobbying efforts.
As the procession reached the Quad, the remaining women assembled in a circle for a final candlelight vigil.