Sixteen-day campaign tries to help end gender violence 365 days a year

Last week, students in professor Lizzy Spohr’s “politics of sexuality” class helped facilitate discussion and raise awareness through a number of activities as part of their participation in The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign.

The 16 Days Campaign was launched at Rutgers University in 1991 as a way to link Nov. 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) and Dec. 10 (International Human Rights Day). Since then, over 1,700 organizations in 130 countries have taken part in the campaign.

Here on campus, Spohr’s students provided a five-day itinerary of events that ran from Nov. 29 through Dec. 3 in conjunction with the theme of this year’s campaign: “For the Health of Women, For the Health of the World, No More Violence.”

Throughout the course of the week, students traveling to classes could stop to examine the graveyard vigil erected on the Loser Lawn.

Fake headstones and grave markers were used in a startling yet effective manner to convey important facts and statistics about the effects of gender-based crime and violence.

Meanwhile, at various locations across campus including Brower Student Center, Eickhoff Hall and a number of residence halls, a clothing and supply drive was in full swing throughout the week to benefit Womanspace.

Womanspace is a nonprofit organization based in the Mercer County area. For the past 27 years, it has provided support, counseling, shelter and other vital services for victims of domestic violence, gender violence and sexual assault.

“New Jersey is one of the most active states in the United States when if comes to tackling these issues,” Susan Adams, events coordinator for the organization, said. “Womanspace is one of the leading programs in the state for cases of domestic violence and sexual assault.”

The drive sought to collect items that women residing in the shelters might have left behind when they were forced to flee their homes. Students and faculty were asked to donate new clothing and undergarments, towels, linens, toiletries, portable cassette or compact disc players and sanitary products.

Another event that lasted the entire five days of the College’s “mini-campaign” was The Clothesline Project, which was displayed in Eickhoff Hall. The project gave students a chance to create and paint T-shirts portraying their personal thoughts, feelings or experiences concerning gender violence.

An example display was loaned to the College by the Rutgers’ Department of Sexual Assault Services and Crime Victim Assistance. However, with the aid of the student body, the College can now begin its own collection and add to it each year as the theme of the 16 Days Campaign changes.

On Wednesday, Dec. 1, students held a screening of “The Birdcage” in the Rathskeller (Rat) at 8:30 p.m. The 1996 comedy stars Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as a homosexual couple who try to hide who they are so that their son can make a good impression on his fianc?e’s conservative parents.

“We thought it would be a good idea to show the film at the Rat, because it isn’t something students would expect to see (there),” Duane Clark, sophomore history major, said. “Hopefully, it will get people thinking and talking more about the cause.”

On Thursday, Dec. 2, students ran a Coffee Ha?s in the Social Sciences Building atrium. Inside, students could receive information on a number of anti-violence initiatives while enjoying free coffee.

The night’s main feature was an open mic. In this intimate setting, participants were encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings on any human rights issue they felt passionately about.

“This is a great size group of people because you can really talk,” Adams said after her short speech about the services provided by Womanspace.

“It’s important to start being vocal about these issues. They are not something to be hidden. There are people that you know that are in abusive situations, whether physical or sexual-you just don’t know it.”

Next, a representative from the office of Antiviolence Initiatives (OAVI), a campus organization, took the microphone.

“Our purpose is to work with sexual assault victims to make services friendlier,” the representative, who could not be named for confidentiality reasons, said. “It shouldn’t be hard for someone who is a victim of violence or sexual assault tocome forward and get the help they need.”

He also outlined a program that is currently in the works. Tentatively called I CAN, which stands for Initial Contact Advocacy Network, it is set to begin operation next fall.

I CAN will feature a network of advertised faculty and staff who will go through a period of sensitivity training.

Whether they are professors, coaches, Residence Life staff or employees of Heath Services, these people will serve as a starting point where victims of dating violence or sexual assault can go to get the initial help and confidential information they need.

From there, victims can be directed to the next level of care. They may be put into contact with a representative from Womanspace or told to contact local police.

Throughout the evening, students also expressed their feelings through original and popular songs and the written word.

“I think there has been a good turn-out to all of the events,” Hillary Hewit, freshman open-options science major and member of Spohr’s class, said. “It feels good that we have made some kind of difference on campus, and a lot of people seem to be interested in the cause.”

For more information about Womanspace, students or victims can call the Mercer county’s Womanspace hotline at (609) 394-9000.

For information on OAVI, students can call (609) 771-2272 or visit the office, located at 159 Eickhoff Hall.