By Grace Slobodzian
Dozens of tealight candles in white paper bags lined the paths around the Science Complex fountain, reflecting off the fountain’s water last Monday, which had been dyed purple in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month which takes place in October. The ambient setting provided a soft yellow glow and opportunity for meditation.
The words of Rana Shariatdoust, sophmore economics and political science major, echoed in the complex as she read an original poem dedicated to the memory of Cassandra Renee Mitchell, a Trenton victim of domestic violence who was allegedly shot and killed by her boyfriend, in front of her three young children over the summer.
Mitchell’s three children “still wonder what happened to their mother,” Shariatdoust said.
Promising to end the cycle of domestic abuse, Shariatdoust concluded her poem, “We (women) will bear the future as we have birthed the past.”
Shariatdoust’s poem was the conclusion of a forum held Monday night, “From Tiananmen Square to TCNJ: A Global Perspective on Women,” which featured student presentations about the changing status of women in China and America. The program emphasized the issues of domestic violence, human trafficking and women’s rights in education, the workforce and in reproduction.
Qin Shao, professor of history, introduced the four panels of students from one section of her freshman seminar program (FSP), “Women and Family in Modern China.”
Activism was a theme of the forum, with freshman music education major Julia Lobiondio providing information about organizations to combat domestic violence, such as All-China Women’s Federation, Amnesty International’s Stop Violence Against Women, and the local organization Womanspace, where the FSP students had the opportunity to complete their community engaged learning.
Paula Figueroa-Vega, associate director for the Bonner Center, and Amy Weintraub, program coordinator at Womanspace’s counseling and support services, were on-hand to provide information about the Mercer county nonprofit organization that helped over 10,300 adults and children last year.
Domestic violence is a problem that affects the global community and “transcends beyond China and the United States,” Lobiondio said.
“Silence is one of the major enemies of domestic violence,” Shao said, encouraging students to get involved and, like Shariatdoust, use their voices to take action against domestic violence.
In addition to domestic violence, human trafficking “violates a woman’s rights in every single way,” said Andrew Lee, a freshman chemistry major who presented on the topic during the forum.
Human trafficking is a problem that pervades every community and exists “right under our noses,” Shao said.
Rachel Morris, freshman open options culture and society major, likened women’s reproductive rights to a Chinese finger-trap, a woven, bamboo toy that “traps” the user’s fingers in the cylinder, tightening when the user attempts to pull his or her fingers out. Morris said that in much the same way, government “traps” women in policy about reproductive rights beyond women’s control.
Given the sensitive nature of the subject of reproductive rights, often, “What gets lost in this conversation is a woman’s right to choose,” Morris said.
Morris explained the impact of the One Child Policy, a Chinese government policy designed to restrict parents to one child in an effort to control population, which resulted in the trend of sex-selective abortions of female fetuses.
Similarly, Morris cited the May 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who performed late-term abortions, to emphasize the controversial nature of the subject in America. However, Morris said, “No matter what your beliefs are … the reproductive rights belong to the woman.”
The evening culminated in the “Communities of Light” candle lighting ceremony, a fundraising event to help support Womanspace, presented by students from Shao’s other section of the FSP.
“Domestic violence is an epidemic,” Jackie Deitch-Stackhouse, the coordinator of the Office of Anti-Violence Initiatives (OAVI) at the College, said. “It’s something we want people to talk about.”
OAVI provides services for victims, survivors, and those affected by what Deitch-Stackhouse referred to as “power based violence,” including domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
She commended the students for their work in the FSP and saw the forum as a springboard for activism. “Showing up tonight is a first step,” Deitch-Stackhouse said.
Deitch-Stackhouse urged students to take action against domestic violence.
“The lives will be lost in vain if you don’t take this opportunity to act,” she said.