Institutions of higher learning across the United States have been plagued by increasing and disturbing reports of sexual misconduct and assault. In many colleges and universities women and men are not afforded the simple, innate luxury of security. According to a survey conducted by the Association of American Universities, which was released this past September, more than one out of four female college seniors reported being a victim of rape or attempted rape since entering college. However, of these women, only 11 percent reported the incident to the police and of these reported cases, less than 10 percent resulted in criminal charges against the perpetrators. Yet, even in the face of such disheartening statistics, some college students are standing up against sexual violence in the hopes of comforting victims and bringing change. The organizers and participants of Speak Out, held last Thursday, are examples of such.
The event, a night of healing and empowerment through the arts, featured a performance by the The Acoustics and an array of powerful poetry readings. Flameless, electric tea lights were handed out to each member of the audience before the event and everyone was encouraged to flick their candle light on if anything being said or performed resonated with them.
The Acoustics soon took the stage to open the night with renditions of Sara Bareilles’s “Hercules” and Celine Dion’s “Taking Chances.” The first song, “Hercules,” sung perfectly by Audrey Huelsbeck, LSOE ’16, with a mellifluous tone echoing with power, set the mood artfully. Although the same cannot be said for the second performance, which lacked the of the first, The Acoustics, overall, displayed their talent while also providing a sweet melody to the event’s foundation of reflection, empowerment, and intimacy.
The Acoustic’s performance was followed by student recitations of poetry. Some poems were personal and written by the performer herself, while others read the works of their close friends or of a famous poet. The poems were incredibly moving and even more so were the raw emotions of the performers. Some discussed emotional abuse, a physically abusive relationship, the painful aftermath of rape, and others a mother’s advice to her daughter. Some were brought to tears while others stumbled over the lines. Yet, all were embraced with great love and care by their friends and the entirety of the audience.
One of the most important aspects of the night that merits recognition was the simple presence of art and its ability to carry poignant meaning. Unlike the “Carry That Weight” demonstration of protest through performance art initiated by former Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz last year, Speak Out was not a grab for attention, but rather an event to come together and shed meaningful light on a pressing issue through an artistic medium. Each performance was meaningful not only to the performer, but to every member of the audience, underscoring that whether or not this issue affects a college student personally, it is still the obligation of the entire community to provide support. One of the most resounding moments of the night came from BC student Julie Rain who read Alice Walker’s To Stop Violence Against Woman and then read her personal response to the piece. Rain eloquently highlighted the changes that comes with support and equality, just as Walker masterfully articulates in her poem, “To stop violence against woman, woman must stop violence against herself … Woman. Awake! Arise! Stand up!”
Featured Image By Julia Hopkins