In the semester ensuing four alleged counts of rape by and against USF students, the wounded community took a moment to heal last week with a series of events aimed at sexual violence awareness and prevention.
Major events in the series included an evening event called Create Against Rape, the Take Back the Night march, the Clothesline Project, an art display in the Crossroads Gallery and a display called These Hands Don’t Hurt outside of the Health Promotion Services office.
Though USF hosts some of these events annually, this year they were more powerful in number of events and number of participants. Jenna Recupero, assistant hall director for Gillson and co-chair of the Women’s Empowerment (WE) committee, said, “This year, this particular week was more significant due to events that happened earlier this semester.”
The momentous response to the alleged rapes was triggered long ago. In the months since the original allegations were made public, a grassroots student movement has organized weekly forums in Parina Lounge where the community got together to talk about their concerns about sexual violence on campus.
Calling themselves Students Taking Action Against Sexual Violence, the unofficial club got the attention of some of the school’s top administrators, Dean of Students Mary Wardell, Vice President of University Life Margaret Higgins, and
President Stephen A. Privett, SJ. With persistence, they fought for and achieved reopening a Women’s Resource Center.
“This is a very serious issue and we need to keep it at the forefront of students’ consciousness,” said senior Erika Carlsen, who was one of the students taking action early on after Public Safety announced the rapes had occurred.
The WE committee, usually reserved for resident advisors and Office of Residence Life staff, invited these student activists to join in their efforts this year to make the events stronger.
Other organizations united to host an evening event against sexual assault. Representatives from Residence Hall Association, Lambda Theta Phi, Black Student Union and Delta Zeta, came together to host the first ever Create Against Rape event. Students along with volunteers from San Francisco Women Against Rape (SFWAR) enjoyed an evening of creative responses to rape that included interactive games and poetry readings along with an educational component from SFWAR.
Thursday night, an annual event called Take Back the Night took place. After meeting in Harney Plaza, students marched through the campus and surrounding neighborhood, chanting loudly and garnering honks and waves from supportive vehicle drivers. Afterward they gathered in the Kalmanovitz Amphitheatre to share deeply personal experiences with sexual assault. Many tears were shed. Vice President of Social Justice Alia Al-Sharif, who attended the Take Back the Night event, said, “Having a large audience to share personal stories with in a safe space was very healing.”
The week of events culminated Saturday as many clubs, organizations, and individuals came together to join the greater community by participating in the San Francisco Walk Against Rape, a three-mile walk starting in Justin Herman Plaza and ending in a rally in Dolores Park.
Recupero said she was excited to see how many people from USF and San Francisco at large were there. In only its fourth year, she said, the walk is growing “bigger, more involved,” each year.
Al-Sharif said of the week, “I think it helped the community heal, especially for sexual violence victims and their families.”