From Sunday, April 26 through Sunday, May 3, students at SUNY New Paltz conducted the university’s Week of Action Against Sexual Violence. According to the program’s official Facebook page, at least one event took place during each day of the week to help raise awareness surrounding sexual violence. The events were co-sponsored by a variety of on-campus and off-campus organizations, including Walk Against Rape, the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies department (WGS), United University Professions and the New Paltz Slam Poetry Team among others.
Third-year WGS major Sam Lacovara helped organize this year’s Week of Action Against Sexual Violence. Some of the events held during the week included a march in support of sexual assault survivors; a zine reading involving related material; a screening of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses; a candlelight vigil for victims of sexual assault and an opportunity for survivors to share their stories.
The program culminated with New Paltz’s own section of Take Back The Night (TBTN), an annual gathering, rally and march to spread awareness of sexual violence and assault hosted on college campuses nationwide. TBTN featured events and programming from Crime Victim’s Assistance Program, Hudson Valley LGBTQ Center, Planned Parenthood, New Paltz Pride, New York Students Rising and New Paltz Oasis/Haven counseling centers, according to the event page on heyevent.com.
From 2-9 p.m. on Sunday, May 3, students activists and panelists filed into a white tent on Parker Quad to participate in raffles, poetry slams and other activities. TBTN vendors offered students free food, free t-shirts and custom self-care kits, which included items designed to ease anxiety and promote self-love.
Executive Director for Compliance and Campus Climate Tanhena Pacheco-Dunn spoke at the event about her work at New Paltz with New York State’s Title IX provisions. She explained that this law, which is commonly associated with athletics equity at universities, runs much deeper than that.
“Title IX covers gender and sexual equity across all the lines,” Pacheco-Dunn said. “As students, regardless of your gender identity or gender expression, you should be able to have all the benefits of being a college student. Unfortunately, when someone violates this law, it’s usually in the arena of sexual assault.”
Along with Pacheco-Dunn, a speaker from the Hudson Valley’s Crime Victims Assistance Program, WGS assistant professor Jessica Pabón, well-known slam poets and local musicians highlighted TBTN’s crucial message of resistance against harmful sexist behavior and rape culture. These factors, which are deeply ingrained in the workings of our society, perpetuate the silence and taboo that often surrounds sexual violence and assault.
Around 6:30 p.m., students gathered to march across campus, shouting rally cries of, “Hey hey, ho ho, rape culture has got to go!” The march ended with a group-wide discussion of the event during which survivors and supporters could share their input and stories.
According to Lacovara, the Week of Action was a project that they and other student activists on campus had always wanted to introduce, but this was the first year students were able to pull it off. The whole project involved “a lot of work,” and Lacovara was not sure if they would be able to make the entire week of activism an annual tradition.
Lacovara called TBTN a huge success.
“We had three incredible and famous slam poets (Megan Falley, Olivia Gatwood and Janae Johnson from Speak Like A Girl) who absolutely blew the crowd away,” they said. “We had a better turnout than last year, and our budget allowed for us to splurge on a huge tent, a stage and lots of food and goodies for our attendees!”
Rory Kennedy, a third-year WGS major who worked with Lacovara to plan and organize the Week of Action Against Sexual Violence, explained the vital importance of TBTN and similar activist events.
“[TBTN at] New Paltz has really grown,” Kennedy said. “By continuing this program, we hope that we can build a utopian community of survivors and supporters supporting and educating each other.”