Students walking by the Student Union Friday were greeted by chants of “whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!” as part of a rally organized by the Coalition to End Rape Culture.
The chanters were led by University of Massachusetts students David Ke, Melissa Howard and Ivana Bologna, who stood before their peers with megaphones, handing out scraps of paper that listed chants.
The rally was the culmination of CERC’s “Week of Action Against Rape Culture” (WAAR). Throughout the week, CERC had planned a series of events, including film screenings and workshops, which were aimed at challenging the culture around sexual violence.
The objective of the rally was to “unite students in solidarity against sexual violence, celebrate the Coalition to End Rape Culture, educate people about the many manifestations of rape culture, and expose participants to a diverse set of ideas and voices,” according to a press release from the CERC.
Student Zoë Talkin started off the rally, after taking the stage on the Student Union steps to loud applause. Speaking to the crowd, Talkin mentioned the reported rape that allegedly occurred in Pierpont Hall last October. She spoke about the school’s response and the email that Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy sent to students after the news of the alleged rape. Talkin described how she took issue with something she saw as missing from the chancellor’s email.
“What was missing … was a critical look at the context in which the assault occurred. The context, the context of rape culture was the most insidious aspect of the situation and threatens the safety and well-being of each and every member of our community,” Talkin said.
Continuing her speech, Talkin defined for the assembled crowd exactly what the coalition viewed as rape culture.
“A rape culture is a culture in which rape and other forms of sexual violence are prevalent, and the dominant ideology, normative behavior, the media, and individuals themselves socialize people into a system of sexual violence,” Talkin said.
According to Talkin, this rape culture has integrated itself in to every aspect of society, creating a situation where rape and acts of sexual violence are normalized and inevitable.
After the news of the alleged October rape, the Gender Equity Core Team, a subset of the Center for Education, Policy, and Advocacy met to discuss sexual violence in the Pioneer Valley. This lead to the creation of the Coalition to End Rape Culture.
According to its Facebook page, “the mission of the Coalition to End Rape Culture (CERC) is to inspire critical discourse around the issue of rape and sexual violence, educate the campus community, change social norms, and demand that the administration implement programs to better address and combat the culture of violence that exists on campus.”
After Talkin stepped down from the steps at the rally, freshman Sarah Graves stood to introduce the first of the rally’s invited speakers, current UMass Doctoral student Anaïs Surkin.
Surkin, the former coordinator of LGBTQ services for New York’s Rockland Family Shelter, discussed how sexual violence is manifested in society and how institutions continue to victimize those who are raped.
As the crowd responded to the speech, Surkin chose to conclude by discussing the importance of groups such as CERC, which act as safe spaces and communities for others to resist rape culture and converse about sexual liberation.
After Surkin left the steps, speaker Armanthia Duncan grabbed a megaphone to discuss how students need to complicate their understanding of sexual violence.
“We have to end the silence and challenge assumptions that reinforce this culture of rape, because sex is and always needs to be consensual,” said Duncan, drawing cheers from the crowd.
After the final speaker for the event left the stage, Talkin called upon members of the crowd to speak of their own experiences. Several students came to the steps to tell their own personal stories.
The crowd responded to the speakers with cheers and clapping, waving their signs in a display of solidarity.
Following this, student Meghan Long took to the steps to lead the students in reciting a pledge against rape culture, while Talkin prepared for the final event of the rally.
When Long left the steps, Talkin came forward, guitar in hand, to sing to the assembled students a song she had written herself, an unofficial anthem for CERC. One by one, the students picked up the song’s lyrics and joined in.
Singing “we won’t take it anymore, we will change this culture at its core,” students closed out the rally, and departed with signs and banners in hand.
Mitch Scuzzarella can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Anaïs Surkin identifies as gender-queer and utilizes the pronoun set they/them/their. Surkin as well had their employment status misidentified as being currently employed for the Rockland Family Shelter, a position they have since left. The article has been updated to correct the misidentified gender and employment of Surkin.