Sorority holds candelight vigil in support of domestic abuse victims

By Tom Relihan

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The Sigma Psi Zeta sorority held a candlelight vigil at the New Africa House Tuesday night to raise awareness of and support those affected by domestic relationship violence.

Shaina Mishkin/Collegian

The vigil, held annually, was planned in collaboration with the Center for Women and Community (CWC), and featured speeches from members of both organizations, as well as performances by the spoken word group Phallacies and the University of Massachusetts Gospel Choir.

The event began with an introduction by members of Sigma Psi Zeta, who began by asking the audience to define what they perceived domestic violence to be and then provided an official definition of the term.

“Domestic violence is defined as the infliction of physical injury by one family or household member on another, and is also a repeated or habitual pattern of such behavior,” junior Jennifer Thong said. “But domestic violence can be more than physical abuse, and it can be emotional, sexual, economical and even intimidation.”

Other sorority members shared a number of statistics about the issue, including an estimated figure of 1.3 million women who are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year, with most cases never being reported.

The first speech was given by Sigma Psi Zeta President Ravina Jangra, who joined the organization because of its national philanthropy.

“This year, I really wanted to make sure we took the domestic violence issue and took the spreading of awareness of it to a whole new level,” Jangra said, speaking of a number of additional events, including movie nights that the sorority has hosted this year.

The results of one such event could be seen at the event itself.  Along the perimeter of the room hung a clothesline from which a multitude of colored shirts hung, each with a personal message about domestic violence drawn on the front.

“The way I see it, domestic violence is something that if we don’t talk about, then you never know what’s going on behind closed doors,” Jangra said. “That’s why talking about it can go a very long way.”

She then spoke about her personal experience with domestic violence at the hands of her father. Jangra urged attendees to have a voice and speak out against domestic abuse.

“It’s not easy to have a voice, but once you do, it’s the most uplifting thing in the world,” she said.

Meghan Lemay of the Center for Women and Community spoke next of the free counseling services offered by the CWC and its 24-hour crisis hotline.

Counselors from the CWC were on hand at the event for anyone who wanted to speak with them. Following the speeches, UMass’ men’s health troupe Phallacies performed a series of three short sketches based on topics familiar to the issue of domestic violence, such as street harassment and reaching out to friends in a caring but confrontational way.

The group was organized to challenge the traditional notions of masculinity and to offer different perspectives. The final skit humorously covered this topic through a lesson in male-on-male hugging, though still ending on a serious note.

“Why is it that we are more likely to embrace violence in our lives than each other?” asked Tom Schiff, a university health educator and member of the group.

After the performance, the floor was opened up for attendees to speak about their personal experiences with or perspectives on domestic violence, followed by five minutes of silence.

To end the night, the members of Sigma Psi Zeta invited all attendees out to the front of the building for ceremonial candle lighting to dedicate the event to victims of domestic abuse, supplemented by performance by the UMass Gospel Choir.

Tom Relihan can be reached at [email protected]