Candlelight vigil held in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month

By Elizabeth Kane

(Amanda Creegan/Daily Collegian)
(Amanda Creegan/Daily Collegian)

Surrounded by the glow of candlelight, the Center for Women and Community and the sisters of Sigma Psi Zeta sorority hosted an annual vigil in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Held in the Cape Cod Lounge at the Student Union, the candlelight vigil gave both of the organizations, as well as survivors of domestic violence, the chance to speak out against the issue and encourage others to help victims of domestic abuse.

According to Becky Lockwood, the associate director of Counseling and Rape Crisis Services at the Center for Women and Community, the vigil is a way to touch upon an issue that is close to students and the community, although many do not realize it.

“(The vigil) is a chance to educate the community about relationship violence,” Lockwood said. “We really try to use the phrase ‘relationship violence’ instead of domestic violence because most college students see domestic violence happening only to older people. They think, ‘It doesn’t really happen to us because we’re young,’ but we know it is happening, and often people don’t know where to get help or what the right thing to say is because of this.”

Making students aware of the presence of domestic violence in their community is extremely important to the Center for Women and Community as well as the sisters of Sigma Psi Zeta, who have made it part of their national mission. Since 2009, the sorority has collaborated with the Center for Women and Community through the vigil to stress the importance of the issue to the University of Massachusetts community.

“Domestic violence is a part of all of us,” said Victoria Lee, president of Sigma Psi Zeta . “It is a topic that seems unreal, something that we see in movies or on the news, but we don’t realize that something like this could happen to us or how prevalent it is to our lives. By having this vigil, we are giving victims of domestic violence the support they need and we are educating our community about the dangers and implications of domestic violence.”

The event invited peer educators with the Center for Women and Community, as well as students, faculty and guest supporters to speak about domestic violence and its impact on the community. Diane Curtis, board president of Safe Passage and UMass faculty member, spoke at the event about how touched she has been over the continuous support that UMass has shown for Safe Passage, a charity that has helped survivors of domestic violence and those close to them since 1977.

“I am so incredibly proud of the UMass community for all it does,” Curtis said. “In addition to myself, UMass Police Department Deputy Police Chief Patrick Archbald is on the board at Safe Passage. We have endless volunteers that come from UMass, It is so moving to me that we have such a caring community.”
As a way to strengthen the community, the event also offered a moment of reflection for students to share their experiences with domestic violence in a safe and secure environment. The event concluded with the candlelight vigil, where all participants were invited to go outside and light candles to honor those affected by domestic abuse.

Survivors of domestic abuse, said Lockwood, can be victims of verbal abuse as well as physical abuse. She said that the vigil will help students to both recognize behaviors as abusive and encourage them to stand up against such abuse.

“I think that a lot of abuse happens behind closed doors, but there are a lot of public behaviors that are problematic and we want students to recognize these behaviors and support those being affected by them,” Lockwood said.

“(In abusive relationships) there’s a lot of name calling and verbal abuse and it’s harder for people to recognize that as being relationship violence because the abuser is not physically hurting them. Verbal abuse is still abuse – it’s still harmful to the person and it needs to be addressed.”

Elizabeth Kane can be reached at [email protected]