Alpha Chi Omega raises awareness about domestic violence

By Kathrine Esten

(Gretchen Keller/Caroline O’Connor)

Alpha Chi Omega’s 25th annual Luminary Ceremony, held in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, took place in the Student Union Ballroom Tuesday night.

Over 100 students attended the free event, which was aimed at raising awareness for the ongoing issue of domestic violence.

Several University of Massachusetts students spoke at the ceremony, all survivors of domestic violence. All the women speaking detailed their own emotional experiences and emphasized the need to address domestic violence.

Alyssa Calicchia, a junior political science and psychology double major and Alpha Chi Omega member, described abusive relationships she had both with her first boyfriend, as well as her father.

The aftermath of these relationships, Calicchia said, left her afraid to speak up.

“Try being told to sit down and shut up so much that raising your hand in class feels like a mortal sin,” Calicchia said.

Calicchia said that simply her boyfriend’s teasing escalated to physical and sexual abuse, and that “he slowly isolated [her] from all [her] friends.”

“There are times my dad has been my greatest role model. There are times my dad has been my greatest fear,” Calicchia said.

Going forward with the hope of prevention, Calicchia now majors in pre-law and sees a future in representing victims of domestic violence.

“This is all of our responsibilities,” Calicchia said. “It starts with one person to make a change.”

The event highlighted that domestic violence transcends race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender.

Taylor Mill, the president of Alpha Chi Omega and a marketing and legal studies senior, said that she felt the issue of domestic violence wasn’t spoken about enough, and hoped that people realized that domestic violence “hits close to home.”

Jennifer Riedl, senior finance major and vice president of philanthropy at Alpha Chi Omega, agreed, noting that “One in four women and one in 16 men will suffer from domestic violence in a relationship.” She hoped bringing awareness to the issue would “lower these numbers.”

“Even though you might not be involved, there is still something you can do,” Riedl said.

Another speaker at the luminary ceremony was Amanda Baldi, a sophomore studio arts major, who told the audience that the physical abuse she received from her sister took “a really long time to come to terms with.”

“Just because she has gotten better since…doesn’t mean the abuse didn’t happen,” Baldi said. “It doesn’t stop the fact that growing up, I never felt like I had a home because of her.”

Debby Crespo, a junior microbiology and public health major, said the moving speeches were “very emotional,” and felt that it was “nice hearing people talk about such an important issue.”

Samantha LaPenna, a member of Alpha Chi Omega, emphasized that the abuse didn’t have to be physical. She described her father’s financial, verbal and emotional abuse towards her mother during her childhood.

“He never raised a hand to her, but he didn’t have to,” LaPenna said, remembering her father and mother’s relationship when she was younger.

After moving out of the home to live with her grandparents, LaPenna saw that domestic violence was just as apparent there as it had been with her parents. Saying her grandmother was one of the “most compassionate women [she’d] ever met,” it made it even more tragic to see her undergo abuse at the hands of her grandfather.

LaPenna said she shared her story to make sure other survivors and supporters see the importance of addressing the issue.

“It’s not easy moving on and forging something better for yourself,” La Penna said. “You are yours before you are anyone else’s.”

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, you can call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

Katherine Esten can be reached at [email protected]