Students, faculty and domestic violence prevention organizations marched together in “Take a Stand: Walk With Me” on Oct. 23 to raise awareness about domestic and relationship violence.
The Spirit of Stony Brook Marching Band and the Stony Brook University Dance Team led the march, as the participants raised signs displaying phrases such as “You are not alone,” “Seawolves care for each other” and “Love should not hurt.” Starting and ending at the Student Activities Center (SAC) plaza, they marched around Frank Melville Jr. Memorial Library and Staller Center for the Arts, chanting “Seawolves break the silence, help us end the violence!”
The march was organized for National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) declared to be October in 1981. One in four women and one in nine men suffer some kind of severe violence or stalking from intimate partners, according to the NCADV. The event was organized by the Center for Prevention and Outreach (CPO).
Before the march, Christine Szaraz, the Coordinator of Sexual Violence Prevention and Outreach Programs for CPO, delivered opening remarks to the crowd and spoke about domestic abuse as a prevelant issue on an emotional, psychological and social level.
“I think it’s important to be aware that violence, in any form, affects us in lots of different ways,” Szaraz said in an interview with The Statesman. “So we can see it coming out in our academics, in our social lives; so somebody who is pulling back from their social circle, maybe it’s because they’re really busy, but maybe it’s because there is something happening in the dynamic of their relationship where they don’t feel that they can feel open with their friends or stay as connected. That isolation and that withdrawal and part and parcel of the relationship experience for many people.”
After her speech, Szaraz introduced Swallow This!, a program run by the CPO Health Education Office and the Department of Theatre Arts, who performed a scene and spoken word meant to encapsulate the experience of victims in a controlled relationship, inspired by stories anonymously published to the CPO’s database.
“It’s something that even if we personally haven’t struggled with it, we all know somebody who at some point in their life has dealt with it,” Noah Talavera-Greenberg, a studio art major and Swallow This! performer, said. “It’s amazing to bring these issues to light, it’s amazing to see how a community comes together to bring awareness to this issue and what we can do to solve it.”
In attendance were members of the One Love Foundation, a national organization founded in 2010 that is committed to stopping and raising awareness about relationship abuse. Michael Harley, engagement coordinator for the One Love Foundation, travels around New York to present student training workshops focused on breaking the silence and stigma around relationship abuse.
“What One Love does, is we train students to be able to lead workshops that have these conversations about healthy and unhealthy relationships and relationship abuse,” Harley said. “I am also here tonight in conjunction with this event to train a lot of the students here to be able to keep having these conversations in a really constructive and positive way.”
Student peer educating organizations that were in attendance included the Green Team with the Green Dot Program, a group of volunteers that help educate the campus community on sexual and relationship violence and bystander intervention as well as Red Watch Band, which trains students on how to intervene if a peer consumes too much alcohol. University police were also in attendance supporting the event.
“I feel like domestic violence is very prevalent right now in college students’ lives,” Maria Kefalas, a senior psychology major and member of the Red Watch Band, said. “I feel like it’s not talked about enough. People don’t know the signs of it, people don’t know what to do when it’s happened to them. I think that events like this opens a gateway for recovery.”
Derrick Wagner, a second year graduate student in the occupational therapy program and graduate coordinator for LGBTQ* services, held a pride flag while he marched with his organization to condemn domestic violence.
Members of the LGBTQ+ youth community experience higher rates of domestic violence than their heterosexual counterparts, according to a 2017 report by the Research Triangle Institute International, a nonprofit organization that provides research and technical services.
“The Take a Stand, Walk With Me march, everything that it’s standing for with relationship violence awareness and helping to break the stigma and more education and start the conversation on all these sorts of things is definitely something that is very important overall,” Wagner said. “LGBTQ services tries to help support people of all different identities and all different struggles to build support for everybody.”
National organizations at the SAC plaza included the Family Violence and Rape Crisis Center, Brighter Tomorrows Inc. and the Crisis Victims Center, which all work to spread awareness of domestic violence and help people suffering from domestic abuse.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of all the different types of services that are available to them, like legal services, shelter, counseling groups with people who have had similar experience is helpful,” Andrea Weisse, a counselor at Brighter Tomorrows Inc., said.
The Violence Against Women Act, first signed into legislation in 1994, is intended to create and support “cost-effective reponses” to domestic and sexual violence, including stalking, against women in the U.S. The bill’s recent draft for reauthorization, which is required every five years, improves the bill by adding services to provide safety and justice for women suffering from domestic abuse. The reauthorization was passed in March with bi-partisan support in the House of Representatives, but the bill has yet to be passed in the Senate.
“I know the Violence Against Women Act has not been reauthorized by the [U.S.] Senate yet, and that has a great impact on the service that we are able to offer,” Weisse said.
Richard Gatteau, the Dean of Students and the Vice President for Student Affairs, echoed the importance of awareness and safety as a university priority.
“It’s just so important to raise a level of awareness about issues around sexual and domestic violence, and that we have a rapport responsibility as a campus to do everything we can to educate our students, faculty and staff and also be a leader in helping reduce any kind of incident or situation that can harm someone,” Gatteau said. “Safety is an important priority for the campus, and the prevention and outreach efforts that we do really make a difference in the lives of our students.”