Last night, the Global Center for Journalism and Democracy hosted their biggest sexual assault awareness event for their Start by Believing campaign, Ignite the Night.
“We had a really passionate group of people that showed up,” Executive Director of the Global Center for Journalism and Democracy Kelli Arena said. “According to folks who have done this in the past years in support of sexual assault awareness month, we are told that we have gathered the largest crowd ever.”
Arena welcomed the crowd with a brief introduction of the order of the events planned for the night and welcomed University Police Department Officer Keith Underwood to the stage to share a personal story. Underwood shared the story of his first response to a sexual assault crime and discussed the importance of dealing with sexual assault properly.
“It’s really hard as a victim, and I’ve been there twice actually, to come up and tell your story; it’s really hard to tell someone something that is so intimate,” graduate student in the forensic science department and sexual assault survivor Morgan Yourgal said. “When the first response is ‘why did you put yourself in that situation?’ it makes it really hard, so instantly victims blame themselves and that’s the worst thing they can do.”
An Austin-based band, Rattletree, was welcomed to the stage next to perform music from Zimbabwe in southern Africa. Rattletree recently won “Best World Music” at the Austin Music Awards, and encouraged the audience to be engaged, dance to the beat and demonstrated how they make their rhythms.
“I think my favorite part was when the musicians played because it was very different and I’d never seen anything like it before,” junior Amy Armstrong said. “It was very entertaining.”
NobleMotion Dance followed Rattetree with a contemporary dance duet choreographed by Dionne Sparkman Noble and Andy Noble. The dancers, Jared Doster and Victoria DeRenzo, projected the importance of trust within a relationship.
“It was really diverse, and I like that they brought something that could bring out everyone from around campus because there was something for everyone,” sophomore Morgan Dietz said. “It was really well-rounded and it came together well.”
CoMeTry also performed at the event with a combination of both poetry and stand-up comedy. They did a variety of poems and appropriate comedy bits that went along with the general themes of sexual assault awareness month.
“I liked the variety of things they had going on,” Education Coordinator for the Huntsville SAAFE House Victoria White said. “I know that sexual assault can often times be really heavy content, so CoMeTry being there to lighten the mood, [while] still promoting the message of non-violence and self-acceptance and self-love was amazing.”
The crowd consisted of a variety of students, faculty and entertainers. Several organizations attended to show their support for the cause.
“I came [to Ignite the Night] because it’s a modern issue and I feel like the event provided new information on the topic,” freshman Matt Lopez said. “I think having the comedy there really gave a relief to the topic and added a lot as well.”
NobleMotion Dance provided another dance choreographed by Andy Noble and performed by Brittany Thetford Deveau. The performance showed the stages of progressing confidence throughout a victim’s journey toward healing.
“For me, this event is an awesome time for students and faculty to come together to show their solidarity for victims,” White said. “I really appreciated the variety of the show, and I think that the students did an awesome job by coming out to support the event. And shout out to the committee that put this together and publicized as much and as hard as they did to get this turn out tonight.”
According to White, rape is one of the most underreported crimes. White also said it is not unusual for victims to avoid coming out publically about their assault.
“For those students who have been victimized, sexually assaulted, or raped to see pictures circulating around the school website–to see articles in papers like the Houstonian–to have their faculty, their classmates, and their advisors coming together and saying ‘what happened to you and every other victim is not okay; you didn’t deserve that and we want you to know that we stand behind you and we are really pushing for and hoping the best for you and your process and your journey to healing’ may mean so much to a victim who never felt comfortable or confident enough to come out,” White said. “To see the support they’re given by events like Ignite the Night is tremendous.”
After all of the performances, White and Melanie Jackman from the Montgomery County Women’s Center gave closing remarks and the participants prepared to march as a group in honor of sexual assault awareness and the survivors. Participants were given glow sticks to wear around their necks as they walked to the courthouse where opportunity drawings for prizes such as a free self-defense class were drawn for.
“The actual cause itself, victimization, is why I came out,” sophomore Ross Phillips said. “It succeeded my expectations a lot; I didn’t know it was going to be that good.”