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One Billion Rising: Students Lead Campus Conversation on Violence Toward Women

On Feb. 14, people everywhere will express their love for the women in their lives. Otterbein’s Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) program took the opportunity to educate people on the struggles of women around the world who face violence every day, not just on Valentine’s Day.

WGSS hosted a week of programming leading up to One Billion Rising, a global event held annually on Feb. 14 in more than 200 countries to raise awareness about violence toward women. The goal of Otterbein’s participation in One Billion Rising is to generate conversation and add voices to the movement to end violence against women and girls, as well as gender violence in all of its forms. Such violence impacts individuals in communities from New Delhi to Steubenville to Columbus. This is the second year WGSS has hosted One Billion Rising on campus.

The week started off with a presentation by Grace Brown, the founder of Project Unbreakable, and Kaelyn Siversky, executive director of Project Unbreakable and sexual assault survivor. Brown started Project Unbreakable in 2011 to document survivors of sexual assault and the words that have impacted them. She has photographed more than 500 female and male survivors holding signs with the words of their attackers, friends, family members, law enforcement officers and others. The photos include phrases like, “You’re even prettier when you cry,” and, “How could you let this happen to you?” Brown has received more than 2,000 submissions for the project. An exhibit of photos was displayed on the second floor of the Courtright Memorial Library throughout the week.

According to Katelyn Hanzel, a student coordinator for the week of programming, the audience’s reaction was as impactful as the presentation itself. “The room was dead silent. I saw people looking at these images and being profoundly affected by what they were seeing.

“It could be therapeutic for survivors to let go of the words that could be haunting them,” Hanzel said. “It is a quiet way for them to say something that is loud for society.”

The presentation and discussion was followed by a reception and photo shoot, where Otterbein students could add their faces and voices to Project Unbreakable.

Hannah Ewald, a WGSS major who also helped organize the week’s events, thinks Project Unbreakable is a positive experience for its subjects. “It helps them feel empowered to live their daily lives and not let the assault keep them captive. It’s a freeing movement,” she said.

Project Unbreakable introduced a week of educational programming that included Campus Conversation on Consent by Team Consent; Violence Advocacy and Prevention in the LGBTQI Community by the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO); Domestic Abuse and the Care of Companion Animals by the Purple Lotus Project; and Men of One Billion Rising, a presentation and talk-back for men only. The programming expanded on last year’s two-day One Billion Rising campus event.

“Having a week-long conversation allowed the campus to be more prepared for One Billion Rising,” said Ewald. “People don’t connect with the Feb. 14 events as well without the other programs. Education on consent, prevention, how to console survivors—it teaches us that everyone has an important role.”

“This year we really wanted to focus on different audiences,” said Hanzel. “A lot of people didn’t feel they had the time to process the information they received and then get involved as it applies to them, in their own space.”

On Feb. 14, the official day of One Billion Rising, WGSS hosted Otterbein Rising, a dance mob and spoken word event, and Free Your Body, an open movement class with donations benefiting the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio.

Hanzel hopes that the conversation continues beyond this week. “Society makes us afraid to talk about sex or violence. It’s a scary topic. As students we’re all the same age, all having the same experiences. If we can talk in general conversation to each other, it will be easier to talk in formal situations to faculty and administrators,” Hanzel said.

Ewald would like to see the conversation expand for key groups, including men. “This is an Integrative Studies approved event, but I would like to see it become a requirement. We need to teach men about what is typically considered a women’s rights issue. They have a role in this movement and we need their voices,” Ewald said.

Hanzel and Ewald attribute the success of the event to their strong team of organizers, including students Kendall Coffman and Ben Willis, professors Tammy Birk and Suzanne Ashworth, and organizations Tri-Iota and Sisters in Leadership. Campus co-sponsors of the week’s events included FreeZone, Otterbein Animal Coalition and Men of Vision. Read more about One Billion Rising at Otterbein.