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Shenandoah U. battles violence against women

Amy Sarch, left, director of women studies at Shenandoah University, and Mariagracia Rivas Berger, right, 21, a senior at the school, lead the flash mob Friday afternoon at the Brandt Student Center. Rich Cooley/Daily

Shenandoah University student Elizabeth Britton, 21, dances during the flash mob. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Kim Walter

WINCHESTER -- If you were in Shenandoah University's Brandt Student Center on Friday afternoon, then you probably witnessed some dancing, singing and a lot of cheering.

More than 100 students and faculty members came together to participate in One Billion Rising, a global activist movement to end violence against women.

A five-minute song and dance was created to be shared around the world, as almost 200 countries participated Thursday and Friday in the movement. The name of the campaign comes from the staggering statistic that one in three women experience violence or rape in her lifetime, resulting in 1 billion women being impacted.

Participants practiced three times a week for three weeks leading up to the flash mob event, and it drew plenty of dancers as well as onlookers.

Amy Sarch, director of women's studies at SU, said after hosting the "Vagina Monologues" last year that the school community vowed to participate in the One Billion Rising campaign this year.

"This is one of those issues that people feel shameful talking about," she said. "The more women don't share their story, the more you give power to the perpetrator. So, we want to make SU a place where we can talk about it."

Sarch admitted that students continue to come forward and share their experience with violence, and while she can't offer advice, she said often times it helps just to listen.

In hearing from both women and men in her class, the "one billion" statistic doesn't surprise her.

"It makes me sad that the statistic supports what I already know. I've got 20 students in my class, and a third of them have come forward," she said. "To tell your story for the first time and shatter that silence is empowering."

Sarch said one disappointment comes from how women are perceived once they do speak out about their experience as a victim of violence.

"It's like suddenly they're a bitch or a feminist, which has a bad reputation for some reason," she said. "I mean, come on. If a woman speaks out she isn't bashing men."

Mariagracia Rivas Berger, 21, organized SU's participation in the One Billion Rising campaign, and worked closely with Sarch this year through an independent study.

The vocal performance major said she didn't realize her passion for the movement until she learned the associated statistics.

"We all know three women, and I've got close friends who have been affected ... it's disgusting," she said. "Especially the fact that it's such a taboo topic everywhere."

Rivas Berger said through her studies she learned the extremes of suppression of women, and that in some countries, if a woman does try to report a rape or violence, she is found at fault.

She said even here some of her good guy-friends don't want to be part of the conversation because they say it doesn't apply to them.

The senior admitted that the dance wasn't "perfect," but said that didn't matter.

"What matters is that we're here, and we're standing up," she said. "The dancing makes it even better, because it is a wonderful way to liberate and use your body in a positive way. I'm humbled and honored to have been a part of this."

Some male students and faculty members participated in the dance as well, including Miles Davis, the dean of SU's business school. He said men have to be a part of the solution in ending violence against women.

"Men are the largest perpetrators, so we've got to make it stop," he said. Davis said on a personal level, he feels close to the movement since he has daughters.

Davis said he hopes the campaign is taken seriously across campus, and isn't just taken as a "token gesture."

"Gestures have significance. That's why people protest," he said. "Revolutions have to start somewhere, and they start with people getting active. So on SU's campus, we've made a statement that, yes, we will fight to end violence against women."

President Tracy Fitzsimmons was also in on the dance -- though that's not what she thought of it as.

"I didn't even think of it as dancing, I thought of it as a form of local and global protest," she said.

Fitzsimmons has a long running tie to empowering women through her involvement with the Laurel Center and her studies in school. In dancing with students, she said it gave her "hope for the future generation."

Since she has a daughter, Fitzsimmons said she felt it was important to start the dialogue early on with her that there should be no tolerance for violence against women.

"You should not allow yourself to be treated with disrespect and violence, you should not be a witness to violence and say nothing, and you should not treat someone else in that way," she said. "It's not OK, it's just not."

To learn more about the One Billion Rising movement and watch a video of the song and dance, visit www.vday.org.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com


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