By: Hazel Alvarez, Staff Reporter
It was a somber atmosphere at the chapel that night, with the lights dimmed and people slowly pouring in. One by one, we all took our seats, some of us talking to one another briefly, asking each others day, smiles and laughter enveloping us. There was even pizza. If I didn’t know any better, this was an event like any other.
Gradually, Professor Knorr took the podium, and thanked all of us for coming to #WeBelieveYou, and I’m reminded that this was not just any other event. It’s a huge step towards a brighter future.
Original composition of students and compositions of poet survivors were read (at bottom). One by one, students got up, lit a candle, and spoke out. Each one unique, leaving me vulnerable, yet empowered. I lost track of time and only the dripping wax of the candle reminded me how long we’d been together. In this moment of time and space, we have created our own world, safe from outside forces, and safe to speak out.
The open mike surprised me the most. It was a chance for people to speak out, but unlike the student-led readings, these poems weren’t planned. So many who got up, didn’t think they would get up, or that they decided not to read, but after a student who said her voice enabled her loved ones to speak out as well, these people decided to speak out, too, hoping to enable other’s voices. These voices are from people who’s loved ones are affected, people who have gone years repressing their trauma and emotions, people who have felt shame, people who are sick and tired of having heard these stories just to get across to people who dismisses sexual assault time and time again. No matter their background - age, race, gender & sexual orientation - the space welcomed them. It’s startling how this continues to keep happening, and how many people I know have been affected by sexual violence. Just by speaking out, these people have turned a mere number statistic into real faces and real stories, each unique and yet eerily the same. These powerful voices are just the beginning.
The closing reading was from Halsey’s performance during the Women’s March:
It's 2018 and I've realized nobody is safe long as she is alive
And every friend that I know has a story like mine
And the world tells me we should take it as a compliment
But then heroes like Ashley and Simone and Gabby, McKayla and Gaga, Rosario, Aly
Remind me this is the beginning, it is not the finale
And that's why we're here
And that's why we rally
It's Olympians and a medical resident and not one fucking word from the man who is President
It's about closed doors and secrets and legs and stilettos from the Hollywood hills to the projects in ghettos
When babies are ripped from the arms of teen mothers and child brides cry globally under the covers
Who don't have a voice on the magazine covers
They tell us take cover
But we are not free until all of us are free
So love your neighbor, please treat her kindly
Ask her story and then shut up and listen
Black, Asian, poor, wealthy, trans, cis, Muslim, Christian
Listen, listen and then yell at the top of your lungs
Be a voice for all those who have prisoner tongues
For the people who had to grow up way too young
There is work to be done
There are songs to be sung
Lord knows there's a war to be won
This was for the people who have yet to find their own voice.
If I’m honest, I didn’t originally want to go for personal reasons, but by the end, I am blessed to have gone and stayed throughout the entire event. It was emotional and empowering to hear the voices of strong women sharing their most vulnerable stories. In this space, people welcomed, and supported. These horrific events that have happened too often in the past and will continue to if events such as #WeBelieveYou movement doesn’t exist, if we don’t stand up together, if we don’t hold each other in strength, if we don’t pay attention. This is only the first step of many; we still have a long way to go. However, the fact that we are taking the first few steps shows that there is change happening, and it’s better now than never.