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Why PSU students and locals found a national cause worth rallying about

Joy Mitra, one of the founders of the women’s studies program at the University of Pittsburgh, holds a sign as she chants with the crowd gathered at the Allen Street Gates as part of the  national walkout in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018.
Joy Mitra, one of the founders of the women’s studies program at the University of Pittsburgh, holds a sign as she chants with the crowd gathered at the Allen Street Gates as part of the national walkout in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. adrey@centredaily.com

Three days before Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford was set to testify against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for allegedly sexually assaulting her at a party in 1982, a crowd of about 30 Penn State students, professors and locals gathered at the Allen Street Gates to voice support for sexual assault survivors and demand Kavanaugh’s nomination be revoked.

The rally was part of a national call to action by #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke, who announced via Twitter a “national walkout in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence” at 1 p.m. Monday and requested all survivors and supporters wear black.

Penn State Assistant Professor of Media Studies Michelle Rodino-Colocino, one of the State College event’s organizers, said she and other organizers put the rally together right after seeing Burke’s tweet on Monday.

Student organizer Sophia Braverman, Rodino-Colocino and others are in the process of creating a new organization called Time’s Up Penn State. You do not have to be affiliated with Penn State to join the group, said Rodino-Colocino.

“We want to be a hub for: what are your resources if you were to get sexually assaulted,” said Braverman.

A survivor of sexual violence herself, Braverman said she felt like she needed to get out and do something for herself and other survivors. She said her goal is to end “rape culture” at Penn State.

Several survivors told their stories at Monday’s rally, including candidate for state representative in the 171st Legislative District Erin McCracken of Millheim.

“I am a survivor, not only of domestic violence, but also of workplace harassment. ... It was at a Denny’s, because it happens everywhere,” she said.

McCracken said she was not surprised about the allegations against Kavanaugh, which now number two, as Kavanaugh’s Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez recently stepped forward in a New Yorker article and detailed an incident that happened at a college party. Sexual assault and its cover up are part of the culture of American politics that is traditionally run by old, white men, said McCracken.

“Part of what we need to do right now is to get more women elected. We have two women in Centre County running. ... This is the only way we make change,” she said. “We can’t stay on the outside; we have to vote, we have to get involved. And we have to make change at every single level of society, including our political infrastructure.”

Centre Hall resident and victims’ rights attorney Justine Andronici, also a survivor, emphasized the lack of support, backlash and sometimes outright hostility survivors get for speaking out about their trauma.

“So when I think about this question of, ‘Why don’t people disclose’ ... the only answer I have is: that’s not the question. The question is, how in the hell--given how hard it is--do people have the courage to do that, and why aren’t we supporting each and every one of them, as if they are our heroes, trying to save a justice system that was not designed to handle sexual assault?” she said.

Recent Penn State graduate Anthony J. Zarzycki, a field organizer with the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said he wanted to tell people why it’s important to end the culture of silence around sexual assault.

“For a lot of people, I don’t look like who they think about when they hear ‘survivor,’” he said. “For a lot of them, I look like the person who would’ve assaulted them. I’m a white guy and I have a position of power that’s above them.”

For him, the #MeToo movement needs to keep its momentum and match that with real solutions.

“If you don’t continuously reinforce it, it goes away,” he said. “This is something that you need to fight for every day; this is not something that’s going to solve itself.”

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