GVSU students march to end victim blaming, rape culture

By Devin Dely | 4/8/18 11:12pm

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GVL / Devin Dely GVSU students participate in a "Slut Walk" on campus on Saturday April 7th, 2018.

Despite the chilly weather, Grand Valley State University students gathered on the Allendale Campus Saturday, April 7, and marched together for the Slut Walk, an event put on by GVSU’s It’s on Us as Lakers, a division of the national It's on Us campaign to end sexual assault. Event organizers Maddie Vervaeke and Michelle Roldan expressed their thoughts on the event’s significance and their hopes to make a difference on campus. 

“Basically, this is called an empowerment march,” Roldan said. “It kind of resembles a women’s march, but we’re calling it an empowerment march because this is not just a women’s issue. It happens to everyone, and I think that there’s such a stigma behind what you were wearing and (people claiming) that’s why you got sexually assaulted or raped. 

"We actually had an exhibit called ‘What Were You Wearing?’ and we collected Western Michigan data from a lot of universities and got anonymous data of what people were wearing when they were assaulted. When you look at the data, it’s jeans and a sweatshirt.” 

Vervaeke and Roldan have been involved with It's on Us as Lakers since it began, less than one full year ago. According to Vervaeke, this event is the first of its kind at GVSU and marks a big step in challenging rape culture on college campuses. 

“It’s important because a lot of us were not educated about sexual assault in general, or consent,” she said. “I know talking to a lot of my friends and my boyfriend as well, a lot of people were absolutely shocked going through the exhibit because they don’t understand. What you were wearing shouldn’t even be a question that’s asked of anyone. 

"This is really about letting those people know that we need to stop asking that question. To me, this is about having everyone’s voices be heard and educating our fellow Lakers and trying to change the climate on campus.” 

Students gathered in the Kirkhof Center to make signs, and some participants shared powerful poetry and personal accounts before the march began. As participants marched from the Cook Carillon Tower to North Campus and back again, they caught the attention of other passing students, a few of whom joined in.

However, the event attracted more than just GVSU students. Mariah Wheaton and Sarah Hughes have never attended GVSU but were nonetheless intrigued by the idea of the march. Hughes, who graduated from Ferris State University, said she and a friend saw an advertisement for the event at a coffee shop in downtown Grand Rapids and decided to come check it out. 

“We were just really interested by the cause,” Hughes said. “Obviously, these things affect us, but these kinds of causes also affect everyone else around us, so it should matter to everyone. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be interested in it.”

The original Slut Walk took place in Toronto, Canada, and was created in response to comments made by Toronto police officer Michael Sanguinetti. Speaking to a group of students at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, Sanguinetti made the comment that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” 

The outrage sparked by his comments inspired a protest, and organizers dubbed their march the “Slut Walk” in response to Sanguinetti’s words, encouraging women to come to the event dressed however they pleased. Emboldened by the protest in Toronto, organizers put together other walks in cities and campuses across the U.S., furthered by activists like model Amber Rose. 

Vervaeke and Roldan said they were satisfied with this year’s turnout considering the freezing weather, and that they expect this event to continue to grow in popularity at GVSU in the years to come. 

Wheaton said she hopes GVSU continues events like this until victim blaming is no longer a problem. 

“Until it’s not an issue, we need to stand up against it,” she said. 

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