By Daniel Molina and Cathy Goodyear
After the release of the documentary the Hunting Ground earlier this year, some Manhattan College students took a stand to fight sexual aggression.
The event, held in Smith Auditorium on Mar. 22, had around 100 assistants including faculty, staff and students from freshmen to seniors.
A tense ambiance surrounded the audience after a powerful introduction by Dr. Roksana Badruddaja.
“We are here to protest against sexual assault, sexual violence, and against devaluing the human beings,” she said in her speech.
After last year’s event to raise consciousness on these topics and the reaffirmation of Title IX throughout campus, some violence is still present in Manhattan College.
President O’Donnell also offered an opening statement, where he spoke about the Lasallian perspective.
“In a Lasallian institution there is no place for discrimination. Every human being is recognized as unique,” O’Donnell said. “And we say yes to educating and speaking; standing to support what is right.”
Then, after a round of applauses, the first guest speaker of the evening took the podium.
Cecilia Gentili, who gives conferences about the right of transgender people, spoke about the difficulties that not only margined groups of people suffer, but women from all around the world. Gentili, who came into the United States as an illegal immigrant, came to MC to give, clearly, one specific message.
“We have to stop the violence,” she said. “Twelve transgender women were murdered in the U.S. last year. And violence doesn’t always end up as a murder, a lot of the times it ends with sex. Sexual assault is an act of violence and can be perpetrated without any physical violence at all.”
Gentili continued, explaining statistics like 1 in 2 transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted in some point in their lives. At least 23% of the transgender population that have been murdered were killed by an intimate partner or friend.
“There is a high prevalence of sexual assault and rape starting before the age of 12. I experienced my first assault at age 6 by a neighbor. It created incredible feelings of guilt especially since a monster took advantage of a child who was confused about their sexuality making that my first experience of being a girl.”
Simple tasks like going to the doctor become incredibly hard when your transgender, Gentili said.
“By age 20, I had to choose between having a job or being a woman,” she said. “I started having sex to survive and make a living but people would threaten to turn me in, even the police would make me have sex with them.”
She ended her talk by explaining that healing is a long sometimes unachievable process.
“People ask me ‘have you become transgender because you were raped as a child?’ remarks like these propose the idea that rape/sexual assault and being transgender go hand in hand. Finding brothers and sisters in a community that went through the same struggle as me helped me realize that no body deserves this.”
“Ask! Ask, inform yourself about these topics,” she said in an interview after her speech. “If we demand and work for a change that is going to be done.”
After her talk, there was a short break where you could sign a contract stating you will always ask for consent and you understand that “No means no, not convince me.”
There was a large number portion of men who attended this event including fraternity members who all wanted to take a stand against sexual violence. Mark Schneider and Jimmy Foy were two of the guys who attended the discussion.
“I was moved when Cecilia talked about everything she went through and I was glad she found a community,” Schneider said. “I am here because I want to take a stand against rape culture.”
“I’m here because my friends encouraged me to come and I thought this was an important topic.” Foy continued with, “Cecilia had so many important things to say, it never crossed my mind about the difficulties a trans person would face with something we take for granted like going to the doctor. I really looked forward to the consensual body painting.”
The majority of the people who attended the event were woman including Samantha Roth who came to support her best friend who was reading a poem that evening.
“I think this is an important issue that needs to be up to the margins of society and it’s not its marginalized,” Roth said.
Then, the slam poetry group “Speak Like a Girl” took the stage for about an hour and a half to denounce that we live in a rape culture, and to talk about feminism in its various ways. From poems that talked about selfies, to others about how women are treated in the military, and finally about personal experiences concerning the dehumanization of the feminine body.
This event, like last year’s, finished with a march and vigil in honor of the victims of sexual assault throughout the campus, the country, and the world.
With this edition of Take Back the Night, MC reaffirms its position about these problems, but is it really going to make a change if less than 5 percent of the student body attended the event? A collective effort has to be made, and words be transformed to actions in order to change this rape culture we live in.
Isabelle Leyva wrote a poem and recited it at the event. Her poem protested rape culture and explains the value of women.
“The strongest thing I took back from the speaker the way she spoke about how race and gender identity intersect and how the victimization of trans woman of color is ignored in today’s society. Trans women of color are killed and abused and it is not discussed as much as it should be,” Leyva said. “I am going to be reciting my poem that I wrote my senior year of high school because I was protesting sexist regulations at my school. We held the protest in the dean’s office at my high school and when the feminist newsletter came out I decided to submit it.”