Women’s Center dances to stop sexual violence

GVL / Emily Frye 
Eyes Wide Open group members performing their flash mob routine in Kirkhof Center on Friday afternoon.

GVL / Emily Frye Eyes Wide Open group members performing their flash mob routine in Kirkhof Center on Friday afternoon.

Peter Chhum

Students walking through the doors of the Kirkhof Center at Grand Valley State University were met with a different sight on Friday. The usual group of students walking to class had been replaced by a flash mob.

At first glance, what appeared to many students as a spontaneous dance routine ended up delivering a powerful message.

“I just wanted to know what was going on. Out of nowhere I see a bunch of people just dancing around, so naturally I had to stop and see what was happening,” said GVSU student Domenic Curtis. “I saw a bunch of signs that said things like, ‘consent is sexy’ along with other statistics, and it became clear they were spreading a message about preventing rape and trying to get awareness out there. It was a really cool idea. It definitely got people’s attention.”

What students encountered was West Michigan Rises, an event that gathered community members and organizations together to raise awareness about sexual violence.

The campaign is a portion of the global movement called One Billion Rising. It’s a universal call to women survivors of sexual violence to break their silence, share their stories and raise awareness about the prevalence of domestic violence through dance, art and other forms of self-expression.

The West Michigan Rises team was comprised of the Center for Women in Transition, GVSU’s Eyes Wide Open, the Women’s Center, the Kent County Health Department and the YWCA West Central Michigan, among others.

“We want to interrupt business going on as usual to get the word out there,” said Abby Johnson, one of the event’s organizers. “People are here on campus. They’re going to grab a bite to eat, they’re walking to class, and we want to be out there for them to see. We need to be loud. We need to be out there and we need to be fierce in telling people that this happens here. We can’t be quiet. We’re celebrating survivors and celebrating people that are out there trying to make the world a better place.”

After three performances — two in the Kirkhof Center and another at the Connection — Lesley Coghill, the prevention coordinator at the Center for Women in Transition, was happy to see it finally all come together.

“I think it was really amazing to see the collaboration among all the different sponsors, organizations and students that put it on. It was very successful because so many community members found it to be so important to be here,” Coghill said. “It felt so good and so empowering to be surrounded by everyone in this unity of dancing and calling for action in this same way.”

More than just attracting attention, the dancing was used to capitalize on the effects it has for those watching as well as those participating.

“Dancing is such an uplifting and spiritually celebrating type of movement,” said Heather Winia, a movement science adjunct. “There’s negativity and there’s violence around the world, but also here on Grand Valley’s campus. The more we can bring awareness to it, the more we can talk about it and the more we can help to stop it.”

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