Take Back the Night marches against sexual violence

GVL / Eric Coulter
Take Back the Night

Eric Coulter

GVL / Eric Coulter Take Back the Night

Megan Braxmaier

Wednesday night marked the ninth annual Take Back the Night march on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus, where students were encouraged and educated to stand against sexual violence.

The event was put on by Eyes Wide Open, a group that educates about sexual violence and how to stop it, as well as providing support for survivors of sexual trauma.

Xinyi Ou, a member of EWO, opened the event by sharing her own survival story of sexual abuse and how it could happen to anyone. Ou had tears in her eyes as the crowd, including guest of honor Staceyann Chin, applauded her strength to get up in front of all of those students and share her emotional past when she exited the stage.

“Just being able to say it is all somebody needs for validation,” Chin said.

Chin is the author of the memoir, “The Other Side of Paradise,” as well as a co-writer and original performer in the Tony-Award-winning Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway. Chin was also the recipient of the Power of the Voice Award from the Human Rights Campaign in 2007, the Safe Haven Award from Immigration Equality and the Honors from the Lesbian AIDS Project in 2008 and The New York State Senate Award in 2009. Her voice was also featured on Oprah.

Chin spoke to students about her experiences growing up in Jamaica, her experiences with sexual trauma and the consequences of coming out as a lesbian on the island.

After researching many activists and survivors, EWO chose Chin to come to Grand Valley because of how open and relatable she was. Chin proudly identifies as Caribbean, Black, Asian and lesbian.

“We chose her because she is relatable, she can speak to a wide spectrum on campus,” said David Hayes, co-chair for the event. “Sexual violence is not just a white issue, it’s everyone’s issue. Our goal was to bring all voices together.”

“Some people can’t handle a woman on the loose,” Chin said in one of her readings.

She explained to the students that a way that she stays strong through out everything that life throws at her is to simply have a good support system and form strong friendships.
“Sometimes a survivor is so caught up with the tragedy we forget we can love again,” Chin said. “There is life after sexual trauma.”

Chin shared many stories from her memoir such as the night she was conceived (a combination of facts gathered from both her mother and father), an account of the first time she was molested by her cousin and stories of how she was treated after she came out as a lesbian in Jamaica.

Chin also spoke about how one should react when they are unsure about the concept of consent.

“There are a hundred ways to ask,” Chin said. “You can even make it sexy. Consent is sexy.”

She read the stories aloud while walking through the isles and among the students to create a more intimate and powerful environment. She even encouraged the students to interact back with her.

Chin’s poetry has been heard off-Broadway and all over the world. She ended her presentation by reciting two poems that she holds dear to her heart as she cried out not once but three times.

“What happened to me is not my fault,” Chin said.

To these words the audience rose for a standing ovation, the air filled with whistles and words of encouragement for Chin, who stayed after the speech to sign copies of her memoir and speak with the students.

Her memoir is available for purchase at the University Bookstore for those interested in reading her story. Shortly after, students were encouraged to grab signs, whistles and pins and join the members of EWO for a Take Back the Night march around campus.

Eyes Wide Open meets every Monday at 9 p.m. in Kirkhof room 2201. For more information on Eyes Wide Open, email [email protected].

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