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Sunday, September 26, 2021
Photo of students wearing denim for sexual assault awareness.

‘The first step is listening’: PAVE hosts Denim Day in support of survivors of sexual assault

Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment, the Panhellenic Association and the Interfraternity Council co-sponsored a march Wednesday in protest of sexual assault and in support of survivors. 

The “Take Back the Night March” made its path down Langdon Street, the home to many fraternity and sorority houses on campus, before turning towards the capitol where students heard from several survivors of sexual assault. 

The march took place on Denim Day, the third Wednesday of April when people globally wear denim to show support and empower survivors of sexual assault. The march took on a similar approach and was survivor-centered, said PAVE-UW Chair Eli Tsarovsky. 

The number of students who attended the march far surpassed what PAVE had expected, said Tsarovsky. 

“I was looking back and I was like ‘Am I dreaming?’” Tsarovsky said. “I did not realize that people would show out like this. I really speechless at this point, that was probably the coolest thing I've ever done in my life.”

While student-led marches and protests usually walk down State Street, the Denim Day March instead walked down Langdon, where the majority of PHA and IFC chapter houses are located. It was important for PHA and IFC to be involved in the march because of the prevalence of sexual assault in their communities, said PHA VP of External Affairs Caitlin Geurts.

Students were surprised, not just by the number of march attendees, but by the number of men who came to the march to show their support. 

“I'm really happy they showed up, because they too understand this is a problem in our community and are here to support us, and they're here to change it — it's awesome,” Geurts said. 

IFC was motivated to join the march with PAVE as a way of taking ownership of and starting conversations about sexual assault, said IFC President Liam McLean. 

“The receptiveness was the greatest part because, at the end of the day, the most important thing was for people to listen, to hear and to get introspective with themselves,” McLean said. 

Clad in denim, students marched to the capitol to hear survivors of sexual assault share their experiences. “The first step is listening,” McLean said before handing the megaphone over.

“We live in a college environment and to say that there isn't a rape culture on a college campus is kind of crazy,” said sophomore Benji Gelfend. “There [are] definitely bad things that go on here and I think a lot of people are scared to talk about it. And I think fear is definitely not the answer. The answer is coming together and going against it together because otherwise, we won't be able to do anything.”

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The march closed out a month-long event calendar that PAVE put together for Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. 

“I hope this builds a lot of momentum for seeing change on campus,” Tsarovsky said. “We need to do more to heal this community and really help people because it's a public health crisis on campus and in our country.” 

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