Last Thursday night, UTM Student Housing and Residence Life, in collaboration with the Centre for Student Engagement and the Diversity Task Force, held their annual Light the Night event to raise awareness about power-based violence. Participants carried lanterns and signs as they journeyed silently from Roy Ivor Hall, into the neighbouring streets of the community.
Meredith Dodds, a program assistant at UTM SHRL and a fourth-year specialist in exceptionality and human learning, explained to The Medium: “Light the Night is an event we’ve been holding in residence for a long time to raise awareness about power-based violence—whatever power-based violence looks like to anyone in their context, a lot of times, it’s domestic-based violence. This year we’re going to walk through the community to say that this is something we’re not okay with. We’re going to take a stand against this and we’re going to share it with the Mississauga community.”
The event began with an icebreaker activity, organized by the Centre for Student Engagement, to foster communication among the participants. For the activity, each student wrote one question on a blank piece of paper. Then, CSE staff instructed the students to fold the sheet into a paper airplane and throw it into the air. Each student chose a random airplane, selected a partner, and began discussing the question. Questions ranged from introductory queries about education, family life, and personal history, to thought-provoking conversation starters such as, “What is one aspect of your identity that you are proud of?”
Following this opening activity, the event featured representatives from Interim Place and UTM’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre to educate students on the impacts of violence and the resources, both on and off campus, that are available for victims of abuse.
Julia Robinson, the development coordinator at Interim Place, and her colleague Mercy Gichuki, the public education and community collaboration coordinator, revealed that approximately half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one instance of physical or sexual violence in their life, and that up to 70% of female murder victims are killed by their male partners. Since the creation of Interim Place in 1981, this organization, housed at two locations with a total of 54 beds, has provided over 41,000 abused women and children with shelter, support, and protection. Gichuki concluded their presentation by reminding the audience that the most important support individuals can provide to victims is to simply believe them.
Paula Lam, the sexual violence prevention and response coordinator with the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre at UTM, explained that U of T’s new Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment policy allows the centre to provide students with services, such as assisting sexual violence survivors with academic, living, and medical accommodation.
The policy will also aid with reporting cases of abuse to Peel Police or Campus Police. Lam clarified that survivors of sexual violence are not just victims of sexual assault or rape, but can be anyone who experiences any sexual act— including physical, psychological, or cyber—that targets their sexuality or gender identity.
After the speakers, attendees created signs that read “End the Violence,” wore purple awareness ribbons to stand against domestic violence, and embarked on a silent candlelit walk around campus and the community. Once participants completed the walk, Campus Police provided refreshments at Roy Ivor Hall.
The Light the Night event ended with a collaborative creative activity and a moment of reflection. Individuals were invited to dip their hands in paint and leave their colourful hand print on a blank canvas to pledge that “their hands will not take part in the violence.”
Shanzey Ahmed, a fourth-year psychology and criminology major, and member of the CSE, hopes students will reflect on and remember what they’ve gained from the event. “It’s important to raise awareness because a lot of people suffer in silence. Unless we talk about these issues, they will get swept away. It’s important for people to feel comfortable about seeking help when things go wrong.”