Flickering in the glow of candles, students stepped forward to share the anonymous testimonials of sexual assault survivors. Sophomore Cason Whitcomb stood in the crowd, listening to the stories of triumph and struggle.
“The lighting of candles is very visually impactful and the fact that some of the speakers also lit candles that have gone out is beautiful,” Whitcomb said. “It feels supportive when you’re sitting there.”
Project Dinah transformed the Pit into a safe space for allies and survivors of sexual assault during its annual event “Speak Out! Against Sexual and Interpersonal Violence.”
“It’s funny — you’re in the middle of campus, completely exposed, but you feel as though you’re in a safe space,” Whitcomb said.
Project Dinah was founded in 2004 and seeks to end sexual violence by raising awareness in the UNC community. As the kick off for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the event brought pressing issues to the heart of campus for all to see.
“Having it in a public space gives people all the freedoms,” said Maddy Frumkin, co-chairwoman of Project Dinah.
“If someone wouldn’t necessarily seek this experience out, they can still be a part of it; it also allows survivors seeking support to not feel like they’re singling themselves out by coming because everybody goes to the Pit.”
To ensure that passersby were warned of the sensitive content, people stood at each corner of the Pit with signs that read, “Trigger warning: Sharing stories about sexual assault. Ask me for an alternate route.”
“It’s heavy and you have to be prepared for that when you’re coming in,” Esther Davis, the chairwoman for the event, said.
Whitcomb said the anonymous stories were an effective way of encouraging empathy.
“People can take from it what they need to take from it,” she said. “Just like the person who shared the story shared what they needed to share.”
Former chairwoman of Project Dinah and five-time attendee of “Speak Out!” Alban Foulser said the event created a necessary local discussion.
“Even though I knew the stories were those of UNC students, I still was shocked to hear someone say ‘UNC’ in their testimonial and mention all these places that I had been on campus,” she said.
Although the awareness of sexual assault on college campuses has expanded with increasing media coverage, the issue is far from resolved.
“Hearing these stories lets people know it’s an ongoing issue and reminds you that there are real people being affected by this real problem that we can do something about,” Davis said. “It didn’t just end miraculously just because some officials started talking about sexual assault and interpersonal violence.”
Whitcomb ultimately saw the event as having a profound impact on creating further discussion about an important topic that’s often difficult to talk about.
“How can you argue with someone who’s standing there and saying ‘This happened to me?’ What more do you need?” she said.