More than 30 Penn students walked in the March to End Rape Culture on Saturday, joining protesters from across the city to draw attention to fighting sexual violence.
The number of Penn students who attended the event increased by about 10 people from last year, said Isabella Auchus, College senior and chair of Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention.
Led by ASAP, attendees walked from the Penn Women’s Center to Thomas Paine Plaza , where they joined up with hundreds of other Philadelphians who were holding up signs that said “Violence breeds on silence” and “Sleeping next to you doesn’t equal consent.”
Even though it was an overcast day with temperatures dropping to 60 degreesin the morning, the plaza was filled with students, adults and families writing up signs, dancing to music and sharing the food provided at the event.
“It’s cold, and it’s a Saturday morning, but showing up shows that this topic matters to us,” College junior Sarah Figgatt said.
Other attendees from Penn included College senior Syra Ortiz-Blanes, one of the students who distributed the OZ email flyers around campus two weeks ago and College sophomore Abby McGuckin who helped to mobilize over 900 members of all-female groups to sign a joint statement against “all complicit in rape culture.”
Ortiz-Blanes and McGuckin attended the march because they wanted to support ASAP and better acquaint themselves with the work of other groups on campus who have been campaigning to stop rape culture, they said.
The two also wanted to show solidarity with the people of Philadelphia — a sentiment shared by College senior and ASAP member Julia Slater.
“[Rape culture] is an issue on college campuses, but it’s important to remember that it’s not just an issue on college campuses,” Slater said.
Also in attendance were seven brothers from Sigma Nu. Members of the fraternity had also previously attended ASAP’s event Take Back The Night.
“Fighting against rape culture is something our fraternity feels very strongly about,” Sigma Nu President and Engineering junior William Archer said. “We’ve been looking for a way to make a more public stance about this, and we thought this march was a good way for us to support the people trying to make a change.”
When the Penn delegation arrived at the plaza around 11:20 a.m., a man who had last week to spread homophobic messages was preaching to attendees on their “sins.” Identifying himself as “Pastor Aden of South Philadelphia,” he held up a sign that said “homosexuals,” “fornicators” and “effeminates” would “Go to hell.”
Attendees responded by blocking this man with their own signs and chanting “This is what rape culture looks like,” echoing the statements that were stamped on the OZ email flyers.
Chair of Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault and College senior Sam Summer was among those who blocked Aden from view by standing in front of him. Summer, who said he has attended this event since his freshman year, said this was the first time that a protester had tried to disrupt the march.
Around noon, Aden was escorted away, and organizers refocused attendees’ attention back to the event stage. A series of speakers shared their stories to rally the crowd, including poet Zahre Bell, who talked about the intersections of race and gender to loud applause.
At 12:30 p.m., the crowd moved out of the plaza on to 15th Street, making a loop around Rittenhouse Square where shop owners and restaurant patrons raised their fists in solidarity. As marchers turned into Philadelphia’s Gayborhood, entire bars emptied out to join the chants of “My body, my choice.”
Grace Palladino, a teacher at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, attended the march and said she recently discussed the OZ email flyer incident with her students.
“That email worries me as a high school teacher,” Palladino said. “It worries me about recommending my female students apply to and work hard to be accepted at places like Penn when that’s the way that they are going to be welcomed.”
She added, however, that she was happy with the way that students and the administration reacted and was pleased to see Penn students at the event.
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