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SlutWalk at CMU protests sexual assault, rape culture


Students march during the Organization of Women Leaders' Slutwalk 2018 on CMU's campus on April 22.

The Organization of Women Leaders (OWLs) gathered April 22 outside the Bovee University Center, applying glitter to their hair and faces and selling T-shirts that read "my clothes are not my consent".

Nearly 200 people participated in the 2018 SlutWalk at Central Michigan University, which was organized by OWLs. 

SlutWalk is an opportunity for students, staff and community members to stand up against victim blaming, street harassment and rape culture, said OWLs president and Wyandotte junior Ashleigh Laho. The event also provides a space for survivors to feel empowered and share their experiences.

"I think events like this are necessary because despite all of the events happening, victim blaming still takes place, these things that we're protesting, still take place," Laho said. "I think that these events are important to say 'Hey we are here and we're not going to stand for this.' We're not going to just sit by quietly while all this goes on, on our campus especially."

Laho said OWLs hopes to shift attitudes and create a space for conversation about sexual assault. She said excuses don't matter but that people need to focus on consent.

Posters in the crowd read, "We shouldn't be afraid to walk home at night", "Watch your thoughts, not our clothes", "Abolish rape culture", and more.

Sterling Heights junior Linda Gjonaj said the SlutWalk was her first protest and she felt the event was a good way to empower women and demonstrate that girls can come together and not tear each other apart. 

"With the society we live in, we need to know that there are girls here for you," Gjonaj said.

Grand Blanc junior and OWLs member Cayla Rimmel said the SlutWalk helps survivors on campus understand they are not alone and there is support at Central Michigan University. 

"I have such a great appreciation for OWLs and the activism that they pursue," Rimmel said. 

During the walk, the group shouted chants to the rest of campus. Some of the phrases included, "Stop slut shaming, stop victim blaming", "Tell me what a feminist looks like. This is what a feminist looks like," and "Whose campus? Our Campus."

The crowd walked from the UC through campus and circled back to the UC. After the march, participants went upstairs to the auditorium for the speaker portion of the event. 

OWL members and people from the audience were then given the opportunity to get on stage to share their personal feelings and experiences. 

One speaker was Society of Professional Journalists member and Rockford junior Samantha Cuneo. She spoke about SPJ's recent Freedom of Information Act audit. 

Several months ago, SPJ had requested incident reports relating to sexual assault, harassment and violence from all schools in the Mid-American Conference. CMU was the only school to deny SPJ's request, claiming the documents were of a personal nature and had potential to reveal "embarrassing and intimate details."

"This is not a time for embarrassment, it's a time for empowerment," Cuneo said.