By Marckincia Jean
On Feb. 13, John Jay College students gathered to perform a dance routine for One Billion Rising For Justice, a campaign aimed at combating violence against women worldwide.
One Billion Rising is an international campaign in 207 countries that advocates for justice in issues pertaining to violence against women. According to their website, onebillionrising.org, Feb. 14 has been referred to as V-Day since 1998, and addresses that 1 in 3 women, or one billion women worldwide, will be raped or beaten during her lifetime.
The song “Break the Chain” is the theme song of the One Billion Rising global organization. Tena Clark wrote and performed it, and Debbie Allen choreographed the dance routine.
The song is fast paced and intense, and the dancers learned and rehearsed the routine by watching the “Break the Chain” YouTube video projected onto a screen in John Jay’s Black Box Theater. The dancers further rehearsed the routine at home or during their spare time.
Every student dancer was actively engaged, confident after many rehearsals and wore white John Jay College t-shirts. Thirteen dancers, all women comprised of ten students and three professors. There were only a handful of audience members, and every one of the participants were present despite the snowstorm that day.
The dance routine illustrates women’s determination to reclaim her body and resist confinement. “No more rape, incest or abuse. Women are not a possession” is a lyric that sums up the song well.
Gabrielle Salfati, a graduate Forensic Psychology professor at John Jay, not only specializes in the study of violence against women, but she also trains police officers, equipping them with methods and strategies that lead to quicker arrests.
Through her work, Salfati educates students about violence against women, while at the same time enabling police officers to better protect victims from their perpetrators.
The One Billion Rising campaign has built their foundation on these two main principles of education and activism.
The campaign empowers women and men to rid themselves of shame and humiliation by sharing their personal stories of survival. They also seek to have legislation passed that tackles issues of discrimination and inequality while protecting the victims and prosecuting the perpetrators.
Through dance, worship and protest, victims and families demand justice and assert a sense of safety in both private and public sectors. On Feb. 14, groups of people all over the world gathered in their communities to rehearse and perform a specific dance routine.
Professor Salfati seeks to “make students passionate about justice and advocating for justice.” She wants to ensure that students do not simply seek to reform the criminal justice system, but also “make sure that the system works well and make sure that people are safe.”
“Education opens up dialogue, gives people permission to talk about sensitive and important issues in a safe environment,” she added.
“Real education happens when you share ideas,” said Salfati. She emphasized that professors should help students practice what they have learned.
Salfati said the researching and actual event planning was difficult, but since it was an event organized by students, professors were even more encouraged to follow through with it.
“But it was worth it,” Salfati said. She would like to “make people aware, en- gaged and committed” to this cause.
Professor Elizabeth Hovey helped organize this event after attending The Vagina Monologues in the spring of 2012 and, from then on, she wanted to hold such an event on Valentine’s Day. According to the NYU Law website, The Vagina Monologues is a theatrical production based on a book that exposes issues pertaining to women, self-esteem, and oppression.
The Vagina Monologues is also an organization that provides financial aid and ongoing resources to women and men who are subjected to poverty and violence.
Hovey emphasized that, “Power only gets limited when people stand up to its abuse.”
Hovey said that the event was held at John Jay on Feb. 13, because most students do not have Friday classes, and many of them will not attend the public performances in the Hammerstein Ballroom, Grand Central and Times Square.
Nassima Ouaaz, a junior at John Jay College, said, “Dancing is used for political action and activism. For it to hit policy, it first has to capture the attention of the public.”
Ouaaz has previous dance experience. “Dance is one of my forms of catharsis,” Ouaaz said. “I dance to let loose, to let go of my oppression.”
“People are triggered by dance,” she added. She went on to say that there must be an emotional connection between the song, the dancers, and the audience.
The dancers, having backgrounds from all over the world, came to represent their country as well.
Marina Sorochinski, a John Jay College graduate student pursuing a PhD in psychology and law, said via email, “I think seeing millions of other women stand and dance side by side may help some victims.”
She went on to say, “Giving them power and will to fight against the abuse and violence can help them understand that they are not alone. It may, and I hope it will, empower some of the victims to seek help and seek justice for themselves and others, and stop the cycle of violence.”
A sophmore at John Jay, Marlen Ayala said, “I was afraid at first, but it made me feel confident to know that I am doing this for a good cause.”
Eve Ensler, the actor, playwright and activist who started One Billion Rising For Justice and V-Day spoke at John Jay on Jan. 27. She encourages dance as a means of expression due to its boundless nature.
Ensler said we need to share the stage for all of our causes. “Part of what, I dream, happens,” Ensler said in her lecture, “is that we all begin hooking up our stories.”
She has problems with this country’s training. “If you’ve gotten yourself through the door, good. You’re done,” Ensler said.“But that’s not the truth. The truth is, until we all get through the door, we’re not done.”