Hundreds march in anti-violence rally

By Dean Fiotto
On April 11, 2014

Cowbells rang in the afternoon sun as hundreds of advocates marched through campus holding signs, banners and flags. Their message was clear: help us put an end to the violence.

Organized each year by the Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP), the University of New Hampshire Anti-Violence Rally & Walk attracts an impressive crowd via fliers, formal invitations and word-of-mouth. For the fourth consecutive year, marchers gathered in front of DeMerritt Hall on Thursday afternoon to increase awareness of the sexual assault and violence that is present in the UNH community and around the world. 

"We're here today to provide advocacy," SHARPP Outreach Coordinator Maggie Wells said to the large crowd collected in preparation for the walk, "but also to increase support for our cause and to provide prevention to UNH students, staff and all victims. That's why SHARPP exists." 

Standing before the group, Student Body President Bryan Merrill added, "Four friends have confided in me during this school year alone." Merrill reported that many people close to him had been victimized and confided in him. 

Regardless, Merrill spoke optimistically about the future. 

"Hopefully one day nobody has to be confided in," he said.

Volunteers that were tabling around the crowd treated everyone to cold lemonade, cowbells, stickers and small pins that symbolize the White Ribbon Campaign. 

"We're trying to get at least 25 percent of all UNH men to take the pledge," SHARPP volunteer and UNH sophomore Ryan Grogan said about the campaign. "It's a promise that we will educate others about anti-violence and that we will directly intervene if necessary." 

Along with several student groups and sports teams, UNH Greek Life had a strong presence at the rally. Many fraternities and sororities wore their letters proudly.

"We're here to be a part of something bigger than us," Alpha Xi Delta sister Hannah Feneberg said. "This is such a great cause and we're excited to spread support."

Phi Mu Delta brother Thomas Stephen was in attendance for the second year.

"We're out here again to make a difference," Stephen said. "When almost 1,000 people gather in support of a cause, people notice, and that's how you change the world."

People certainly took notice as the group marched down College Road and Academic Way. Busses beeped and the crowd cheered, rattling their cowbells and chanting phrases like, "Consent is hot, assault is not!"

"Each year we get the message out faster and to a larger audience," Wells said. "... I'm pretty sure we broke 600 this year, and I want to see it get even bigger." 

Harrison, a therapy dog, wagged his tail in excitement.

"This is certainly where he feels most comfortable," said owner Maria Caplan of Pet Partners, an organization that tries to enrich peoples' lives through their love for animals. "He likes to be social and I like to support a great cause. We make a good team." 

It's not difficult to get involved with SHARPP and be an advocate against sexual assault and violence. "We run off of volunteers," Wells said. 

In order to educate a larger audience, Wells suggested a more active student body. Becoming a volunteer is painless and easy. 

"We're everywhere," she said. 

"Events like this one are small but important steps in changing awareness and culture on the UNH campus and in the world," Merrill said. "It is time we integrate the voices of the victims." 

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