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Clarion University Students Find Message in New Orleans

Originally published in:
Clarion University News

What started out as “An Evening with Eve” turned into a weekend with Eve for students from Clarion University.

In February, Eve Ensler, author of the award-winning "The Vagina Monologues," made Clarion University one of the stops on her college tour promoting the 10th anniversary of VDay, a movement to end violence against women and children. During her appearance, Ensler invited everyone to participate in “V to the 10th – SUPERLOVE,” the 10th Anniversary of VDay, international event in April at the Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, LA.

Twenty-one students, along with Dr. Deborah Burghardt, director of Women’s Studies at Clarion University, made the trip. Nineteen sponsors, including the Student Senate, Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA), Women United, Minority Student Services, EOP/Act 101, Student & University Affairs, Clarion and Venango Campuses, Cass Neely, Esq., Dr. Bob Girvan, Dr. Anne Day, Kay King, Office of Social Equity, “An Evening with Eve” donations, Women’s Studies Program, Edna R. Brown Women’s Programs Fund, Psychology Department, Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, Presidential Commission on Affirmative Active, and Presidential Commission on Human Relations made the trip possible.

Burghardt described the event, “Eve Ensler’s ability to inspire and mobilize is phenomenal. The students talked to survivors of Hurricane Katrina, 1,200 of whom were honored and brought back to their home for the first time during this event. Students attended multiple panel sessions with activists from all over the world and the benefit performance of “The Vagina Monologues” with 30,000 people, an event that raised $700,000; and they attended the world premiere of “Swimming Upstream,” a collaboration between Ensler and New Orleans artist document stories of life during and after Katrina.”

Clarion’s students also provided over 50 hours of volunteer service while in New Orleans, with Planned Parenthood Association of Pennsylvania. The organization has an ongoing effort to obtain one million signatures on a petition to Congress to lower the cost of birth control and health care for women nationwide.

“I feel that by assisting the Planned Parenthood Organization, that I have made my small voice loud and heard,” said Amanda Stockhausen. “As I collected these signatures I listened to stories of heartache and pain from women who lost their loved ones in the storms because they could not afford the healthcare needed to treat their injuries. I listened to women who are living in the streets with children they cannot provide for and to women who have lost their daughters to prostitution since it was the only way to raise money. It is the 21st century, but there are still women being killed and mutilated every day. This reality truly bothered me and I wondered how we can all sit back and allow this sick torture to take place around us. I am no longer willing to let the world pass me by. I feel the need to actually stand up and do something!”

Other students found healing by standing in solidarity with survivors.

Ylynne Baskerville said, “I was not surprised when at the end of “The Vagina Monologues” performance, Eve Ensler asked all of the women who were abused to stand. I watched as hundreds and thousands of women stood unafraid and unmoved. I stood with them. Violence against women is a war to be recognized, as well as, a war to be won. I did not attend V-Day for a free trip, I attended V-Day for my sisters, my mother, my grandmother, the silenced woman across the street, the woman I see with black eyes and large glasses, my daughters and sons, my aunts and cousins, the girls enduring genocide. I did this because they need a voice, and Eve answered.”

“I was lucky enough to be asked to help back stage and the women I met were so inspiring to me,” said Stacey Duran. “Being a victim of abuse myself, I was able to connect with the women who spoke and to hear all of their motivating advice has helped me to better deal with moving on from my past. This was an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life and when times get hard, I will be able to look back on my experience and the advice I received and I will be able to grow into a stronger person because of it.”

Another abuse victim, Kelli Grill, said, “As a victim of abuse, it was a healing process for me to be able to surround myself with other women who had been in the same situation. We laughed, cried and told our stories in this unprecedented gathering. I feel that this experience has changed me and made me a stronger woman. Now I want to move forward with my life as I strive to make a difference in the lives of other individuals, as well as, the world at large.

Summing up, Emily D’Itri said, “I learned so much about the violence occurring against women in the global community. I want to be part of the solution to this terrible problem. Attending V Day’s SUPERLOVE event helped me to further myself as a woman of strength.

The reality of Hurricane Katrina made an impression on many students.

“Before actually going to New Orleans, I really had no idea what happened when Katrina hit, other than what I saw in the news,” said Elizabeth Strasbaugh. “But during the premiere of “Swimming Upstream,” I realized that our government pretty much forgot about the people of New Orleans and that there was still a lot of work to be done in the areas that were most affected. Actors, women from other countries, and Eve Ensler performed “The Vagina Monologues” and there was not a dry eye in the house; not for sadness but for longing to change the world.”

Kelly Surgalski was impressed by the survivors and said, “The Conference was full of strong women who fought through and survived the devastation of Katrina. I met a lot of these women and heard their experiences. Being in New Orleans really changes the way I see cities fighting to come back after tough times.”

“During this event, I had the honor of meeting a couple of girls around my age that are survivors of rape and of Katrina,” said Lacy Lichvar. “One of them told me about how she suffers from guilt because she survived the hurricane and was able to get her life back on track while some of her friends and their families are still working to rebuild their lives and homes. She told me lower income folks, especially single mothers, are taken advantage of by contractors, who purposely rebuild homes improperly. I left New Orleans with a feeling of love, peace, and an increased desire to create change.”

Leigh Wenerick saw it this way. “I saw the stories of the women of New Orleans, not the media’s perspective. I saw women rise up and make change – a change that is so desperately needed in our world. When I saw all of this I realized that even though I have lived a life that one would not call enjoyable, and even to this day, I struggle – those women made me realize that I am lucky to be alive, breathing with food, shelter and water.”

All of them brought back hope for change.

“I give thanks to everyone who played a part in helping me capture the great experience of thousands of people coming together to share love through their struggles and hardship, through love and laughter, through all in all just being able to see another day, breathe another breath, just say,” I made it” or “I can make it” . . .” said Sade Criswell. “I have come back rejuvenated and ready to stand up and fight for what is right, and to represent and help others through love and strength.”

“I am honored to be the only guy from Clarion to go on this amazing trip,” said B. J. Haynes. “Being from New Orleans, it was amazing to go back and see just how far the city has come since Hurricane Katrina. I was in New Orleans just after the hurricane and saw the damage, the devastation, and the heartache it caused. I was almost constantly in tears. The weekend, celebrated not only the VDay, but the amazing and unbeatable spirit of the women who survived Hurricane Katrina. From the moment I walked into the Superdome, I could feel this overwhelming sense of love and camaraderie. It was amazing to have so many people under one roof who were all supporting the same causes. What a feeling.”

“Being able to be around so many women, who have like minds, was very encouraging,” said Kristen Colford. “I am new to the idea of women changing the world, but being at this event has shown me that it is possible, even if there happens to be obstacles in the way. Seeing “The Vagina Monologues” for the first time in New Orleans was extremely powerful. There were so many words spoken during this event that seemed to speak to me and I hold them close to my heart! I hope that one day I am able to come back and tell how this event started a movement in me and exactly what has come about as a result.”

“As a mother and full-time student I found the seminars to be very empowering; I came back home with a refreshed mind and a strengthened spirit,” said Erin Wincek. “I found that I was able to step back from the current stresses of my everyday life and reevaluate what is important in life by learning about the plights of women throughout the world.”

“Having been to V to the 10th - SUPERLOVE, I can see what a huge impact can be had on the lives of women simply by coming together when called forth,” said Tracy Milchick. “Rarely did I see someone who wasn’t volunteering for a cause, and I’m talking about being in a giant dome with thousands of women. I am not lying when I say that I really am a different person for having gone. I was able to discover parts of me that I didn’t know I had, and I realized exactly what I can do to help others in their hour of need.”

“To have had the opportunity to be in the presence of so many amazing women and men who are working to change the way women and girls are being treated around the world was a fantastic feeling,” said Sao Duwana. “I loved being in the city of New Orleans. Its culture somewhat reminded me of my culture back home in Liberia, Africa, where people love to celebrate and be happy. I think New Orleans was the best place to have this event, because I think it helped give the people of New Orleans hope and our being there let them know they were not alone.”

“A simple thank-you cannot express the monumental inspiration I received from the whole trip,” said Mariah Yancey. “For me, being there brought the whole situation of Hurricane Katrina to reality, rather than it just being a news report. Being a part of VDay targets the end of violence against women and girls. The effort behind this movement is to “change the story of women and girls” forever.”

Second time New Orleans visitor Brittany Concilius had this perspective, “I was given the opportunity to also visit New Orleans in December. During my stay, I saw all of the devastation that still faces that area first hand. I was unsure what I could do to help but I was desperate to change that. By being involved in Superlove, I really feel as though I’ve sent positive ripples into an area that is in so much pain.”

“I know each and every one of the women, and our one guy, are grateful and enjoyed the event greatly,” said Ashley Johnson. “We also enjoyed the opportunity to explore a beautiful city with rich culture and history. We were a part of the healing process of the Hurricane Katrina victims, and we were a part of history. But, the thing that meant the most to me was meeting a woman my age, who was a victim of incest and a victim of the hurricane. I listened to her story and was able to ask questions and really gain some insight into what happened.”

The Clarion University students attending included:

Ylynne Baskerville, freshman sociology major, a daughter of Cheryl Waters-Baskerville of Harrisburg and a graduate of Susquehanna Township High School.

Kristen Colford, a sophomore associate of arts and science major, a daughter of Dale Colford of Oil City and a graduate of Central High School.

Brittany Concilus, a junior secondary education/English major, from Pittsburgh and a graduate of Baldwin High School.

Sade Criswell, a junior rehabilitative science major, a daughter of Pauline Criswell of Pittsburgh and a graduate of Brashear High School.

Emily D’Itri, a freshmen secondary education/English major, a daughter of Dominic and Ruth D’Itri of Midland and a graduate of Western Beaver High School.

Valerie Dixon, a senior accounting major, a daughter of Debbie Dixon of Stump Creek and a graduate of Punxsutawney Area High School.

Stacey Duran, a junior library science major, a daughter of Brenda Duran of Kulpmont and a graduate of Mt Carmel Area High School.

Sao Duwana, a sophomore elementary education major, a daughter of Francis Duwana of Philadelphia and a graduate of Randolph Area Voc-Tech High School.

Gretchen Gallagher, a junior English major, a daughter of Joseph and Geraldine Gallagher of Erie and a graduate of Mercyhurst Preparatory High School.

Kelly Grill, a junior art major, a daughter of Elizabeth Grill of Reynoldsville and a graduate of Central Catholic High School.

B. J. Haynes, a sophomore international business major, a son of Mindy Myers of Ford City and a graduate of Kittanning High School.

Ashley Johnson, a graduate student seeking a degree in rehabilitative science, a daughter of Anna Johnson of Everett and a graduate of Everett High School.

Lacy Lichvar, a senior library science major, a daughter of Susan Dibert of Clearville and a graduate of Everett Area High School.

Tracey Milchick, a sophomore psychology major, a daughter of Shirley Milchick of Salem, Ohio, and a graduate of Salem High School.

Bonita Mullen, a sophomore library science major, a daughter of Evelyn Browning of Wilmington and a graduate of Newark High School.

Liz Strasbaugh, a sophomore management major, a daughter of Betsy Perrucci of Pittsburgh and a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School.

Amanda Stockhausen, a freshmen early childhood education major, a daughter of Chris and Fran Stockhausen of Pittsburgh and a graduate of Baldwin High School.

Kelly Surgalski, a junior environmental biology major, a daughter of Jeannie Surgalski of Butler and a graduate of Butler Area High School.

Leigh Wenerick, a freshmen library science major, a daughter of Sarah Mazan of Mechanicsburg and a graduate of Scotland School Veterans Child.

Erin Wincek, a junior liberal studies major, a daughter of Joseph Wanninger of Pittsburgh and a graduate of North Hills High School.

MariahYancey, a junior English/Spanish major, a daughter of Robyn Yancey of Harrisburg and a graduate of Susquehanna Township High School.