Jessica Greer Morris, executive director and co-founder of Girl Be Heard, a New York City-based theater group dedicated to raising awareness about sexual violence and other issues, will be the keynote speaker for “Take Back the Night” on Wednesday, Sept. 17, at Western Carolina University.
The presentation at 7 p.m. in the Grandroom of A.K. Hinds University Center is free and open to the public.
Morris was formerly director of community relations at the New York City Department of Health and community organizer for the New York City police department and Manhattan district attorney’s office. She founded Girl Be Heard to engage girls and young women to write and perform their personal stories on topics ranging from body image and sexual orientation to sex trafficking and sexual violence. The group has performed at the White House and the United Nations, and was recently on tour in Denmark, Switzerland and England.
“Take Back the Night” at WCU is part of a campuswide campaign, known as Red Zone, that encourages students, faculty and staff to be alert to improper dating behaviors and the dangers of sexual violence. The Red Zone refers to the period of time when students are most at risk of unwanted sexual experiences, usually during the first and second years of college. Departments and organizations across campus are sponsoring activities designed to help them protect themselves and others from sexual assault.
“Everyone has a right to relationships that are healthy and consensual,” said Sarah Carter, associate director of resource services in the Department of Intercultural Affairs. “Through ‘Take Back the Night’ and the ongoing Red Zone campaign, we hope to encourage and empower WCU students, faculty and staff members to develop an open dialogue and to speak up when they see violent behavior happening. We want everyone to know that they can be an ally for their friends in relationships and that they are part of a community where there are resources.”
“Take Back the Night” events began in the 1970s as public protests against sexual violence. One of earliest marches was in 1975 in Philadelphia following the stabbing death of a young woman microbiologist who was walking alone. Since that time, the movement has spread to 30 countries and broadened its mission to include educational programming about safe communities and respectful relationships.
The WCU sponsors of “Take Back the Night” include the Department of Intercultural Affairs, Department of Residential Living, Department of Student Community Ethics, Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, Counseling and Psychological Services and the First Year Experience program.
Morris’ talk will be preceded by a “Take Back the Night” march through campus, starting at 6 p.m. at the Village and ending at the Alumni Tower, with an information fair about campus and community resources scheduled from 6 until 7 p.m. in the Grandroom.