MURRAY – Alarmed by recent incidents of violence against women in Murray, as well as across the country, members of the Murray State University community gathered on campus Thursday evening for a candlelight vigil and march to recognize the victims.
The announcement inviting people to attend noted March was Women’s History Month, and the first of April marks the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“… we organize a time to come together to mourn and express our pain, hurt, fear, anger and anxieties, that these women were not safe in their homes, at their work, at the store, at school, in their lives,” the announcement said. “We hope that this vigil will serve as a time to start the process of healing, but also to raise awareness about the violence and threats of violence faced by women, especially women and femmes of color, particularly Asian/Asian American/Native Pacific Islander women, and inclusive of queer, trans and non-binary individuals.”
The vigil began at the steps of Lovett Auditorium, and participants walked across campus with candles to the Old Spring Lawn near Hester College and the Susan E. Bauernfeind Student Recreation and Wellness Center. Several members of the university administration were present, including President Bob Jackson and Vice President of Student Affairs Don Robertson. At the first and last stops – as well as the Curris Center halfway through – individuals read the names of women affected by violence, including MSU student Sarah Townsend, whom law enforcement said was murdered last week, and Murray resident Samantha Sperry, who has been missing for three years after she was last seen in Graves County. Organizers also acknowledged a woman whom authorities said was shot and killed at a residence just off campus on March 16.
Danielle Muzina, who teaches in Murray State’s art department and is the vice president of the MSU Women’s Faculty Caucus, spoke at several points during the event.
“We are really deeply saddened by how much has been going on in terms of violence against women nationally, and within this month, (one thing after another) has happened,” Muzina told the Ledger & Times as the march across campus began. “And then to find out that that we have two incidents in March alone where this has impacted Murray, and one of our students has now been taken from us by senseless violence against women. That’s perpetuated by bigger systems that make (some think it’s) OK, and parts of our culture and the way that we frame and treat people based on gender has been really saddening.”
Muzina said that in addition to crimes motivated by hatred, misogyny and discarding of women, there has also been violence as a result of transphobia, racism and police brutality.
“We recognize the intersection of all those things affecting all women and we’re drawing attention to that because on a daily basis, we have to think about whether we feel safe,” she said. “I’m a white woman and I don’t feel safe walking to my car at night, and there are people with identities that (cause them to) feel even less safe than I do, and it’s important to recognize that as well.
“And as a professor, I’m deeply saddened that this has happened on our campus, and I just want to create a space for our students to mourn and to come together for solidarity and bring attention to this so we can all be more aware how those systems of misogyny, transphobia and racism are a part of daily life and how we need to be more aware of them and to actively combat them when we see them.”
Muzina also said there were millions of women affected by violence whose names could not be read Thursday night, and while many have died, many more are survivors of violence, assault, rape, incest and other atrocities.
Muzina added that she initially hadn’t expected to need more than about 30 candles, but she and vigil organizers Christine Lindner, Catie Bates-Robertson and others were very pleased that the turnout was considerably more than that.
Supporting organizations included West KY NOW, Women’s Faculty Caucus, the MSU Women’s Center, Lotus, Merryman House, ADVANCE at Murray State, Hart Residential College, the MSU Alliance, MSU Amnesty International, MSU College Democrats, OMAS, Students of Sociology and the MSU chapter of UNICEF.