A domestic violence awareness event bearing the banner, “Surviving…Thriving: A Journey of Healing Through Art,” was held in the Castellani Art Museum on the Niagara University campus on Thursday, Oct. 27.
The event, which was held in observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, was also tied to the Red Flag Campaign, a national public awareness initiative designed to encourage college students to intervene when they see a warning sign (“red flag”) of partner violence.
The gallery was a powerful reminder that domestic abuse is still a very prevalent occurrence. Each year, 1,200-1,600 domestic incident reports are filed with the Niagara Falls Police.
“It’s especially important for universities because the highest risk is between ages 18 to 24 for females,” said Dr. Dana Radatz, an assistant professor in the criminology and criminal justice department who was one of the main organizers of the event.
Several community organizations collaborated to host the event, including Niagara University, the Levesque Institute, Castellani Art Museum, Child Advocacy Center of Niagara, Family & Children’s Service of Niagara, Niagara County Sheriff’s Office Victim Assistance and Domestic Violence Unit, Niagara Falls Police Department’s DV Unit, and the YWCA of the Niagara Frontier.
Pieces such as the “Unmasking of Domestic Violence” and “Pinwheels for Peace” showed how children are affected by the abuse. The art was made by children who have been impacted by domestic violence and who participate in programs focused on healing. But not only women and children are affected. In fact, one in four women and one in five men experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.
“It definitely happens to male victims as well,” said Dr. Radatz. “They just don’t feel as comfortable coming forward, especially with the social connotations around being a victim in general, then also being a male victim.”
One of the more impactful pieces of art was the “Visions of Strength, Voices of Survivors,” which depicted individual black and white photographs with a single sheet of paper above the picture telling a story of a survivor, all anonymous. There were also many other pieces demonstrating survivors’ path to self-love.
In the middle of the gallery stood the most powerful piece, the “Silent Witness Project,” consisting of four wooden, black memorials holding five silhouettes each with a little plaque stating the name, age and date of death. Each of the silhouettes represented a person who was killed by their abuser.
Kelly Zaky, a Niagara University student, described the scene as a reality check. She said that when you hear about things like this, you hope the person becomes a survivor, but the art showed that sometimes people don’t get the support they need.
The event provided hope and information as well, by giving several options as to how one can receive support if they are in a similar situation.
“It’s important for all of us to be aware of the numerous services that are available in the community for anyone who needs help,” said Dr. Jennifer Beebe, assistant professor of counseling. “Similarly, on our campus, students should know that they can reach out to counseling services, our Title IX coordinator or the dean of students; anyone who is employed at NU can help them identify the appropriate resources.”
The organizers were very happy with the success of the event and were very gracious to the school’s administration for their help making it possible to spread awareness and the message to speak up.
“Even if one person showed up, and had some type of feeling, I would consider it a success,” Dr. Radatz said.
“We are responding to Pope Francis’ call, in this Year of Mercy, to deepen our compassion for others, while fulfilling the Catholic and Vincentian mission of Niagara University, which calls on us to be the light for those who need our help,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University. “We are committed to fostering an educational environment that focuses on the dignity of all people in our community. I’m very grateful to the students, faculty, staff and administrators who have invested themselves in this cause to affect change.”
Article by Niagara University sophomore communication studies major Jade King. Photos by fellow CMS major Emily Kernin. King and Kernin are both members of the Public Relations Student Society of Niagara.