Approximately 500 illuminated paper bags decorated Old Main Lawn for the annual Light the Night display on Monday, Oct. 14 to honor both victims and survivors of domestic violence as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
This visual demonstration was organized by Jennifer Pencek, the program coordinator for the Gender Equity Center. This year, the center partnered with "a variety of student affairs offices" such as Stand for State, the Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity, and Center for Spiritual and Ethical Development in order to put the event together.
“The whole purpose behind Light the Night is that domestic violence still remains a topic that we’re all aware of but that we don’t always talk about,” Pencek said. “It really is about lighting the night, and shedding light on something that's kept in the shadows.”
Domestic violence is an issue that affects many. According to The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one in three women have experienced “some form” of physical violence from a partner. On average, 20 people are abused by a significant other in the United States every minute.
“It's not meant to be a big, speaker-type event. There's not always an intro, it's just people walking among the bags,” Pencek said. “It's very organic, and it's a very individual experience for people. Really, the takeaway is just whatever people literally are taking away for themselves.”
The white paper bags, set up in rows and illuminated by internal candles, each had an individual message of inspiration, validation and positivity.
In red marker, one reads, “I believe you and I’m sorry that happened to you.” A small red heart is drawn on at the bottom.
Another, decorated with yellow flowers, said “you are strong, you are powerful, you are supported.”
Mark Mayes and Ryan Castillo both had a hand in decorating these paper bags while working with the Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity.
For Mayes (junior-film), there is significance in Penn State’s efforts to recognize a cause such as domestic violence.
“I think Penn State really cares a lot about issues like this,” he said. “We don’t take things for granted. We take things like this very seriously, which I think can’t be said for a lot of other schools.”
Castillo (sophomore-psychology) felt that it was important to show his support, even if the cause does not directly affect him.
“These bags [are a demonstration] of a lot of people doing small things for a bigger, collective unit,” he said. “I think it's really neat.”
Penn State English professor Leisha Jones came to see the work that Pencek put together, with the help of some of her students who assisted in decorating bags.
“I think it's a really interesting way to commemorate the victims and survivors,” Jones said. “It does a lot of work to show the power of support but also the consequences of domestic violence.”
Ultimately, the Light the Night visual demonstration wanted to send the message that readers and victims are not alone.
“[The attendants] can connect with the bags, and they can realize that they’re not alone,” Pencek said. “Even for those who have lost loved ones to domestic violence, we want them to know that those people are never forgotten, and we want to honor them.”
Those who are suffering from domestic abuse or violence or know someone else that is are encouraged to reach out to Penn State’s Gender Equity Center for help and support, or to call Centre Safe, a 24 hour hotline for confidential counselor assistance, at 1-877-234-5050.