"Walk of Solidarity" takes students' voices downtown: Students march down Broadway and Caroline Street to speak against identity-based harrassment

Posted by Brendan James

On Friday at 3 p.m. students in front of Case Center could be seen unraveling a large banner declaring "We all have the right to feel safe."

 Within a few minutes, around 40 students and some administration began the "Walk of Solidarity" down Broadway to Caroline Street, chanting against perceived harassment of students and Saratoga residents when downtown.

"Whose streets? Our streets!" the crowd hollered as they marched down Broadway, met with occasional honks and waves from residents in their cars. Cameramen from CBS News weaved through the stream of attendants as an anchor narrated the proceedings.

The attendants of the "Walk of Solidarity" identified their purpose as a response to persistent harassment and verbal assault downtown due to individuals' "racial, sexual, or gender identity," according to the official statement of the College's Center for Sex and Gender Relations. The students' chants were read from print outs and listed advice for vulnerable students as well as potential aggressors. 

"This is a struggle for human rights and respect," said Eric Moretti '14. "I have had friends who've been verbally assaulted."

Addressing the perceived hostility to certain minorities in downtown Saratoga, Moretti added, "to me it doesn't matter if there's an actual incident downtown - people feel unsafe. This is an idea that we're trying to inject into people minds."

Besides students, also on the "Walk" were Dean of Students Rochelle Calhoun and Andrea Wise of the Office of Communications.

Calhoun remarked that she was there to stand in solidarity with students. "Students sometimes feel uncomfortable downtown, I recognize that. Also, as a Saratogian I know we are a community that seeks to address such issues, " she said.

"I think that even if there isn't an incident there is still a feeling, and that's what we're looking to address," she added.

The organizers of the "Walk" were Caleb Stoeffler '12 and Rachel Bowen '14, both head peer advocates of the Center for Sex and Gender Relations, and Lex Curry '12 a peer advocate.

The organizers chose not to link their march with any particular incidents concerning such alienation. Curry noted that such an idea had been brought up at the beginning of the semester, and that the initial sources concerning the feeling of alienation downtown were exit interviews from last year's senior class.

However, several onlookers and attendants noted that the event came on the heels of a recent Skidmore student initiative directed at perceived Putnam Den. In that instance, Skidmore's sex magazine, B.A.R.E., organized a "takeover" of Putnam Den due to what the editors alleged to be the bar's unsafe atmosphere for the LGBT community.

Some students marching contrasted Friday's "Walk" with the "Queerin' Putnam" initiative.

"The Queering Putnam event had good intentions, but I think muddled intentions," said Tucker Costello '12. "This is a quieter event looking to make this the safe place that most people know Saratoga Springs to be."

An onlooking student who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, "I like this approach today, I think their concerns are valid. But as for some of the recent incidents that were said to be homophobic, I know that there are other explanations for some of them, like underage drinking."

As for the organizers, they felt the event was a success on its own terms. "The turnout was exactly what we expected," said Curry.  There was no shortage, they said, of support from administration and faculty in order to bring the event to fruition. "We received a lot of help from Rochelle Calhoun in organizing this," added Stoeffler.

Looking forward, the organizers hope to talk to the city authorities and downtown business about "Queer nights" which would open up a greater space downtown for people identifying as LGBT. Bowen added that the Center had been in touch with the city's Chamber of Commerce and said the city officers have been receptive to students' outreach concerning these questions.

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