Trained Observers

The day took an unexpected turn when we stumbled into a student rally against rape at the University of the Witwatersrand, known as Wits, in Joburg. The issue is one of several that have emerged from the “fees must fall” movement that originally focused on rising tuition but now encompasses everything from education and poverty to women’s and gay rights. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for a group of journalism students searching for news. There are so many aspects of the rally I could discuss, but I was particularly moved by the reactions of students and administrators listening to the powerful women who addressed the crowd. I often find I learn the most by observing facial expressions of silent onlookers. A young girl—dressed in gray sweats, tennis shoes, and a black bra—listened as a student leader discussed the importance of starting conversations about the rape culture on university campuses across South Africa. Tears rolled down her cheeks, and though she barely moved, her anger and sadness were as loud as the singing and dancing that followed each speech. A tall young man nearby had “1 in 3” written on his face in red paint. He moved about the crowd with a giant smile on his face as he sang and danced with the women leaders. I could describe at least 10 other people who stood out in the crowd. While I’m here, I hope I get the chance to learn their stories, understand the root of their passions and emotions, and put a human face to the bigger issue of rape on college campuses.

–Lindsay Castleberry

Photo by Myers McGarry