Grand Valley State University Women's Center

Silent Witness Program at GVSU

I am 37 years old and live in Muskegon, Michigan. On March 7, my ex-boyfriend John William Walker shot his way into my home. I hid in my bedroom and put my 2 children in the closet for their safety. John forced his way into the room though and dragged me into the hallway. He fatally shot me in the head and then turned the gun on himself. My name is Lori Sharan Strazanac. Remember my name.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In memory of the Michigan women, and their family members, that have died as a result of domestic violence, the Women's Center annually holds a remembrance program. The figures serve to educate and remind people that domestic and dating violence is a real problem and is happening in our communities. Each Silent Witness figure has the story of a women or child who died in the past year as a result of relationship violence. By raising awareness of this issue, the exhibit is a pro-active method to alert people to the fact that domestic and dating violence does not discriminate.

History of the National Silent Witness Project:  In 1990, a group of women artists and writers, upset about the growing number of women in Minnesota being murdered by their partners, joined together with several other women's organizations to form Arts Against Domestic Violence. They felt that it was essential for them to do something that would speaker out against the escalating domestic violence in their state. They wanted to do something that would commemorate the lives of the 26 women whose lives had been lost in 1990 as a result of domestic violence. They decided to create 26 free-standing, life sized red wooden figures, each one bearing the name of a woman who once lived, worked, had neighbors, friends, family, children - whose life ended violently at the hands of a husband, ex-husband, partner or acquaintance. A 27th figure was added to represent those uncounted women whose murders went unsolved or were erroneously ruled accidental. The organizers called the figures the Silent Witnesses. On February 18, 1991 the Silent Witness was exhibited for the first time. Today all the fifty states are involved as well as twenty other countries. Source: http://www.silentwitness.net/sub/began.htm

History of the Silent Witness Program at GVSU: (As told by Dr. Julia Mason to WGS student Genice Harvey) The Silent Witness Project was brought to Grand Valley in the fall of 2003 by Dr. Julia Mason. Through meetings with JoAnn Wassenaar and Marlene Kowalski-Braun about the program at Bowling Green State University where Dr. Mason was introduced to it, they decided it was something that the GVSU community could benefit from as a tool to raise awareness about domestic violence. They crafted the figures and painted them together in JoAnn’s husband's factory. The first Silent Witness program was held in the fall of 2004 at the Clock Tower. In the fall of 2005 in an effort to connect with faculty and students, Sally Sales put together a reading list with selections that were related to domestic violence. Dr Mason believes the figures serve the purpose of raising awareness through a physical call to action. In the past, the figures have been placed around GVSU in lecture halls, Kirkof Center, computer labs, and other locations to make them prominent and to get people talking about the issue of domestic violence. The location of the program has varied over the years as the program has been held in the Women’s Center lounge, Cook-Dewitt, the Clock Tower and Pere Marquette. The content of the program has also varied. In the past, families of the victims have spoken along with local domestic violence agency representatives. The one component that has been consistent however are the figures and their stories. Throughout the years the purpose of the Silent Witness Project at GVSU remains the same: a call to action to eliminate domestic violence in our community.

The exhibit is available for community organizations and agencies to use at events. Our Silent Witnesses have traveled to various places around the state including Northwest Community Schools in Jackson, MI and Domestic Harmony in Hillsdale, MI. Please download the attached document to reserve the figures for your upcoming programs on dating and domestic violence. Please return the Loan Agreement form (link provided below) to the Women's Center via fax at (616) 331-2965 or by email womenctr@gvsu.edu.

Loan Agreement Form

For more information on the Silent Witness Project, please call the Women's Center at (616) 331-2748.

Page last modified July 1, 2013