Virginia Tech cadet advocates to end violence against women
Virginia Tech student Thomas Friss is a vocal ally who stands with many courageous women leaders working to end violence against women in the Hokie community and beyond.
"The women I have worked with are capable of achieving great things on their own. The thing is, they should not have to do this alone. Nobody should have to do this alone," said Friss of Bluefield, W.Va., a senior majoring in psychology in the College of Science and a member of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. "Men should be working alongside women to end gender-based violence."
“Anyone who works on issues related to social justice knows cooperation with allies is critical to achieving goals,” said Anna F. LoMascolo, co-director of programming at the Women's Center at Virginia Tech. “These alliances demonstrate that the power of unity and mutual respect far surpass individual and group differences. The simple truth is that sometimes it takes an ally speaking up and speaking out to make the necessary impact. It can be challenging and risky for allies to speak out. It is much easier to avoid engaging in issues that seemingly don’t relate to you.”
Friss became involved in the issue of violence against women when he was a sophomore. When he attended Gobblerfest, Virginia Tech’s annual student organization showcase and outdoor fair, he found himself drawn to the students who were organizing Take Back the Night.
“I had no idea it existed," said Friss. "To have a place where people could talk openly about this subject with no judgment — I fell in love with the concept."
Last spring, Friss stood with survivors of violence on stage at the Take Back the Night Rally and March. He spoke against violence against women and charged everyone to do something, do anything, to intervene when witnessing the red flags of violence.
“Whenever we see something wrong we must actively stand up against it," said Friss at the rally. "Next time you are at a large party and see a woman who has trouble walking, watch some of the people around her. Watch as the sharks start to circle as they try to see who is going to get her and when. The terrible unspoken truth is that most of us have seen this happen right in front of us. Predators do this often enough that people know what is going to happen, yet usually people do nothing.
"I say we stop just seeing this happen and instead intervene. I say that Hokies are better than what happened at Steubenville. I say that we stand together as a community and try to stem the tide of sexual violence on this campus. I say that instead of being uncomfortably silent while staring at our drink and wondering if we should get involved, we instead choose to be a barrier against potential violence.”
Friss now says the results of that speech were very gratifying.
“Despite the nerves and adrenaline, it was an important message to get out. Survivors were willing to talk about their personal stories without judgment and that is one of the things I love about Take Back the Night," said Friss. "They have my utmost respect and admiration for their courage in sharing what they went through and showing the other survivors in the crowd that they were not alone. What I did that night was easy. They were the ones who showed tremendous courage that night and I will never forget that.”
As a cadet in Echo Company, Friss is one of the organizers of Virginia Tech’s annual White Ribbon Campaign, the largest international movement of men who champion ending men’s violence against women. In this role, Friss talks to other men on campus about the importance of anti-violence work and asks them to sign a pledge that they will never commit or condone violence against women.
Friss is also a member of the undergraduate feminist student organization, Womanspace. Through Womanspace, he serves as the student voice on Virginia Tech’s Sexual Violence Prevention Council, an assembly of practitioners, programmers, and responders dedicated to ending violence on campus.
In her Aspire! Award nomination, LoMascolo wrote, “Through the anti-violence work of activists and advocates, we are witnessing the incremental changes that are happening within the culture of Virginia Tech. It is becoming less and less acceptable to be a passive bystander who does nothing in the face of potential violence. Instead, students like Thomas are fostering bold actions in others, as they become allies who say something and do something when they witness actions that they know are not right. We are deeply thankful for the courageous leaders in our midst, the unsung heroes who make an immeasurable difference in the lives of others. It is an honor to highlight one of those.”