This past Wednesday, Feb. 26, an important event for women’s health and reproductive rights was held on campus — We Can’t Keep Quiet: A Benefit Concert for OneEighty, hosted by the all-treble a cappella group COWBelles.
The concert itself was nothing short of show stopping, but what’s even more amazing about the annual event is its inspired history. 2017 was a rather divisive time for the nation; a president had been newly elected, and the Women’s March had just happened.
Many COWBelles had at- tended the protest in Washington D.C. and wanted to put some of that spirit into their music. As Dzifa Adjei ’20 put it, they “all were feeling some kind of emotion about the election that [they] tried to channel into music.” In 2017, Heather Smith ’17 was approached by K(no)W which is now the Sexual Respect Coalition (SRC), with the possibility of COWBelles performing “’Till It Happens To You” by Lady Gaga at a screening of the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which is about victims who have been sexually assaulted on campus fight- ing for justice.
Following that, Smith felt inspired to expand the possibility of a performance into an entire concert to benefit OneEighty, since the COWBelles had already been learning an arrangement of “Quiet” by MILCK, which was performed a cappella at the Women’s March. Smith approached Men Working 4 Change and collab- orated with them to make the concert a reality. Soon, McGaw Chapel was booked, and prizes from the athletics department, admissions and the bookstore were donated for a fundraising raffle, leading to the concert raising over a hundred dollars for OneEighty.
After Smith’s graduation, Adjei, who helped to get the initial concert off the ground, had the idea to make it an annual event. Since then, prize donations have been garnered from local businesses, and more student groups have joined in to perform. This year, in addition to COWBelles, A Round of Monkeys, Merry Kuween of Scots, Shades of Gold and Rat Queen all gave mesmerizing performances.
As the event has grown, so has its impact — donations have more than tripled since 2017. Still, through its evolution, some things have stayed the same. The COWBelles perform “‘Till It Happens To You” and “Quiet” annually. “Quiet” has become the de facto finale, with singers from COWBelles and other a cappella groups singing it onstage together in an often-emotional show of solidarity.
The benefit is important to the College and local community for not only increasing awareness about sexual assault and garnering donations for OneEighty; it also helps to encourage students to engage with the local Wooster community and increases awareness about the support OneEighty provides for both survivors and recovering addicts.
Perhaps most importantly, it provides a brief space for survivors to escape the stigma and hardship that comes with being a survivor and hopefully allows them an opportunity to experience at least some level of catharsis and connection with other students who support them.
For President of COWBelles Annika Balish ’21, “music expresses feelings that words cannot” and “unites” people together. It’s also rare for this many student groups to collaborate on this campus, which shows just how important the event is to the College community.
As a survivor, Adjei calls working on “We Can’t Keep Quiet” “incredibly affirming” and says it is “one of the first spaces that I really felt heard as a survivor,” and that what she hopes to achieve with the concert “is that someone feels less alone, or feels heard, or seen, because [they] chose to be vulnerable and tackle a topic that is difficult to discuss.”
A particularly moving personal anecdote Adjei graciously shared was how the solos in “’Till It Happens To You” weren’t auditioned for in the first year, the reasoning being that those who were comfortable enough to be vulnerable enough to sing it would do so with the confidence of the group supporting them.
On stage, overwhelmed by emotion, the solos were unexpectedly hard to deliver — so Adjei and Smith held hands and ignored the mixed formation of the group to provide each other with emotional support, despite being told to separate to retain the formation of the group.
After Smith graduated, Rachel Tomei ’20 told Adjei that she “knew she wasn’t Heather” and “couldn’t feel what [Adjei] was feeling” but that she would still hold her hand as Adjei sang, and when it came time to perform, Tomei squeezed Adjei’s hand as Adjei delivered her solo while crying.
At this year’s concert, the COWBelles fittingly per- formed an arrangement of “Dog Days are Over” by Florence + The Machine, imbuing the night with a spirit of positivity and hope for the future, along with the usual repertoire of “’Till It Happens To You” and “Quiet.” This year’s concert was focused “more on the uplifting message that one can get through the pain and find happiness after trauma,” according to Balish, rather than the heavy, emotional atmosphere it had in past performances.
Surehouse, Broken Rocks, Bosco’s, Underground’s and more local businesses donated to the concert.
As an attendee, the concert was both moving and uplifting. Seeing all the effort put forth by the COWBelles and other student organizations for an issue that impacts every survivor’s life was deeply comforting, and the tangible solidarity between the performers and attendees made me feel safe and supported as a woman on this campus.