As the Student Union ballroom emptied onto the pavement in front of the Student Union, University of Connecticut students traded in their speeches and remarks for signs and chants. Students marched around campus Wednesday night with the Violence Against Women Prevention Program (VAWPP) during its annual Take Back the Night event to stand in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault.
Take Back the Night takes place every April in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The event is organized by VAWPP, a social justice and feminist organization affiliated with the Women’s Center devoted to preventing gender-based violence.
Much like its organizers, Take Back the Night “seeks to raise awareness about gender-based violence affecting members of the UConn community and provide support for survivor empowerment and healing,” according to the event program.
One way that the VAWPP Ambassadors raise awareness through this event is with a march on campus. Starting at the Student Union Hillside Entrance, the group marched down Hillside Road towards North Garage, then down North Eagleville until they reached the Chemistry Building where they turn right and head towards Glenbrook Road until they return to the Student Union.
Throughout the short march, students wielded handmade signs and yelled motivational chants, including, “Two, four, six, eight, no more violence, no more hate,” “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, no means no” and “Claim our bodies, claim our rights; take a stand and take back the night.”
Imani Jean-Gilles, an eighth-semester journalism major, went to Take Back the Night to support survivors of sexual assault.
“I think it’s really important to support not only the women who are assaulted, but also men who are assaulted just for simply walking in the street at ‘the wrong time,’” Jean-Gilles said.
Jean-Gilles also expressed the frustration felt by many people about the way people blame victims for being assaulted by asking about their choice in clothing or behavior.
“We need to have more awareness of what’s going on, like, this is not right. It’s ridiculous if you really think about it,” Jean-Gilles said.
A speak-out followed the march, allowing survivors of sexual assault to have a safe space to share their experiences, something far too many survivors are denied out of the ignorance and sexism perpetuated by our patriarchal society.
Students walked to the stage with a murmur of supportive snaps and stood up, sometimes alone and sometimes with a friend, and shared some aspect of their experience with sexual assault. Oftentimes, they spoke not about the ways in which they were violated, but about their process of acceptance if they had gotten to that point.
Students at the event also almost all had experienced a fear of not being believed or had actually been told the stereotypical things they could never have imagined coming out of their friends’ mouths until they did: “Are you sure,” “you kind of owed it to them” and “I don’t believe you.”
This is the very thing that VAWPP and programs like it hope to extinguish. And in that one room in that one building, they managed to do it as the brave students thanked everyone in the ballroom for giving them the space to arrive at whatever stage of realization they needed to be at last night.
Ava Koulakas, a second-semester exploratory major, also recognized the importance of raising awareness and had the club she is involved with, the Honors Humanities and Arts Collective, attend in place of their regular meeting.
“On a college campus like this, I feel like it’s really important that everybody is aware of this community, and in order for this community to be united and solidified, we have to understand the needs of everybody in the community,” Koulakas said.
Prior to the march, the event featured presenters in the Student Union Ballroom including the VAWPP class (WGSS 3271), Revolution Against Rape (RAR) and the Men’s Project and Greeks Against Sexual Assault (GASA) who spoke about how they promote sexual assault awareness and education. Student groups including UConn Praise Dance Ministry and Rubyfruit, an all-female a capella group, also performed songs and dances related to sexual assault awareness.
Koulakas saw the importance of balancing the discussion and speak out portions of the event with the march and how this decision is important in creating change.
“In events like this where, instead of just having discussions, which is an important part of this type of effort, having an event that focuses on the issue of rape culture… it gives a more powerful voice to that and to have so many people together all thinking about the same thing I think is really important,” Koulakas said.
Take Back the Night is a perfect example of how, as a society, we need to continuously provide survivors of sexual assault with spaces for them to speak out.
Alex Taylor is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.