Sexual Assault Awareness Month is in full swing with a variety of events on campus to raise awareness and talk about the issue, but a big part of this is providing victims and survivors of gender-based violence with a place to be supported and tell their stories. With a “speak out” portion to give a survivors a platform and a march to express the need for structural change, Take Back the Night created a supportive community focused on growing beyond violence.
Take Back the Night is an annual event primarily organized by the Women’s Center, and this year it focused a lot on a Mexican proverb that is the theme for this year’s awareness month: “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.”
“They thought they buried us, so they thought they crushed us, but we’re still able to come back and still able to be strong,” math education graduate student Emily Napear said as an attendee. She said the message of the proverb is to express that sexual assault is “not the end of somebody’s journey and it’s not the defining factor in somebody’s life.”
The theme of Sexual Assault Awareness Month may change every year, but the idea of “taking back the night” is present every year and refers to the general conversation regarding gender-based violence, which has for a long time made the “night” a dangerous concept for women.
As the event hosts explained at the beginning of the event, gender-based violence is an umbrella term that can refer to rape, sexual assault, stalking, intimate partner violence or other forms of harassment. Although it is primarily discussed in the context of women, victims and survivors of gender-based violence can come from any demographic.
Given the sensitive nature of an event like Take Back the Night, the opening remarks included a discussion of the kind of language the event would be using, including the use of the term victim/survivor and encouraging speakers to introduce themselves with their pronouns. They also assured participants that professionals were on hand to talk to students if the speak out triggered any serious emotions.
There are a number of programs on campus to address sexual assault and gender-based violence. All new students attend a Protect Our Pack training on sexual assault and bystander initiative at their orientation, Violence Against Women Prevention Program facilitators go into first year experience classes and student leaders are required to attend sexual assault prevention trainings. However, this doesn’t mean that students take it seriously or understand that it’s still a problem. Despite all of these programs in place, gender-based violence can still be a systemic issue, making events like Take Back the Night relevant.
“A lot of violence is based on oppression and the way those structures work,” Napear said. “If we can control people through sexual and other emotional and physical abuse then they won’t be able to thrive.”
Fourth-semester nutrition major Emma Vittor said that, “on campus people take it for granted,” but probably don’t realize they know people who have been impacted by gender-based violence.
This is part of the reason why the marching portion of the event was important to participants. The speak out was important to support survivors and give them a safe space, but raising awareness of these kinds of issues was also an important part of the event.
Signs were premade by the Women’s Center and other sponsors of the event. Marchers left the Student Union out the exit on Hillside Road, passed up to North Campus before turning back around at the chemistry building and going up Glenbrook Road back to the Union. Chanting through megaphones and waving signs as photographers scrambled around them and students leaned out of cars to watch and take phone videos, this portion of the event really stressed awareness, empowerment and action.
“It’s important to act,” sixth-semester psychology and human development and family studies double major Brianna Shive said. “Instead of just saying you’re for something but not doing much.”
Whether participants came just to march in the event and support their fellow community members or if they came to share a personal experience in the large group setting or the more intimate coffee hour, the event was about taking all the hurt people have experienced and using it to grow stronger as individuals and as a community, growing from the seeds of their strength instead of being buried by trauma.
Alex Houdeshell is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.