News, On Campus

Reclaiming Stories Of Assault At ‘Take Back The Night’

On Thursday morning, the Rat will appear unchanged. It will be business as usual. The tables will be in set in normal formation, the seats filled with students going about their daily routine, the aisles crowded as students bustle through the dining hall’s doors in a flurry of midweek business—many unaware of the stories shared in the room the night before.

On Wednesday evening, students, faculty, and other members of the Boston College community—male and female, of all majors, disciplines, and ages—lined the crowded interior of the dining hall. It was a cacophony of constituents, and they were all there for the same reason: to take back the night.

Each individual’s attendance made a statement—and, by the numbers of those in the audience, a strong one—of solidarity and support with those affected by sexual assault and intimate partner violence, and a statement of action against the culture that perpetuates sexual violence.

Wednesday evening’s ‘Take Back the Night’ event marked the midpoint of Concerned About Rape Education (C.A.R.E.) Week—and with it, the culmination of the week’s efforts.

“Take Back the Night is the centerpiece of the Week committed to raising awareness about rape and sexual assault,” reads the event’s website. “It is a powerful event in which survivors of rape and sexual assault tell their stories in front of a large group of their peers.”

C.A.R.E. Week is a six-day initiative hosted annually by the Women’s Center, in partnership with various other organizations, with programming dedicated to fostering education, dialogue, and awareness of sexual assault, rape, and intimate partner violence. The week’s programming seeks to address the prevalence of sexual assault and rape on college campuses, the definition of consent, the navigation of unhealthy relationships, the resources and ways to support survivors of sexual assault, the stigma associated with sexual assault survivors, and bystander education.

Take Back the Night is an internationally recognized organization, for which Wednesday night’s event—along with many other events hosted in universities, domestic violence shelters, and rape crisis centers across the world—are named. Take Back the Night began in the 1970s as a series of protests against instances of gender-based and sexual violence against women. Currently, the organization continues its mission of fighting against all forms of sexual and domestic violence through “Take Back the Night” events, which have been documented in over 30 countries and hundreds of communities around the world, according the foundation’s website.

Wednesday’s “Take Back the Night” began with a performance from the BC Sharps, the only all-female a cappella group on campus.

“CARE Week is an annual opportunity for programming and events, that serve to educate and provide healing for our campus around issues involving sexual violence,” said Katie Dalton, director of the Women’s Center, in her introduction. “Tonight, we join together to raise awareness, in order to put an end to sexual and intimate partner violence.”

Rachel DiBella, assistant director of the Women’s Center, gave a brief history of the “Take Back the Night” event history and significance, noting it’s continued relevance to the BC community as an annual fixture of C.A.R.E. Week.

“Take Back the Night has become not just a moment but a movement, that advocates for all those who have ever lived in fear for their agency, their bodies, and their personhood, under the threat of sexual violence,” DiBella said. “Right now, as we listen and support one another in this movement, we are enacting change.”

C. Shawn McGuffey, an associate professor of Sociology and African and African Diaspora Studies, gave the faculty address. McGuffey’s research examines the social psychology and experience of trauma, with his current focus surrounding sexual trauma. McGuffey noted the importance of considering the intersectionality of different identities—race, class, gender, and sexuality—when examining matters of sexual trauma.

“We are listening, empowering survivors, and bolstering the foundation for continued action for both prevention of sexual violence and the application of culturally competent recovery practices,” McGuffey said.

McGuffey concluded his address with the retelling of a friend’s experience and overcoming of an incident of sexual trauma—exhorting the audience to emulate the woman’s example of resilience, healing, and hope in dealing with matters of sexual violence.

“It is important to realize the human connection across identities, across borders, across the world,” McGuffey said. “These events—events like Take Back the Night—matter.”

The event culminated when three female student speakers affected by instances of rape and sexual assault, both on and off campus, shared their stories of survival before the audience. Throughout the event, various speakers referenced the statistic that one in five women will experience some form of sexual assault or intimate partner violence by the conclusion of college. These students’ stories turned the statistic into faces, transforming the issue of sexual assault from a statistic to a very present reality for many in the audience.

The event continued with a discussion of the meaning of consent, given by the members of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). They defined sexual consent as an explicit, informed, non-presumptuous, non-manipulated, and verbal agreement between two parties.

“We know that sexual assault and violence are not solely women’s issues,“ said Bill Lavelle, a member of ROTC and A&S ‘17. “For too long we’ve let survivors fight this alone, without turning inward and examining the role that all genders play. It is not enough to think about and act on these issues as individuals. We must organize and demonstrate to Boston College and beyond that we, as a community, will no longer tolerate anything that denigrates and endangers anyone who is part of BC. ”

Members in the audience rose to their feet to acknowledge this and to renew their commitment to taking action against all forms of sexual assault and sexual violence, in the community pledge.

“We stand up for our families, friends, classmates, and ourselves,” reads the pledge. “We will speak out against attitudes and actions that normalize rape. We will not be silent.”

Staff from the Bystander Intervention Program and the Sexual Assault Network (SANet) highlighted the resources available to students through these programs.

The event concluded with each member of the audience receiving a glow stick, an object meant to visually symbolize the efforts of individuals coming together to address the issue of sexual assault and intimate partner violence by “lighting up” in support of survivors, and reclaiming the darkness with light.

“I certainly wasn’t expecting an overflowing room given how busy we know you all are,” Dalton said. “It is so wonderful to see how many people have—of their own volition—come together to show their support and to move forward as a community.”

Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor

March 26, 2015