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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Take Back the Night march brings attention to sexual assault issues

Published: April 11, 2014
Section: News, Top Stories

Candles were handed out to everyone gathered on the Rabb Steps at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 9 for the annual Take Back the Night (TBTN) march through campus. Participants lit their candles and carried them in a vigil to raise awareness about sexual violence. Co-sponsored by the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, the Queer Resource Center, Triskelion and Students Talking About Relationships, survivors and allies of survivors of sexual assault came together in a powerful demonstration of healing and solidarity. Those who wished to share their stories were welcome to do so in a safe space. TBTN is a national organization, with marches and rallies led in over 30 countries worldwide. A foundation with the same name was founded in 2001.
Students passed around a bag with slips of paper printed with the stories of survivors. These stories had already been posted on the Take Back the Night website. Several stories of Brandeis students’ were submitted to be read. The organizers of the event recognized and admired the tremendous courage that sending in those stories took. The march was also designed to have an atmosphere of support for all survivors, not only those who have shared their stories.
Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment at Brandeis Andrew Flagel, Dean of Students Jamele Adams and the recently hired Sexual Assault Services and Prevention Specialist Sheila McMahon all took part in the TBTN march. In an email addressed to the entire Brandeis community about the TBTN march, Flagel and Adams wrote that “last year’s event was blemished by individuals shouting at participants. Whether out of ignorance or maliciousness, such behavior is inconsistent with our values, and a potential violation of our conduct standards. We will make every attempt to respond to any actions to disrupt or interfere with this sensitive and important student-run event.” The 2013 march was obstructed by non-participating students shouting “men’s rights” and “yeah ZBT” at the group, a reference to an alleged sexual assault committed by a member of the ZBT fraternity against another Brandeis student.
This year, more than 70 students composed an impressive group. They walked from residence quad to residence quad, chanting slogans such as “Unite tonight to take back the night!” and “2, 4, 6, 8, no more violence, no more rape!”
Making noise and bringing attention to the issue was also an important part of the event. At each residence quad, the entire group formed a circle and stood in silence. Candles were re-lit at each stopping point—the wind blew most of them out while the group moved, and people shared their flames with their neighbors. Each time, survivors and their allies were welcome to come forward with their stories, and several people did. After a few minutes had passed, everyone on the march chanted the name of the place on campus, and asked it to take back the night before moving forward.
In each of the residence halls, many students who did not participate in the march opened their windows and turned off their lights. Everyone passed through the Shapiro Campus Center Atrium to get to the last stop, the Great Lawn of the SCC, continuing to chant together. This year, a student who shouted something at the group during the early stages of the march came forward at the end to apologize for his behavior. He then joined the circle.
At that point, the wind had increased, and it was almost impossible to keep a candle burning. Yet march members spoke on how “the light represents what is inside you.” It is a visual symbol of worth and solidarity.
Students said that they valued Take Back the Night as a safe space to speak about their experiences with sexual assault and to show solidarity with survivors and bring much needed attention to the issue. Even if survivors feel as though their stories are not “worth being told” or do not feel comfortable opening up about an extremely personal experience, Take Back the Night offered an opportunity for reflection and healing in a community space.