Take Back the Night Raises Awareness About Sexual Assault

Sylvie Corwin

One in five women and one in sixteen men will be sexually assaulted while in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. For the past several weeks, ribbons around the tree near the library and slips of paper lining the stairs of Reid have reminded students that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. On Apr. 11, Take Back the Night, an annual event, raised voices as students marched against sexual violence and then provided a space for survivors to speak in the foyer of Cordiner Hall.

Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment (FACE) organizes Take Back the Night every year as a way to bring awareness to the continued prevalence of sexual assault and sexual violence on college campuses and to create a space for survivors to speak. When the event first started it was based off of national marches led by the Take Back the Night organization, however, FACE Co-Presidents Linnea Coleman and Austin Kamin emphasis that Whitman’s event is not affiliated with the national organization.

“Our goal is to create a supportive space for all students, regardless of gender identity, which is not always the case for other Take Back the Night marches and events,” Coleman and Austin said in a joint statement.

Sophomore Ethan Treadwell, Budget Manager for FACE, has attended Take Back the Night both years he has been on campus.

“[Take Back the Night] is an opportunity to push back against norms, which is tough to say because we don’t want sexual assault to be a norm, but the reality is that it is,” Treadwell said. “We want to reclaim the campus as being a safe space for people.”

A little before 7 p.m. on Apr. 11, about three dozen students met at Cordiner Hall and proceeded to march with signs. Sophomore Aliza Anderson-Diepenbrock, an Events Coordinator for FACE, led many of the groups chants as students marched from Cordiner to Cleveland across campus and down Isaacs.

“The march was really rewarding. There was a moment towards the very beginning when no one was there, there were just four of us making posters and thinking ‘Okay, maybe no one is going to show up or maybe people are just going to come to the share-out,’…. and then right on time groups just started to show up,” Anderson-Diepenbrock said. “When we would circle up in the public spaces, like in front of Cleveland or in front of the library, just hearing all of our voices together chanting was really empowering and really powerful.”

Following the march, students gathered in the Cordiner Hall foyer for the speak-out.

“Folks who come to the march stay for the vigil, but we get more folks who end up coming to the vigil that didn’t come to the march,” Treadwell said.

Coleman and Kamin hope more students will attend the entire event, both the march and vigil, in the years to come.

“It can be frustrating to march through campus, trying to bring awareness to sexual assault at Whitman, and see all of our peers stop to watch but not find it worthwhile enough to join us in our efforts,” Coleman and Kamin said.

Advocates from the YWCA and counselors from the counseling center attended the event and held hours on campus the following day so that any of the survivors who spoke or listened had resources and support available. Mandatory reporting was suspended for the event so that mandatory reporters could attend while maintaining the safety of the space.

“One of the biggest challenges for me in how we pitch the event is how we emphasis the share-out as a space specifically for survivors,” Anderson-Diepenbrock said. “We present the purpose of [the space] as not a time to try to fix things or not a time to necessarily offer answers or not a time for allies to [be at the forefront], but really to frame it as a space for survivors.”

Besides Take Back the Night, FACE also screens the movie “Hunting Grounds,” a film about sexual violence on college campuses, every fall. These two annual events will continue into the future as a way to raise awareness around sexual assault.

“Making this space happen is really important and just needs to continue no matter what, and I think that kind of outweighs the part of me that is like ‘Oh, why do more people come to the second half than the march? Or why is this the way it is? Or what if we did this instead?’” Anderson-Diepenbrock said. “Overall, when it comes to Take Back the Night, what is most important is to me is that is happens.”

Whitman’s Sexual Assault Victims Advocate Jessica Matthews is a non-mandatory reporter who can be contacted by phone at 509-526-3023 or by email at [email protected]. The YWCA has advocates available at all hours and can be reached at 509-529-9922.