A crowd of people carrying posters reading “Love Every Body” and “Raise Awareness Against Violence” marched from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center to the Women’s Plaza of Honor on Tuesday night chanting, “Wildcats unite, take back the night” in protest against sexual violence.
The march was the kickoff to the Take Back the Night event, which provided an open forum for attendees to talk about their experiences dealing with sexual abuse.
“I think this is a really important event because it’s so important to continue raising awareness about sexual assault on campus,” said Megan McKendry, violence prevention specialist with the OASIS program. “It’s still a problem today, and we need these kind of events in order to raise awareness and prevent and respond to it. It’s also an empowering event for those who have experienced sexual assault. It’s really our main goal to support survivors.”
The annual, internationally celebrated event commenced with the arrival of the protesters at the plaza, where they listened as the UA’s all-female A Capella group, Dolce Voces, began its performance.
The OASIS violence prevention program, through Campus Health Service, hosted the event in collaboration with many other organizations such as SafeCats, Feminists Organized to Resist, Create and Empower, the Men’s Project, the UA Panhellenic Council and others in support of speaking out against sexual violence.
“While this event is about sexual violence and reclaiming the night, in the end, from the stories that you heard tonight, it’s about so much more,” said Michael Webb, founding intern of Men’s Project and a gender and women’s studies senior. “It’s about a society that values masculine qualities, and it devalues anything that is feminine — whether that means a person identifies as a woman or they don’t prescribe to society’s gender roles in their aesthetic appearance. It’s about a society that devalues women. And when you have a society that devalues women in that way, women are not the only victims of that oppression.”
The event sought to emphasize the fact that sexual assault and violence happens not only to women, but also to men. Victims of every gender, race and sexual orientation shared moving stories that hit home for people in the audience.
“I’ve never been to Take Back the Night,” said Eleanore Leichtenberg, a chemistry junior. “I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Once people started talking about their own experiences I got really emotional. Some of the people that spoke, I really care about, and I didn’t think I would start crying but I started crying. I almost didn’t come, but I’m glad I did because it was a great experience.”
The event concluded with the lighting of candles in honor to represent those who have died from sexual violence, to support survivors of sexual assault and to raise awareness of sexual violence. Silence lasted for two minutes to allow people to think about the stories they had heard and become inspired to fight against sexual abuse.
“An event like this is important because we are bombarded with messages that tell us we are weak and we don’t have control over our lives or our destiny,” Webb said. “Events like these are where we give a platform for people who feel like that has been stolen from them. We are able to reignite some flame within that person … I don’t think it’s a noble thing. I think it’s something that every human should take the responsibility to care about.”