Sexual assault survivors share their stories at "Take Back the Night" march
From College Hall to Voorhees Mall, approximately 100 students and community members took to George Street yesterday in protest of sexual violence for the fifth annual “Take Back the Night” march.
The event brought people together in a united stand against sexual and gender-based violence and harassment on campus. It began at 7 p.m. at College Hall on Douglass campus, where students registered, made posters, learned chants and prepared to take back the night.
Women Organizing Against Harassment (WOAH) has been hosting “Take Back the Night” for the last five years, but the march has been happening since the 1970s, said Maria Arteta-Martelo, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and president of the organization.
After gathering, protesters marched on George Street, raising signs and chanting “communities unite, take back the night." They moved to Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue campus, where the floor was opened to select speakers and community members to discuss their personal experiences.
Loren Linscott, the director for the Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA), started the conversation and said that he was particularly moved by the event because the march was initiated solely by students.
“Do you know why tonight is so beautiful? Because it’s driven by you. No administration is telling you that you need to be out here … That feels good to be grassroots, to be here on a one-amp mic … You should feel good about this," he said.
The Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA), NO MORE, the Black Student Union (BSU), RU for Choice and Zeta Phi Beta were a few out of approximately 40-to-50 organizations that co-sponsored the event.
Linscott said that the unity among the Rutgers community last night was remarkable and that the student-driven event was done brilliantly.
He said that in the upcoming years, the Rutgers community needs to work on including academia in the movement and getting professors and department chairs involved to bridge the gaps on campus.
Alex Anderson, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore and the emcee of the event, said that “Take Back the Night” is special because it is a chance for survivors to be heard, share their experiences, meet people and get connected to the resources they might want like VPVA.
“Society needs to listen to survivors … Some people came out for the first time about their sexual assault, so I feel like this event is really conducive to making people know that that there is a community …," Anderson said.
Anderson, who is also in the Internal Affairs Committee in RUSA, said last year it passed an initiative requiring any organization on campus receiving more than $1,000 in funding to send two of its e-board members to attend VPVA’s Bystander Intervention Training program.
Suzanne Link, RUSA president and a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said that the assembly kick-started its intervention training initiative last year and will be fully enforcing it this year.
“The reason behind that is that we think the best way to change the culture is by having just general members of the student body who are involved in organizations know how to react in certain situations,” she said.
Although being reactive and responsive is an important part of the process, Link said she and the assembly want to focus on taking a proactive approach in trying to change campus culture.
The training she mentioned is handled through VPVA and splits into two parts and runs for about a weekend, Link said.
“It’s run like a workshop so you’re with a bunch of other students, you can share your ideas, you can share your thoughts. It’s not like you’re just doing this behind a computer screen just filling out a module. It’s interactive and I think that being able to ask questions and also be surrounded by your peers is an important component in this education and a powerful way of changing the discussion and dialogue and culture on campus,” she said.
Link added that the administration is currently working on assembling a Greek Life Task Force. She said this is an opportunity to better reach more of the community and address sexual violence at Rutgers.
RUSA also has its mandatory Title IX presentation coming up where Link hopes to invite Linscott.
Jonel Vilches, coordinator of special programs for VPVA, explained that bystander participation plays a key role in the movement to end sexual assault and that there does not always need to be a big, heroic intervention.
“It could just be a conversation that you just have with someone afterward, whether it’s with the person who’s harassing or the person who’s being harassed,” he said.